(This is a guest post by my dear friend and all-round brilliant person, Dr Stephanie Martin, and I know it’s going to stimulate your thinking.)

mental
ˈmɛnt(ə)l/
adjective
adjective: mental1

1. 
relating to the mind.”mental faculties”

plasticity
plaˈstɪsɪti/
noun
noun: plasticity

1. 
the quality of being easily shaped or moulded.”fine clay, at the right degree of plasticity, is more useful”

2. 
BIOLOGY 
the adaptability of an organism to changes in its environment or differences between its various habitats.


I’m more obsessed by rubbish than the average person.

I like things to have a place and putting things in the right bin is a sort of extension of that.

On one of my first dates with my “lobster”, I rummaged around in a wheelie bin to fish out a bit of incorrectly disposed of rubbish in order to put it into the correct bin for recycling. Thankfully he saw this as a reason to stay rather than to run. It had made me feel uneasy enough to cross the line of social etiquette which normal has bin-diving as a taboo.

In the early 2000’s, when I went to university, I discovered that it was quite normal and acceptable to throw glass into your normal household waste. Glass? In the normal waste? This was as crazy to me as throwing actually money in the bin. More fishing in bins to correct the wrongs of my less enlightened housemates.

I’ve always diligently recycled everything, even in the days when that meant taking your rubbish to the tip. On the bus. I never really thought about where it went after the tip or what it got recycled into, but I felt good when the recycling bag was much fuller than the normal waste bag. In fact, the bigger the recycling bag, the better.

Ties to the past and future

My mum is a keeper. Not of junk, she’s very keen to be rid of any junk, but if something might have a meaningful use in the future, it gets kept. And so, almost all of my toys from the 80’s were stored away and kept for the day that they might be played with and loved again.

With matching grins on our faces, my son and I delighted in the wonderful, brightly coloured fisher price toys which were presented to us. It had been 30 years since I’d last played with them and they looked as good as new.

Whilst my son wound up little toy cars in a garage that went “ping, ping, ping” my mind also started to ping and I wondered where these toys would be in another 30, 60 or even 100 years.

I was almost certain that they wouldn’t be stored for the next generation of children to play with and concluded that in 100 years time they would be in landfill somewhere, being sadly squashed between an old carpet and a dirty nappy.

Squashed, but still present. Probably not just for 100 years but for a lot, lot longer than that.

Slowly leaching away into the ground and the sea, to be eaten by sea creatures and slowly poisoning them. I’m desperately saddened by the fact that so many of the worlds’ creatures may no longer exist when my children grow up.

Basically, everything we buy will eventually end up as rubbish.

Thinking of this I imagined all the worldly things I’d owned, no longer wanted and had merrily thrown away (usually as part of some sort of spring cleaning activity). Where were all those things now?

Certainly not in my back garden where I’d have to look at them every day. But somewhere else. Somewhere I didn’t have to see them or think about them polluting the ground. Forever.

It’s just socially acceptable to throw things away.

But why? A question I think we should all ask ourselves.

New years resolutions

When I first met Daniel (aka lobster), he didn’t recycle. Everything got chucked into the same rubbish bin.

I was honestly quite horrified.

Luckily he has learnt that it’s easier to put things in the right bin than to watch me go wrist deep into our trash and is now quite good at refuse sorting.

When, in January this year, I announced to Daniel that we were going to be “plastic free”, I wasn’t entirely surprised when he rolled his eyes and groaned a little.

I could understand it. For him, he’d just mastered putting things into the recycling – this seemed to be an exercise in making our lives way more difficult and far less convenient. “

“What’s the point?” he said. “We’re really good at recycling.”

The fact is, we aren’t good at recycling.

We’re good at putting things that can be recycled into a plastic bag that gets taken away by the council, and we trust those nice people at the council to do the right thing with it and turn our lovely plastic rubbish into different plastic rubbish.

Or they may be shipping it off to China and Thailand and Poland for them to deal with as they wish. No thanks.

So if plastic lasts forever and we can’t trust the people to whom we give our plastic to dispose of it nicely, then what’s left?

