Plastic Free July might be over, but there’s things we can do year round to reduce our plastic use. We had a chat with Erin Rhoads (aka The Rogue Ginger) about all things plastic-free and how we can help to reduce our overall environmental impact.
If it’s your first time hearing about Erin, she’s an environmentalist, change-maker, lifestyle blogger and plastic free advocate. Erin has been speaking and writing about her plastic free journey since 2013 and has even written a book on the subject, “Waste Not: Make a Big Difference by Throwing Away Less“.
Erin’s work started on her blog The Rogue Ginger (see below) where she wrote about plastic free lifestyle tips and travel. Now she speaks at conferences, runs workshops and consults on programs such as ABC’s “War on Waste”. She works with environmental groups, local government and co-founded sustainability awareness groups Zero Waste Victoria and Plastic Bag Free Victoria.
Erin lives in Melbourne with her husband “the Builder” and their son. Check out our interview with her below:
To you, what does it mean to go plastic free?
I define plastic free as a personal attempt to reduce your reliance on new plastic. I’m not anti-plastic, only anti its misuse. It’s also about valuing the plastic in existence already and using it first, before creating more. Plastic as a material has provided accessibility and advancements in medicine. But a plastic bottle of mustard… I don’t know if that is really needed.
What made you start?
I asked my sister for a movie recommendation when I was stuck at home with a cold, I had hoped for a romantic drama but instead she thought I might like a funny and engaging eco-documentary called “The Clean Bin Project”. I had never watched an eco-documentary before and my first one was a wake-up call. It really inspired me to look at what I was throwing in my bin.
What was the hardest thing to give up?
During the beginning, I’d say the hardest thing to give up was junk food. Over time saying no got easier and I just stopped missing it. These days it’s great to see more companies making changes to their products and packaging too. If I feel I need snack food, I can visit my local bakery for a doughnut.
Is going completely plastic free possible?
Of course it is! But I think to achieve that would mean being 100% self-sufficient and removing yourself from modern society. Over time, I believe humans will move away from plastic. We invented it, so I’m sure we can invent something else and learn from our mistakes of creating too much.
Since reducing plastic, have you noticed that you’ve given up other things?
I have given up fast fashion shopping and reduced my animal consumption to almost nothing. We used to eat meat and dairy every day. Now we have a rule where we only eat meat if we are out of the house, and even then we often opt for the vegan and vegetarian dishes! That was a change I never expected. We also looked at our energy footprint and moved to renewable energy (proud Powershop customers!). We also try to source the food we buy for our home entirely from Australia to reduce emissions that come with shipping our food around the world. This plastic free lifestyle was an onramp for considering my impact in all areas of my life.
Are you reducing your environmental impact in other ways?
I choose to source most of my clothing and furniture secondhand. It takes new resources to create a new t-shirt, plus a lot of fuel to ship these items around the world. Also, new clothes often come wrapped in plastic to protect them during transit. Just consider how many new t-shirts, jumpers, jeans and dresses are being sent in clear plastic bag, only to be taken out and put onto coat hangers. That’s a lot of plastic. With most of us only wearing approximately 30% of our closets, it’s time we all shopped less and used what’s already available instead of buying new.
What challenges do you face as a parent?
Besides a lack of sleep, not a lot. We haven’t found there is much waste created or plastic needed, except for medicine. Choosing cloth nappies, reusable wipes and joining our toy library has helped keep our plastic use and rubbish low. We used the baby led weaning method and skipped the purees too. As our son gets older, there will undoubtedly be some conversations around new plastic toys. We decided early on that if he wants something made of plastic, then that’s his choice.
Can you give us your top 3 tips to reduce our environmental impact?
1) Reduce how much food waste is going into your bin.
Each year, one out of five shopping bags worth of vegetables, fruit and bread is put in the bin. Before doing your grocery shopping, sit down and write a list keeping in mind to choose ingredients that can be utilised over several meals. A shopping list will help you stop wandering supermarket aisles grabbing food you don’t need or buying items on sale that you might use, but probably won’t. Write down the fruit and vegetables you already have at home. It’s so easy to go on to autopilot reaching for something like carrots when you have some at home that need to be eaten.
2) With organic waste making up close to 40% of our bins, look into setting up compost for a larger yard or worm farms and bokashi bins for a smaller home or apartment.
Sharewaste.com allows people without these options to log on and search their area for others in the community who are happy to accept food waste. Keep food scraps in the freezer between drop-offs to reduce the smell. When food organics go to landfill, they decompose slowly and producing harmful gases (such as methane and carbon dioxide) which contribute to climate change. When food organics are composted, they become food for the soil instead. You can use your new compost to help grow herbs and vegetables, preferably the ones you eat often.
3) Choose plastic free produce and buy fruit and vegetables loose (not in plastic).
Invest in reusable produce bags – these can be sourced from old sheets, sold in health food stores or found on Etsy. If plastic free produce are hard to find in your area, join the #plasticfreeproduce campaign with activist Anita Horan. She offers tips on her website about how to reduce your reliance on plastic: www.anitahoran.com
Have you had any surprising responses to going plastic free?
Before “War on Waste” and “The Blue Planet” documentaries, there were some odd responses. But, I generally think that’s because people don’t know how to react to someone saying they are trying to live without plastic. I also wonder if others just say some mean things when they know that they themselves could be doing better. It’s like a defence mechanism. I never take it personally.
It can seem a bit daunting, what are some easy tips that our customers can start with?
My advice is to just start somewhere and don’t compare yourself with anyone else. A plastic free challenge like Plastic Free July is a great place to start to change those habits. Just remember everyone is different and so are our bins. Also, if you need to use plastic in some way, that’s OK. It’s not just us that need to change. Businesses have to step up and redesign products too. We are not just consumers, we’re citizens first.
“The Great Rubbish Debate” blog
“Plastic Free” blog
“Make your own beeswax wrap!” blog
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