And what a journey it has been!
One year ago today (approximately) I posted my opening blog on No Waste Bee, where I announced that I would embark on the journey to a waste-free life, by cutting down on the plastic I use. Over this year, I have made both big and small changes to my lifestyle to embrace a more planet-friendly way of living, and have posted my developments every few weeks or so on here.
A lot of my learning has been trial and error, fitting around a very busy work life, and struggling to find a balance with optimising my health or personal preferences in this not-so-easy regime. But a year is a long time, and I definitely have learnt a lot about myself (and my rubbish…) during this period.
So... what have I learnt?
Here are what I think are the five most important things I have realised this year of living plastic-free:
1. Change doesn’t happen overnight.
I remember the first week I started. I expected to have my entire life sorted by the next weekend, going from a full-time plastic user to a zero waste liver. Of course, it didn’t turn out like that. I spent weeks just trying to find food that I was comfortable eating, and it took hours looking into other waste-free blogs (examples here and here) to find solutions to plastic problems I had never had to deal with before. It was months before I had a stroke of luck and came across other plastic-free people in Konstanz, and even now, one year into a no-waste lifestyle, I have only made some parts of my life entirely waste-free.
This all sounds very pessimistic, but the point is that, even with all these setbacks, I have made a lot of progress, however it took time and dedication to make it work. I guess that is the same with any dream you have, you yourself have to go out there and work hard to achieve it!
2. You don’t have to be perfect.
Sometimes you fail… but that is part of the learning process! There have been plenty of times where I caved in: I really wanted that chocolate bar, I was too shy to say no to the free sample, or I forgot to tell the bartender “keine strohhalm bitte”. Sometimes plastic is unavoidable, especially when you are just starting out, and you feel like you have ruined everything by giving in. But it happens, and it is not the end of the world as long as you learn from your mistakes and try to act differently next time. Part of the fun of going plastic-free is that it is challenging, and that means some things will be difficult at the beginning and of course, some things will go wrong.
Now, I tend to go through cycles of being very strict or a bit more relaxed with the plastic I take, depending on my mood or needs at the time. Having this flexibility helps me incorporate this lifestyle into mine better, rather than seeing it as a difficult regime that I have to follow. As the waste-free life gets more and more comfortable, I can become more rigorous with the rules I follow.
3. Different things work for different people.
Taking on a plastic-free lifestyle means that you have to make tougher choices on what used to be simple daily decisions. And these choices will not be the same for everyone. For example, one outcome of my zero waste trajectory life is that I do not buy meat anymore, because it is difficult to find not wrapped in plastic. However, as someone who is fairly serious about their fitness training, I do still buy protein powder, which does come in a plastic-lidded container. Even though I want all parts of my life to be waste-free, there are some parts I cannot (yet) compromise on, or at least I haven’t found a solution that works for me, whereas other people might find these choices very simple or just have more resources available to them to switch to.
Plastic-free life is your life, so it needs to fit to your values. I love that it has helped me cut down on eating meat, but it also makes it very difficult to go vegan as well as maintain a high enough protein intake for muscle building, as a lot of these products are in plastic packaging. So I shall slowly work into a zero waste lifestyle, I just need to find the balance!
4. Little changes make a huge difference!
I never thought that the changes I would make would have such a big difference in my life.
Of course I am seeing less trash in my rubbish bin, which is what I expected, but that is only the start of it. Embracing a plastic-free life made me much more knowledgeable through loads of research about environmental problems, but also gave me hope when I saw all the forward steps being made in science and engineering in creating plastic alternatives and developing renewable energy infrastructure. Reading also made me become more politically aware, following my desire to understand better how we have arrived at our current point in society with the lack of priority on reducing our negative global impact. On a smaller scale, it also made me much more organised: getting up early to go to the local farmers’ markets, planning meals for the week to avoid food wastage, thinking about long term investment instead of short, convenience consumerism. I am now at a point where approximately 75% of my food is plastic packaging free, and *my entire bathroom routine is waste free*. Each change was a mini-achievement, another step towards my goal. Sometimes I cannot believe I managed to get this far; who knows what I can achieve in the next year?
And all of this started from wanting to make a difference. From realising how pointless a plastic spoon was. From making an active decision to change what I can in my own life in order to contribute to the world in a more positive manner. You may be one little person. But I firmly believe that your choices are important, and that they make a difference.
5. And finally... blogging every week is not easy!
It turns out getting a new post out every week or so is much harder than I thought! As a PhD student, my work life takes up the majority of my time, so finding a couple hours out of my week to write can be difficult. But I shall try and be better about posting, at least on a monthly basis!
Something like NWB is never going to be the focus of my career, because the morals it represents are for my general lifestyle, and I hope to apply them to all aspects of my life. I see writing this blog as more like a hobby, and for me, the most important reason I run this website is for global communication and support, encouraging people all around the world to consider how the way they live their lives is damaging the planet, and the changes they can make to help prevent this. Discussing the problem is the first step to working together to solve them, and eventually to finding and sharing solutions to protect this beautiful planet.
If you asked me a year and a half ago, I would have said that embracing a plastic-free life is impossible for my daily routine. And now, I can proudly say that I’ve been living plastic-free for a year now... and I survived! But I won't stop there. I am so excited to see what I can improve in the coming year... and I hope you will join me!