I Started A Zero-Waste Shop After Realising The Damage I Was Doing To Our Planet

The planet just cannot cope with the amount of plastic that we are consuming. I know we have no choice but to change our habits, writes Rachael Wong.
Courtesy of Rachael Wong
Courtesy of Rachael Wong

It has taken little over a century for plastic to become one of the biggest threats to life on earth. And for most people, myself included, it happened right under our noses.

Whether in our home, workplace, handbag, supermarket, hotel room, gym, you name it, I guarantee you will find some form of plastic there. But it isn’t just in our own personal space that plastic can be found. No, it litters far more of our planet than it has any right to, and is the cause of death to millions of marine creatures each year.

We have become a species that over-consumes, constantly needing and wanting new things, using objects and items for quick fixes of dopamine and not projecting our thoughts to the future and to what happens to these items and the waste they create when we no longer want or need them. Take plastic bags for example, we use a mind-blowing 500 billion single-use carrier bags worldwide each year and the average lifespan of each bag is a mere twenty-minutes, yet they can take up to 500 years to degrade. This means that they can stick around on our planet over 13 million times longer than their expected usage. Let that sink in.

I was guilty of living a throwaway lifestyle. I considered myself an ‘ordinary’ consumer – I often bought things for indulgence more than need, I was a sucker for a multi-buy savings offer and I was enticed by packaging rather than deterred by it. This all changed when I began to discover the harsh truth about plastic and the damage it is having to our planet.

“I considered myself an ‘ordinary’ consumer... This all changed when I began to discover the harsh truth about plastic.”

While travelling around Asia I saw plastic waste lining every single beach I visited, as well as the sea bed, the rainforests and jungles – even at almost 6,000m above sea level in the Himalayas. The damage that humans and our habits were causing hit me the hardest while in these far-flung places, where there were barely any humans and where I was expecting to find almost untouched landscapes. In all instances plastic waste and trash had gotten there before me.

I decided to make some changes to my lifestyle and reduce the amount of plastic in it as much as I possibly could. The destruction it is causing to our natural world is so grand that I needed to know if giving it up was possible, and if so, why weren’t more people trying to do so?

I made plastic-free switches for the bathroom first. I moved over to soap and shampoo bars, natural deodorants in cardboard packaging, a bamboo toothbrush. The most impactful switch was reusable face wipes after learning about the plastic content in each of the disposable wipes. I felt really pleased, so far it hadn’t been as tough as I had first thought.

Next, my handbag. I armed myself daily with a reusable water bottle, a canvas bag, a metal straw and travel cutlery set and made a pledge to take food from home when possible to prevent purchasing plastic items for working lunches or when out and about. Again, I felt really pleased with the ease of these switches, I was having a positive impact on the environment… and saving money, a welcomed bonus!

Confident, I moved on to the kitchen. I almost crumbled when I looked into the cupboards and saw majority plastic packaging staring back at me. I was overwhelmed by the plastic waste our supermarkets are largely responsible for – how we were supposed to make positive changes as a society if we can’t get food, one of the most basic of human needs, unpackaged?

I was so committed to my zero-waste transformation that the next step seemed logical: I wanted to help others embark on their own journey. And so I decided to start a zero-waste store of my own. Proud of how many changes I had been able to easily implement and of how far I’d come. I wanted to share this with others, and help find solutions to the common problems we face in stores.

Staring up was scary, as I had no background in business or retail, but what I did have was a heart filled with purpose and determination, and some invaluable support from other zero-waste shop owners. The zero-waste community support that is available to people starting out absolutely blew me away, across the country there is a network of individuals who all have the same dream as I do, from those who have been established businesses for a few years to those who are in the initial planning stages, all offering up advice and support to one another. There is real inspirational community spirit surrounding the movement, rather than closed competitive business attitudes. We all have the same message and know that together the ripples we create in society will spread further and faster.

“I dream of a future that is filled with alternatives to plastic, one where humans can live in harmony with their environments”

I have been open now for six-months and I am absolutely overwhelmed by the response that One Small Step has had with the local community. People are certainly opening their eyes to the reality of the plastic problem and are beginning to take responsibility for their actions by reducing the amount of plastic in their own lives. I absolutely adore each and every one of my customers for their willingness to step-up and to become a part of change that is so deeply needed.

We can all start to be a part of this change by first taking a long, hard look at the plastic in our lives. This very act seems to activate some form of plastic-consciousness in many people, all of a sudden you will start to see plastic in places you hadn’t noticed it before. We all need to be focussing our attention on refusing single-use plastic, reusing items that we already have, repurposing things that we are thinking of throwing out and finding a new use for them if possible as well as refilling containers that we already have at a zero-waste store if possible.

I dream of a future that is filled with alternatives to plastic, one where humans can live in harmony with their environments, where we are all happy enough with what we have and where we have taken it upon ourselves to take responsibility for our actions and what we leave behind.

The planet just cannot cope with the amount of plastic that we are consuming. We have no choice but to be adaptable and change our habits. And if I can do it, anyone can.

Rachael Wong is the founder of One Small Step. For more information, visit them on Facebook or Instagram, or find out where your local zero-waste store is and give them a visit.

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