Plastic? Fantastic? Fifty and Five

Recently I was asked to speak about Plastic Free July. My specific brief was to talk about 50 bits of plastic I can live without and five bits of plastic I cannot. I thought I would share my speech . . . Lots of fives . . . and funnily enough this will be the fifth year I have participated in plastic free July . . . . but of course I am NO WHERE NEAR fifty years old! Fifty bit of plastic I can live without . . . Really this is a list of fifty bits of plastic I learnt to live without during plastic free July. They generally fall into five categories First things I just had to be vigilant about. It wasn’t hard, I just needed to be conscious and say “no” – plastic shopping bags, take away coffee containers, water bottles, straw. . . .. Not much of a change really – just awareness . . . and the occasional gumption to walk out a pub that only sells beer in plastic containers and refuse to fill my water bottle with wine! Second, new habits I needed to adopt – buying in bulk – flour, peanut butter. Rice, lollies, chocolate, popcorn. Finding a butcher who would wrap meat in butchers’ paper only. Going to local farmers markets for organic fruit and vege. Taking a container and cutlery to the markets to avoid plastic takeaway containers. This will take you more time and organisation to start with, but less in the long run. Third, there were things I had to find alternatives for or cut out of my life – I gave up on timtams, starburst lollies, store bought strawberries, balloons. And fourth, (and most excitedly) new skills I had to learn, things I had to make – those little cloth bags you put your fruit and vege in, cloth sanitary pads, yogurt, toothpaste, deodorant, my own jam, canning fruit in season, making ice cream (yes I’m sorry all bulk icecream has some plastic packaging  – damn it!) Some of these skills are old skills being revised (do you know anyone who makes their own sanitary pads?) and many of the people who know those skills are not here anymore . When it comes to these things all I can say is “thank goodess for google” The number of times I jumped on line to ask “is there a plastic free alternative to  . . . . “ The fact someone out there had thought of it and taken the time to add it to the net made me feel less alone in my quest. One of the best exercises I have seen involved these four ways to reduce plastic. A teacher got her class to do a stock take of the plastic in their household pantry and fridge. Each child was then randomly given a “tricky” item to see if they could find an alternative. The creative ideas and research that came out of that assignment was incredible. And fifth, some things I did were truly just radical and just strange. In my third year of Plastic Free July I could not source milk that was not in plastic so  – meet Kirsh. Kirsh had triplets last year and in the end she was producing nearly six litres of milk a day. I learnt to milk her, I learnt to make goat cheese (lots of goat cheese . . .).I trained a goat around the streets of South Freo without running away from dogs, I learnt how to wake up at exactly the same time each morning so the neighbours didn’t complain about her bellowing . . . When I tell my plastic free story, most people say “good on you” but occasionally you do get someone who comments “What difference is this going to make really? This is nothing in the scheme of things” I usually tell them this story. There is a girl in our street. She goes to a posh private school in Perth. After we screened the movie Bag It, she decided that she was going to refuse to buy bottled water again. She simply took a water bottle. When her school took the girls up to Karagini for a camp, she put on her permission form that she could not drink bottled water. She added it to the allergy part of the form, she added it to special requirements and she attached a letter explaining her stance. It is a long way on a bus to Karagini. At the first stop the teachers got out the water and fruit for morning tea. “I can’t drink that Miss, but I have a water bottle I filled before I left home.” She is a good girl, but by lunch time her drink bottle was empty. She was offered water in a bottle. She refused. She got into trouble, but still she refused. Kids always love a rebellion and soon other girls started to join in. By the next town half the bus would not drink bottled water. At the next town the teachers bought large esky water containers (remember them?) Despite the head teacher being really annoyed one teacher pulled her aside to tell her she was actually impressed. The school has changed its water bottle policy. No bottled water will be taken on school camp. They go on 25 camps a year with an average of 30 girls, each one drinking 5 bottles of water a day. That’s 3,750 plastic water bottles. What was that about one person not making a difference? What if we add school carnivals? Cross country? The other thing that people say is “you can’t get rid of all plastic, what about . . . .” I always reply “By god your right! I suppose I am only thinking about reducing what I can avoid” I am pretty proud of the plastic I have avoided in my life, but I have a dilemma bag too. The

The answer – from a six year old

You know some days every good sustainability crusader wonders if it is all worth it. Deep down we kind of get that the human species will die off eventually. What is the point of all the work, the behaviour change programs, the rallies and petitions? And some days I draw a weird sort of  comfort from the fact that the earth will  sort us out in her own way, regardless of what we do. I can stop and breath for a moment. And then I wonder . . . .I mean I would never go and buy a hummer, but  . . . The other day Tim spent three days making a sand sculpture for the 2013 Nectar Festival. After helping him pound sand for the first day, my job was to stand and chat to people, let them know what he was doing, and make sure the kids who always end up playing in the spare sand don’t jump all over the work until he decides he is finished. I notice a little boy watching. I wandered over to him. He was about six, maybe five . I didn’t find out his name so I will call him NK – Nice Kid. We  had a conversation. The conversation went a bit like this: NK-  That is a good sand thing. It’s a lady. What will happen when he is finished making  her? Me – Mmmmmm What do you think will happen? NK – It’s only made of sand, it might get wrecked. (he pauses) That would be sad. Me – Yes I suppose so, the rain might make her wet, the wind might blow her away. Or someone might jump on her or smash her. NK – Then it only be a pile of sand. Me – Yes I suppose so – she was made of sand so she will be sand. NK  – Will that man (being Tim) be sad. He is making her. Won’t he be sad? Me –  Funny everyone asks that. But he doesn’t mind at all. He brings her to life, he enjoys making her, see he is gently making her? He really has to concentrate. It takes a long time too, but he is not sad when she is sand again. That’s amazing hey? All that work and he doesn’t mind. NK – I hope no one wrecks her before he is finished. (he pauses) It’s like she is born and then she will be dead. Me – (slightly shocked) I suppose it is like that. When things die they go back to the earth. She goes back to sand. NK  – And animals– my bird died and we buried it in the garden. Everything that dies goes back to the earth. Everything comes from the earth and goes back to the earth. People too. ( I pause  – I am slightly freaking at this point.  He is so sure of himself. Remember, this kid is six. Then I start thinking  maybe this kid is the reincarnation of the Dali Lama or something.) Me – If we all go back to the earth, I wonder if the earth will die? NK – (he looks astonished, as if I have not been listening) Of course, everything dies and the earth will die too. Me – Oh, how will the earth die? (Imagining he has heard about global warming, or peak oil, or over population . . .  or is the reincarnation of the Dali Lama) NK – The sun will go out. Then everything will die. Me  – Oh ( I really had not thought about the sun going out). . . . . when will that happen? NK-  Oh , maybe  in about 1,500 years. You won’t remember. You will be in the earth. Me – Oh that sounds sad. No more earth. Are you worried about that? NK – Why would I worry? Everything dies. That man (being Tim) is not sad about his sand lady. Me – I feel a bit sad about the earth. NK – Yeah maybe. But we could concentrate and be gentle as she dies.  And don’t anyone wreck her before her time to die. . . . .   I don’t know – maybe all six year olds are the reincarnation of the Dali Lama!