I’ve spent my whole life in Gippsland except for a few holidays and a few years in Melbourne to study Conservation Biology and Ecology. My husband has also lived his whole life in Gippsland and together we have two children aged five and seven.
I’ve always taken steps to reduce my environmental footprint, but a restless feeling began to grow inside me that it wasn’t enough anymore and that I needed to work harder to make a difference. It was important to me to be the environmentalist I hoped my children would be. After all, actions speak louder than words. I didn’t know how to satisfy this feeling because I thought I was already doing everything within my means. But then I found the Plastic Free July Challenge – to refuse all single-use plastic for one month.
The idea instantly appealed to me because it was something I could do without spending large amounts of money and it wasn’t going to take me away from my home or family. It was really just about changing the way I shop (or so I thought), yet it could make a huge difference to my family’s environmental footprint. I’d also attended a presentation six months earlier at my work on the problem of plastic in the ocean and was shocked by how bad the problem was. It felt like I was meant to be at this point in my life so I started the plastic free challenge immediately – a month early – and couldn’t stop when the challenge ended.
Completing the challenge has been one of the most positive things I’ve ever done. It has revealed to me that I do have choices and I do have power to effect change. During the challenge I also became aware that it was possible to pursue a zero waste lifestyle as I was finding many of my plastic free solutions involved no waste at all. I decided to work towards reducing all my waste. Now my family produces less than one handful of landfill and one bucket of recycling per week. I’m very proud of this given we live in a rural area and not a city with easy access to specialty stores. Anything I can’t find unpackaged or plastic free, I make or go without. Over time I have found a solution to almost all our needs and if there are things that we are going without, we’re not missing them.
Learning how to make food and personal care products from scratch has been the most time consuming aspect of pursuing a zero waste lifestyle but also very satisfying. Most things turn out to be very easy to make once I know how, but time is still needed to do the making and baking. I’ve come to believe that food is something we need to value and make more time for. We need to slow down and be more mindful of the impacts of our choices. If we continue to focus on convenience and the cheapest option we will continue to damage our health, animals and the environment.
I didn’t start this lifestyle because I had lots of spare time; I made specific decisions about how I wanted to lead my life and guide my family to better reflect my values. I’m so glad I’ve done it because the rewards have been more than I expected. We’ve improved our health, saved money, bought more local and ethical products and produce, learnt to make things from scratch, wasted less overall, and educated ourselves and others.
I’ve been amazed by how far my not-so-eco-conscious husband has come in this journey with me, and it’s because there is so much to be gained when you get past the fleeting feelings of deprivation whilst you change your habits. The kids have stunned me with their capacity to understand why we are doing this and to make good choices.
I think the key to our success as a family is that we allow each individual to have their own thoughts and values and encourage good decision making rather than dictating what one must think and feel. And, really, striving for plastic free and zero waste living is about careful and intentional consumption. It’s a way of protesting against a wasteful society and saying we can do better. If we all make better choices as often as possible, we can make a huge difference with our individual actions.
In this blog I share how we significantly reduce our waste and other ways of practicing sustainability. Please take some time to look around and leave comments, as I hope our experiences give you the opportunity to learn from us and that we can learn from you too. I would love to hear about your experiences, learnings, and insights.
Gippsland Unwrapped is also about giving you choices. In Gippsland, we have challenges related to living in small geographically dispersed communities, so if this is you, I hope to help you over come those. Of course, it’s all still applicable to city folk wanting to reduce their waste too.
Together I believe we can make a difference and I hope that you will see that a waste free life is about gaining fulfilment, not giving it up.