Plastic free – Is it even possible?

In the year 2017 I made the decision to buy less products packaged in throwaway plastic. I was sick of having to bring my plastic to the already overfilled recycling containers every few weeks – I didn’t want to keep feeling like I was part of the problem.

But it didn’t happen overnight. During the first year it was possible to reduce our plastic waste to a 60ltr bag a month, but throughout 2018 we managed to put a total of 60ltr of plastic garbage into the recycling bin. I’d like to tell you how we did it, but I hope you don’t expect any new, earth-shaking ideas, but rather a practical step by step guide.

First of all I did what is already normal nowadays – I googled “plastic-free living”. To be honest, I had a big advantage because I speak English well and at the time I found a lot of information on English websites. Soon I came across the term “zero waste”. “Zero waste” means “zero garbage”, but it also means “zero wastefulness” and as a mother of three now adult sons on a limited budget who has always been concerned about not wasting resources, I found the term very appealing.

A short time after I discovered Bea Johnson and her book “Zero Waste Home“ and also found a video on YouTube of her presenting her household and lifestyle. I was delighted. She tells of a way to produce less garbage and waste in the home using the five “R’s”:

1) Refuse
Refuse means not accepting potential garbage in the first place. Regarding plastic that means accepting nothing packaged, as well as samples, shopping bags, gifts, etc. You may have to politely state that you are in the process of reducing your plastic waste and therefore have to decline – which was actually much easier than initially thought.

2) Reduce
For me, reducing meant taking a closer look at my consumer behavior. Where does my plastic even come from? Are there any alternatives, can I omit some things, or maybe make them myself? I started shopping at the farmer’s market, as well as the local organic shop in Wolfsberg and directly from producers. Even at my local supermarket I started to bring my own bags and containers, and although many sales assistants were skeptical at first – when I explained in a friendly fashion that I wanted to avoid plastic garbage while shopping, most were helpful. The few times I wasn’t convincing enough I simply didn’t buy the products in question.

3) Reuse
Some products, like cream cheese and joghurt, are available in reusable plastic or glass containers that can be used to store other foods. I asked my friends if any of them would like to have such containers, which was well received, so fewer landed in the bin. At home I found several still usable containers that could be filled with butter at the farmer’s market. I cut the butter into slices and stored them in the freezer for later use. Other sellers were also willing to use my containers.

So: Take a closer look at your own purchases, look for simple alternatives to disposable plastic, ideally shop packaging-free, or at least use reusable packaging. In recent years a lot has happened in this area and it’s becoming less and less necessary to justify this point of view. It seems that society is increasingly moving towards plastic-free, so the sooner you convert, the easier the transition will be. In larger cities you can already find an increasing number of zero waste shops and in some larger supermarkets even bulk aisles.

4) Recycle
Not everything that goes into the recycling bin is actually recyclable. When I pass the recycling container, I am always shocked to see what ends up there. There is a ‘waste separation ABC’ on the website of the Federal Ministry of Sustainability and Tourism, which lists exactly what belongs in the different containers and what doesn’t. Also, the green dot on some packaging doesn’t mean that it’s particularly recyclable, only that the manufacturer has paid in advance for the collection and recovery. It’s not that easy to decipher the symbols on plastic packaging, so I avoid buying it in the first place.

5) Rot
Rot means disposing of biodegradable packaging on your own compost pile or in the organic-waste bin. Although this is an alternative to regular plastic waste, in my opinion it’s possible to avoid disposable packaging categorically with little effort.

As with many things in life, at first I noticed the negatives – all the things that were packaged in plastic, what I was giving up and how it made my more difficult. Over time though, my attention shifted to all the products that weren’t packaged and all the things I didn’t have to go without. Then I noticed that very often the better, higher-quality products were available plastic-free and often consuming local, unprocessed food and not having to dispose of plastic does make life easier, I would even say better. I enjoy the closer contact with sellers and when they see that you are a regular customer and remain friendly but consequent on the subject of plastic, it raises both understanding and helpfulness. I’ve learned to make my own deodorant, toothpaste powder and cleaning products – but if that’s too time-consuming for you, or you just don’t feel like doing it, there are good alternatives. For hair and dishes, I have switched to plant-based soaps.

On the whole topic I must say that I’m someone who likes to take on challenges – when two or three people tell me “you can’t do that” or “that can’t work”, that motivates me even more to go through with it. If I have motivated you to try a life with less disposable plastic, then I recommend you to analyze your buying behavior more closely, put together a basket with bags and containers to take with you when you go shopping and stay friendly but persistent against resistance.

In conclusion, a saying: We don’t need a handful of people doing it perfectly, but many people who are trying to do better.

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