I recently received criticism on my video about my minimalist/zero waste personal care routine. In particular the fact that my shampoo bar was in a reusable travel plastic soap container with the response that i should “get rid of it” and that there is no such thing as zero waste while keeping plastic in my life.
You would think that since i’m on the internet as such i’d be used to these types of comments, but the reality is for one reason or another the little community that has formed around My Minimalist Baby really has been entirely reasonable, sensible and kind to date. I feel the need to write this post as i feel it is important to address this particular issue and that moving towards a zero waste lifestyle (and i have never claimed to ‘be there’ yet) is not the same as attempting to go completely plastic free. Firstly I do think that it is better to use other materials where possible due to issues in recyclability and to create less demand on possibly finite petrochemical resources (well they obviously are finite but these days it looks like we will move away from these resources before they run out, at least i hope so. Also there is exciting developing technology which can even turn plastic landfill back into oil!). However in the current day and age with all that is around us I truly believe living a completely plastic free lifestyle is fairly impossible.
I know there are people that have done plastic free as a challenge and blogged about it but as far as i’m aware their rule was simply to introduce no new plastic into their lives. That is an extremely different thing too than throwing away every plastic object in your home to replace it with something else. Firstly throwing away plastic items is about as wasteful as you can get. Talk about the extreme opposite end of the spectrum of zero waste! Fair enough if it is something for say food or drink and you are concerned about potential toxins in that plastic and then maybe donate those objects. However I am sure as hell not going to be replacing my plastic containers I store my camping gear, my plastic folding table that I use as a desk or for that matter my plastic travel soap container I keep my shampoo bar in. There are many things we use plastic for that it is unlikely we will be absorbing a lot of toxins from. I did swap my plastic food containers recently for glass ones but I kept the plastic containers to use for things such as keeping chicken food and saving seed for my garden.
Secondly It is completely naive to think that we can remove all plastic from our modern lives. Plastic lurks in almost EVERYTHING and in unavoidable and essential parts of our day to day lives and technology. There is plastic in computers – even if you get a pretty metal macbook, in mobile phones, in cameras, in cars, buses, bikes, synthetic clothing (and good luck finding anything that doesn’t at least have a plastic button, zip, tag, thread or elastic), flooring, most modern cloth diapers, window handles…. etc etc etc. You get the idea. Start looking for it around your home and you’ll realise plastic is EVERYWHERE!
While you probably theoretically can live a completely plastic free life if you go build your own log cabin in the woods, modern life is going to come into contact with plastic. It can be argued that even if you just use plastic items you are participating in a plastic world you don’t just have to own them. So every time you take the bus or train there is plastic in your life. Hell even the receipts you get at cash-registers have plastic in them (i know this one from when i pregnant as it is advised not to touch them as they have high levels of BPA toxin!).
For someone to tell someone they aren’t ‘zero waste’ enough because they have some actually recyclable plastic items in their life (my soap container is recyclable however I will be keeping it for many years to come!) is also very damaging to the idea that a zero waste lifestyle is achievable by everyday people. Yes of course a soap container is one of the easier things to find a non plastic alternative which i might do WHEN IT BREAKS (which isn’t anytime soon being made of sturdy plastic and i have had it for years already). But to criticise anyone’s choice of reusable items smacks of a purity complex, elitism and creates an overall feeling that regardless what you do it will never be good enough – because where does it end since plastic is so impossible to avoid entirely.
The reality is plastic is cheap and many people like myself might have long ago, before necessarily going zero waste invested in a set of various reusable plastic items. I am personally lucky enough to be able to afford glass ones now (although the lids are still plastic) and mason jars. You might think mason jars are cheap but actually they aren’t, at least not in Australia – mine are reserved only for proper canning! BTW they aren’t plastic free either – there is a plastic layer in the lid for the seal – most water bottles too have this even if they are stainless steel or glass. And before you tell me to just reuse jam jars or whatever (which i do) they too contain plastic in the lid for sealing purposes. So to suggest that people need to live a plastic free life if they truly care about the environment is setting people up to fail.
Frankly i don’t have the time to sniff out every plastic item in my life. Most people with children, jobs, hobbies… aka lives do not either, at least to the extent of finding a alternative for every single plastic item in their homes (and good luck with that!). However we can still make a difference and live sustainable lives doing the best we can, buy choosing reusable items regardless of the materials they are made (try to make it recyclable though).
Do the best you can people and don’t let zero waste turn into something like the vegan community where it becomes divided into a million little parts of people following different versions (eg high fat, low fat, fruitarian, no salt… etc) and barraging those from other groups. I have a feeling it is gaining momentum and is becoming the next ‘big thing’ so lets keep it friendly, supportive and kind.