The only thing we really have control over……..to not buy it in the first place.

I like a challenge and this seemed like an interesting one.

Implementation

“I’ll just pop to the supermarket and be really careful about what I buy.” I thought.

Two hours later and I had a few vegetables, some flour and box of dishwasher powder in my trolley.

I’d intended to buy all sorts of things, meat included. I thought I’d found the perfect solution in bringing my own container to put the meat into from the meat counter, rather than buying pre-packed.

In reality, it wasn’t that easy. I felt like a total weirdo asking the man to put the meat into my container rather than into his plastic bag. In fact, I walked past the counter a few times before I plucked up the courage to ask! He was friendly enough and tried to help and did indeed put the meat into my container. But not before he’d picked it up with a plastic bag, bagged it in the bag and then placed it in my container.

Hmmmm, not quite the point.

I also discovered that even things that look like they are benignly wrapped in cardboard have got contraband plastic inside as a second layer of packaging. Very annoying.

There are some easy big wins, however:

  • the milkman, and I’ve realised that many other goods still come in glass jar alternatives;
  • I’ve found a friendly butcher, and;
  • there are lots of greengrocers around who don’t wrap all their veg in plastic.

For everything else, you just have to get creative!

I made more different things in the kitchen in January than I had throughout 2017. Pizza is actually very easy to make, and lots of fun too, biscuits don’t take long and bread (if you exclude the faff of waiting for it to rise) takes 10 minutes!

It’s actually very satisfying to cook a meal starting with all raw ingredients.

But why is this relevant to Hana’s blog about mental wellbeing?

Well, to live a plastic-free life you, quite frankly, have to become OBSESSED by it. Since most things convenient have plastic packaging, getting everyday goods suddenly becomes very inconvenient – no more popping to the shop to get a loaf of bread.

It’s as much an exercise in self-control and organisation as it is about creativity.

It’s about thinking about the journey that everything you see in the shops has been on. Where is it from? How did it get here? But, ultimately and most importantly, where will it end up when I’m done with it?

Not so long ago, in the time of our grandmothers, there was no such thing as single-use plastic. And you know what? They survived just fine. Their struggles in life came from lack of contraception, washing machines and a right to vote. Not a lack of plastic.

And so I hope that by challenging the way that we’ve always done it and the way that everyone else does it, being willing to make some small changes, and encouraging others to do the same, that we don’t turn our lovely beautiful world into a giant plastic rubbish bin.


(Hana speaking now.)

I think it’s really important to point out that not only was Steph willing to make this significant effort to live plastic-free for a month, she also has three children under three and a half, so it’s not like life is super easy for her anyway and she was still able to make it happen. A serious case of #mindovermatter.

There are a number of things which come up for me in reading this:

  1. Cor blimey. I’m not sure I could do it. I think I care about the planet but this sounds REALLY hard and I really like things being convenient. I feel proper resistance to having to actually make that massive effort rather than just chat about how good it would be. And then I feel a bit icky and guilty about feeling that way.
  2. What I do find it easy to engage with is the concept of not just doing something because that’s what everyone else does. In fact, in that scenario, I’m often likely to choose the opposite just on principle. So perhaps we’re all hiding behind each other and that if a few of us can have the courage, like Steph, to step away from the herd and say “This isn’t good enough. I want to try harder.” then change will slowly happen and the suppliers will start to respond. And then it will become easier and perhaps our children won’t even have to consider their plastic consumption because it won’t be ‘normal’ anymore.
  3. Can the story of plastic be a powerful analogy for the way that we think and live? Are there other parts of our lives in which we feel we can ‘delegate away to a third party’ when, really, we don’t know if they will do the right thing and we could be retaining responsibility for that matter ourselves?

I find myself talking a lot at the moment about responsibility. About taking responsibility for the way that we think and feel. But what Steph has written here has really made me think about taking responsibility for the way that I live. And I’m now looking forward to working out what it is that needs to change and what action I can proudly take in order to play my part in living more responsibly.