Kate Nelson, plastic-free mermaid
Kate Nelson, plastic-free mermaid

How I learned to give up plastic and live a more beautiful life

Giving up plastic seems daunting … but if I can do it, so can you.

I’ve lived a disposable-plastic-free life for almost two years now. Amazingly, I make very few hard sacrifices and am in no lack of luxury.

So this plastic-free July, I’d like to share what I’ve learned over the years to help other people who would also like to make the transition to a plastic-free life, help the oceans and live a healthier and more nature-loving lifestyle.

Here’s how:

Start with your motivation

I first realised I had to make a big change in my life in 2008, when I was volunteering for Jean Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Future’s Society in Santa Barbara, California. Like many folk, I was in love with the ocean and wanted to do my part to help preserve and protect the vast, magical waters. I was helping an ocean activist and scientist – Dr Andrea Neal – who taught me about how our plastic waste photo-degrades into tiny bits in the oceans.

This was a huge shock. I used plastic every day. I used disposable plastics every day!

Dr Neal explained how the currents converging in the oceans created whirlpool-like systems called “gyres” where trash collects. Appalled and somewhat skeptical, I joined a research expedition to the gyre where most of California’s trash ends up—the Great Pacific Garbage Patch—to see it with my own eyes. It was not a patch or a trash island, but a thick soup—impossible to clean up! What a mess.

I knew then that I had to make a big change in my own life. If I could not give up smoothies in plastic cups or chips in plastic bags, how could I ever ask anyone else to? Quitting single-use plastics was a sacrifice I was more than willing to make.

Start with the big four and work your way up

First I quit the big four: plastic bags, straws, take-away coffee cups, and plastic bottles.

Then I gave up plastic takeaway packaging and utensils. This was less about avoiding these plastics and more about anticipating someone else’s negligence. Someone would buy me a smoothie in plastic , or a waiter would not hear my “no straw” request. I got vigilant!

I slowly phased out plastic packaged foods, replacing them with homemade recipes or the alternatives packaged in glass or bought as fresh, whole foods.
Most recently I have been phasing out my bathroom plastics and experimenting with shampoo recipes and facial toners. It is beautiful to blend organic oils and herbs to make something nourishing and totally natural for my skin. I feel no lack of luxury in this lifestyle.

Take it easy

It is a bit daunting to imagine life without plastics. So it is best to take it slow. Make small changes at a reasonable pace. Be forgiving of yourself and others. Stay playful, interested, and creative. You do not want to suffer too much and relapse! It is a process that takes time and heart. Not too much, just a little.

Just as each breath we take is important to our whole, breath-infused lifecycle, so too is each individual piece of plastic we refuse crucial to the un-clogging of our waterways and de-plasticing of our oceans.

Want to know more? Check out my guide!

I have put together a guide to help folks who are keen to attempt Plastic Free July … or any month free of plastics. It is a comprehensive strategy for success that covers everything from revising your shopping experience to making your own face scrub.

Please feel free to share this with anyone you know who’d like to take the challenge.

Download the Plastic Free July Survival Guide [PDF]

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Kate Nelson lives in Byron Bay where she supports the NSW “Ban the Bag” campaign and, with seven others has started a local campaign called Plastic Free Byron.