In this week-long series, we’re talking to HuffPost UK readers who set themselves a new year’s resolution last year that you may be considering for 2019 – and stuck to it. Their motivation could be your inspiration. Here, Emma Ross, a London-based mum of two and former tech worker, who blogs at mamalina.co and Instagrams @mamalinauk, shares her story.
I’m an avid nature lover and have always cared deeply about protecting the planet. But it became more hands-on when I had my first son, Jack, four years ago. There was this feeling of almost being able to start from scratch again, with this whole new person – plus, with maternity leave, I had the time and space to do those more sustainable things, like not buying food that’s drowning in plastic by DIY-ing it, instead. Now my husband and I have number two, Sonny, it’s even more pertinent.
On New Year’s Eve 2017, I made some resolutions. I already had my reusable coffee cup, water bottle, canvas bag and a set of cutlery that I would take out of the house with me to cut down on single use plastic waste. But I wanted to go hard. I pledged to remove all sorts of milk bottles, single use sanitary wear, plastic-packaged food, endless bottles of shower gel, shampoo and conditioner and lots of other stuff from our life. And here’s how we did it.
In the kitchen, getting rid of plastic hinged on buying loose fruit and veg and getting boxes of seasonal produce delivered. We also started making our own oat milk by blending soaked oats with water to stop using plastic bottles and taking containers out to shops, so we could buy cheese from places where you can get it unwrapped.
A really useful trick was joining up with a few friends locally to order things like nuts and pulses in massive bags, from bulk suppliers, which we then stick in containers and divvy out. When it comes to food out of the house, we’ve switched to beeswax wraps as a cling film alternative – and I always take my own sandwiches on the road rather than grabbing a salad box or whatever.
If my eldest needs food for a school trip, he has the same, plus a drink in a reusable water bottle and loose fruit. I managed to eliminate plastic crisp packets by making homemade snacks out of potato peels, drizzling with a little olive oil and baking them with sea salt.
A great idea is making your own quick dips, like hummus, with chickpeas, tahini and lemon by just blitzing them in a food processor, meaning you’re not buying a plastic tub. For bread, you can get it loose in most supermarkets.
The one thing I fall down on when it comes to all things delicious? Feta. I’m obsessed with it’s tangy amazingness, as well as salty halloumi cheese, which I end up buying in plastic packets. I know you can get feta in these glass jars, but it’s crazy expensive.
With bathroom stuff: surrendering the disposable nappies we were still using for my littlest during the night was a biggie. I’m a huge fan of cloth nappies. The amount of plastic-lined disposable sorts, that take hundreds of years to break down, you save is huge. But finding a type that would keep him dry all night long was something I wanted to investigate.
I found that a Totsbot’s peanut wrap with a Totsbot’s Bamboozle were absorbent enough, when used together. In the morning, the nappies go into a washing basket to get cleaned. (We’ve got cloth wet wipes we were already using, rather than the throwaway ones.)
For loo roll, we bulk buy recycled stuff from Who Gives A Crap?, a brilliant company who don’t wrap rolls in plastic, and who donate 50% of their profits to building toilets and improving sanitation in the developing world.
To put a stopper in the zillion bottles of hair stuff and gels that were emanating from our bathroom, we’ve now got everything in bar form. That’s honestly been transformative – we basically have zero waste coming from that room, now.
Then, there’s pads and tampons. Again, they’re heavy on the plastic. I switched to using a Mooncup as well as period pants that feature a waterproof layer, for just in case, as well as cloth pads. It’s a lot cheaper and means you never need to dash to the shop for a box of the disposable ones.
Another major change? Re-adjusting how I thought about clothes. As well as the ethical implications of fast fashion, a lot of it is made from plastics, which then leak microplastics in the waterways when we wash them. So, if I need something new, or something new for the kids, it’s hand-me-downs or charity shop stuff. I’ve got some well made, durable stuff that shouldn’t need replacing for a long time and am trying to be happy with that.
Doing this, I’ve learnt loads. I’ve made changes and tweaked them, so I now know where the best place to get plastic-free cereal from is, or where the hidden gem second hand shop for amazing Christmas and Chanukah presents is. Speaking of: all of my kid’s presents this year are thrifted – so no new plastic toys or games – and they’re wrapped using old newspaper and string rather than non-recyclable paper.
If you’re looking to ditch the plastic this new year, I’d say you need to appreciate that it’s all about prep. We went camping this summer in Kent, so we went and bulk bought stuff like pasta, rice and bread to take with us, so we wouldn’t have to buy packaged stuff to eat. It’s that sort of pre-planning that can be tough.
But, if I forget my coffee cup one day, I don’t beat myself up. I’ll forgo my caffeine and that’ll make me remember, next time! It’s new habits you’re trying to form and it’s not going to click overnight. Cut yourself some slack and try again tomorrow.
My motivation is straightforward. I think a lot about what the planet will look like in 20 or 30 years. The thought of my kids turning around to me and saying “there used to be icebergs there?” or “that island doesn’t exist anymore?” kills me. I’m not saying that my stuff is going to change the big picture. But I do think that if we all make switches, we’ll collectively help to lower greenhouse gases and try to stem the tide.
For 2018, I feel like I’ve accomplished something. Sure, there’s always so much more to do and sometimes I have days where I feel like I’m barely doing anything. But this year has been transformative – and these changes are for good. When it comes to pushing back against plastic and making waves in the wider sustainable effort, I’m excited to dig even deeper for 2019.
As told to Claudia Canavan.