Plastic is a problem. But I am not going to stomp around on over-trodden ground wailing like a possessed banshee about it. It’s a problem, end of lecture.
What I am going to do here is show you some interesting initiatives and DIY projects tackling the plastic problem in your home and community… and if you are not doing this already, then let me inspire you.
PLARN = Plastic Yarn
First let’s look again at PLARN. I started posting about Plastic recycling and in particular Plarn back in 2011 (see links at the end of this post for further reference).
Plarn is so strong and versatile it can be used as an alternative to string. You can crochet a hammock, a shopping bag, a new take on a rag rug, macrame a wall hanging, hanging plant holders, or stake your plants in the garden.
Plarn is made from pesky 1 use plastic shopping bags and is very simple to make.
In addition to the above technique you can also refine the Plarn thread by spinning it using a sewing machine and use it for knitting or weaving finer projects.
A few facts about plastic bags…..
Down in the south pacific, where I call home in New Zealand, Whales and other marine life have been in the news recently as they have washed up on our beaches ill and dying with stomachs full of plastic… Their plight is made all the more real with visual spot the difference demo doing the rounds on the net and through social media.
Quick fact: New Zealanders use around 1.6 billion plastic bags a year and on average a plastic bag is used for 12 minutes before it enters the waste stream. I mean come on we can do better.
And we shall. One of the biggest movers and shakers on the plastic prohibition scene in NZ is Countdown Supermarket who have committed to the cause of reducing the amount of plastic in circulation: “Ten of our stores moved to reusable bags on 21 May, leading the change. 42 further stores moved to reusable bags on 13 August and the remaining 129 Countdown stores nationwide will be added to the roll-out by the end of 2018.” As you read this many other retailers are following suit and also purging plastic.
That’s all well and good, you may ask, but is it practical? Well yes. In the vacuum a sustainable feel-good initiative has taken hold all over the Country. Originally started on the Gold Coast of Australia (New Zealands’ East Island) are the ever popular Boomerang Bags.
The Boomerang Bags story
Boomerang Bags was founded in 2013 after Tania Potts and Jordyn de Boer realised they were both working on strategies to address plastic waste in their Gold Coast communities.
Jordyn was seeking a grant to purchase 4000 calico bags to supply her local shopping precinct with reusable bags. Tania was pursuing funding for a mobile hydration station for events. Tania acknowledges both were initially seeking solutions rather than mobilising people who wanted to make a difference.
“We got together to talk about our ideas and realised if we purchased new calico bags from China, we were part of the problem,” Tania said.
“That led us to consider how to use resources that were already on the planet. We found an old doona and decided to turn that into bags instead of importing new ones.”
The idea quickly spread. In the first year, there were three communities; in the second, ten communities were on board, with the first international community in Norway. Four years on and almost 135,000 bags later, 500 communities are sewing their way to change.
Boomerang Bags was established with a borrow and bring back philosophy – bags were made available at no charge to supermarkets and stores with an expectation that people would borrow them and return after use.– Living Smart
This proactive step is expected to take 350 million bags per year out of the environment.
The initiative has on occasion been problematic in relying on the good will of people to return the bags, and the investment from volunteers is high with one bag taking anywhere from between 45 minutes and 4 hours to make. Honestly these bags have saved ‘me’ more than once at the supermarket and I would like to see this fantastic initiative thrive and not be abused. So if you want to take advantage of a good thing that’s fine, if you are caught out and forget your own bags and need to borrow a Boomerang Bag that’s also fine, but remember don’t be the dick that ruins it for everyone……. return your bags, pay it forward as you never know when you may get caught out again. YAY!!
Plastic reducing initiatives in your community. Get involved.
Why not? What are we going to do with all that plastic that we’ve already got? It’s not like it biodegrades. What about all that PLARN you’ve made…… Too much Plarn and nothing to make? Here is an empathetic-fluffy-soul-nourishing project that you can make.
Making bed mats for the homeless.
This initiative is happening in the US right now and is gathering speed in local communities. Such a beautiful, thoughtful and useful item for people who may be in need and a top notch reuse of such an environmentally destructive material.
On a slightly different tangent lets look further afield than single use plastic bags…… lets talk about the zero waste revolution.
The Zero Waste Markets
There is another plastic purge rebellion that is quietly gathering momentum. This movement is not new but is starting to become more visible as people take conscious steps to reduce plastic in their lives. This ground swell has been dubbed as ‘Green Shopping’ and is considered part of the Zero Waste Movement. It is already a thing in some states of the US, Hong Kong, UK and where there are waste-less stores and carefully collated markets springing up. These stores/markets rely on you as the consumer to bring your own containers/packaging (as well as shopping bags), alternatively some stores will offer a more enviro-friendly option of non plastic packaging like cardboard boxes, wooden cutlery, or paper cups and straws. In Australia and NZ the idea of taking your own containers is still in it’s infancy, however we do have a few markets and stores that operate under a zero waste policy and will probably not look at you sideways if you produce an empty well traveled lunch box from your recycled shopping bag to fill. Some of the more commercial supermarket stores have trialed the ‘bring your own container’ initiative. The trials I have seen are always promoting some gimmick like plastic free *JULY*, or other……. in NZ the idea is yet to gain traction, but as the one use plastic bags phase out and the inevitable plastic purge begins it won’t be long before people start looking at and questioning the plastic tubs and polystyrene/saran wrap combo we currently get served at the delicatessen and butcher counter.
Zero Waste Take Out
Are you a fan of take-out. Sure, everyone is right? Well, there is a similar solution that you may not have even considered. I will call it FAKE-OUT, no, no, I won’t that is silly.. I take it back. But seriously, what is not silly is the amount of rubbish that is generated from one take out meal. Similar messages, similar zero waste principal. ‘Spare the fork and napkin – I am saving the earth’. Check the video below for some interesting facts and more info on the zero waste goals in the US. YuuuuuuuuSSSSS.
lets talk packaging.
Here are some sweet alternatives to single use packaging.
- glassware containers
- Mason jars and accessories
- Tiffin boxes
- Bento boxes
- ceramic containers
- metal or glass drink vessels/bottles
- bamboo containers
- bamboo or wooden cutlery
- metal cutlery and chopsticks
- metal tea strainer for tea and cold brew coffee
- reusable cotton tea bags
- beeswax fabric lunch wrap
- soy waxed fabric lunch wrap
- waxed fabric lunch bags
- reusable shopping bags
- Furoshiki fabric wrap
- Mesh drawstring bags
- Reusable coffee cups
- metal or bamboo straws
- cloth napkins
- wooden hair brushes
- bamboo toothbrushes
- reusable razors
- refillable cosmetic bottles and pottles
- refillable cleaning chemical bottles
- reusable and washable unpaper fabric towels
- washable/reusable bin liners……. or be radical and go no bin liner
- menstral cups
- Grow a foragers garden
- Learn to cook..
and some nicer biodegradable single use items that the current selection
- wooden cutlery
- wooden chopsticks
- cardboard containers
- paper straws and napkins
- wooden toothpicks
Some people keep an ‘on the go’ pack in the car, in their bag so they are always prepared. It’s a great idea and you’re probably already doing it if you have mini humans of the age requiring an emergency bag/nappy bag, snacks, etc. However if this is a new concept to you and you want a ‘cheat code’ to get ahead then there are zero waste starter kit DIY’s available on the net and if you look there are lots of zero waste packaging options on the market. Just take the time to shop around as it can get quite expensive initially, but if you can’t wait and price is not a problem then go for an already curated pack. I personally like to take my time curating our collection with beautiful little items I find along the way.
Before I started writing this post I thought OML it sounds too hard, so much effort. #tomuchadmin
But in reality, my family and I already do a lot of this stuff in our everyday ‘nothing fancy’ ordinary lives.
We make extra food at meal times and save the leftovers for lunch the next day packaged nicely in my opshopped bento bag I usually have a one of my three tiered tiffin boxes (that I picked up at the markets a few years back), a mason jar, or one of our glassware containers full of delicious food. We got rid of our plastic containers a long, long time ago, not for any greenie reasons, but because they got old, cloudy, bubbly from reheating and stained, and to be honest it was time to replace them.
There is something about the non-plastic, zero waste lunch it is like having a fancy picnic everyday. Water bottles (glass or metal) are also a must. My favourite water bottle is from fullcircle. It is glass with a rubber base and a clever swivel plastic top that turns into a cup and a fingerprint depression on the side. It is sleek, it is minimal. But as magnificent as it is it is not made for hot liquids so I also have a cheapie double walled glass tea tube that has a metallic tea strainer basket and a bamboo lid ($15 from the warehouse nz) and a bodem travel coffee plunger mug ($50 from Palmers garden centre, 3 years ago, and still going strong). For store brought takeaway coffee hubby and I also have eco keep cups on hand.
We love tactical natural elements like wood and have wooden hair brushes and had the bamboo toothbrushes – I’d recommend them. Takeout usually involves wooden cutlery provided by the store, it sounds pretentious but I promise it’s not. It just happens to be the right consumer options available, weighed up with the right amount of guilt, at the right time I guess.
We have used reusable shopping bags for years because the local shops either didn’t have bags, or they charged for them. We buy secondhand whenever we can. We refill our cleaning chemical bottles at a ECO refill station at the recycling centre, mainly because it is cheaper, it’s a good excuse to browse the stores other offerings, and a happy by-product is that it’s one less thing in the bin. I have also been known to make my own eco version of cleaning chemicals as well.
We have a long way to go before we can be those electric car, solar powered, off grid guys that boast a ‘one rubbish collection a month’ and to be honest not entirely sure we want to be those guys. The present day incarnation are a little scary for us to tolerate. But we’ve made it this far just by making slow incremental changes and mostly by happy accident just trying to live a comfortable low impact low cost life. Who knows, we might get there, but just knowing we are making changes and they feel right for us is a great place to be.