I’ve lived most of my life without giving much thought to the environment. Gosh, just
typing that out hurts. I cringe at this thought. Now. But for years, it was definitely the truth.
I grew up with most of my early memories taking place in the 1980’s. A decade of excess. When something got shabby or a newer, shinier model of *whatever* came out, you just got another one. Didn’t have the money? That’s ok! Just use these new plastic things called credit cards and Charge It!
I can remember on more than one occasion, being a little girl in the back seat of my mom’s car, driving away from the local mall, anxiously ripping open the plastic packaging on some new toy, rolling down the window, and promptly tossing the packaging and the plastic shopping bag it all came in directly out the window. My mother even jokingly said “That’s ok. You’re keeping the economy going. They have to pay someone to pick that up.”
I can’t fault my mother. This was not an original thought on her part. This is honestly
just the way it was. Everything was disposable and quite literally made to be replaced.
Technology and manufacturing were producing more than an average consumer as able to… well, consume. In order to “keep the economy going”, products were cheaply made so there was little choice but to buy more. And more. And more.
I lived with this mindset through my high school and college years. Consume! Get the
newest! You need to keep up! You can’t produce quality work without the newest tool to
make it all happen! You really can have it all, you just need to charge it now and pay it back
later. No worries.
And then, in my 20s, out of college and trying to navigate real adult life, it hit me. I
have to pay this all back. I was dirt broke. Lower than dirt broke, as now I had student loan
payments, car payments, and yes, all those credit cards and their monthly payments, looming over my head with no end in sight. I started to realize that I didn’t actually NEED all the stuff I was still paying off years later. Why did I think I had to upgrade everything? I could have/should have made do with things for a bit longer, saved money, etc.
Only later did I realize that I also would have been saving the planet and her resources
as well. And now, as a woman nearing the end of my 40s, this is honestly far more important to me than saving a few dollars.
What was my major motivator?
In early 2020, when Covid-19 derailed everything, I was stuck at home. I had little
human contact for 7 long weeks, just sitting with myself and my thoughts. And my stuff.
My stuff was everywhere. After a few weeks of feeling paranoid, lonely, and bored, I decided to do what I had promised myself I would take care of for years… downsize and organize my
life. I went through closets, drawers, cabinets, and boxes relegated to the attic or basement
so long ago. I went through it all! Many trips to my local charity shop were made (whatever
ones were still accepting donations) and I got to a pretty good place. I had cleared out so
much stuff and really felt like I was starting with a clean slate.
In the Shoppe, late 2020.
Then, one Thursday morning, I wheeled the trash to the curb for collection. This is normally my boyfriend's job, but for some reason, I did it that day. That day changed me.
I was disgusted and confused.
There are only two people living in my house, my boyfriend and myself. Yet, in one week’s time, we had managed to fill a huge trash can and had an additional 2 bags that didn’t fit. I had literally just finished my downsizing journey. Everything was organized and put neatly away in my home. What were we throwing away that generated THIS MUCH TRASH?
In just 7 days, no less?
I was disgusted and confused. I sat with my thoughts for a few days – I didn’t have
much else to do after all – and decided that in order to know what was in these bags I needed to do a trash audit. So the next Wednesday, before trash collection, I opened every bag.
Yes, it was gross. I created piles in my backyard of different sorts of waste. Paper went in
this pile, food scraps in another, etc, until it was all sorted through. I’m sure my neighbors
thought I had lost my mind. It took about an hour, but the picture quickly came into focus.
The biggest pile was plastic. Namely plastic packaging.
Yes, that stuff I had thrown out the car window as a freckled 8-year-old, seemed to all
come back and was now sitting in my backyard. Shopping bags, the bag from inside the box
of cereal, milk jugs, empty spray cleaner bottles, shampoo bottles, the list goes on and on.
There was something plastic from every room in my home. And the kicker? I tossed all this
plastic into a big plastic bag that I had bought for the sole purpose of throwing away.
But what was I supposed to do?
But what was I supposed to do? I need to wash my hair and shampoo comes in a plastic bottle. I enjoy cereal with milk for breakfast and that all comes in plastic too.
Again, pretty much alone with my thoughts, I brainstormed. What did people do in “the
olden days”, before plastic was a thing? I knew they made most of their own food, cleaners,
and clothing but had no idea how. So I researched it.
The Greener Good Soap Bar
I began small. I could switch to bar soap. I could even make my own. Holy smokes!
My skin felt great with handmade goat's milk soap with nothing but natural ingredients.
Shampoo? Check, I can do that too. Cling wrap to cover my leftovers? I figured out beeswax wraps, and they work great! I was so satisfied with my results, proud of myself for cutting back on consuming disposables and getting back to basics. Bonus: I was saving money too!
I wanted to share these awesome things with my friends. So I did. I started to make large batches of laundry soap and selling it. Other people loved it too! I packaged it up in old jars from spaghetti sauce, peanut butter jars… thus further supporting this zero-plastic mission of mine. No one seemed to care about the packaging (and no one confused the lavender-scented laundry soap with the salsa that was once in the reused glass jar. No one ever!)
Now, three years on, I still get just as much joy from making my own home, body and cleaning products. Most of the ingredients can be found at my local supermarket, wrapped in paper or cardboard, that I carry home in a reusable fabric tote bag. I make enough to share or sell locally. I’m always trying new things and tweaking recipes with new fragrances. My friends and shoppers look forward to new offerings and are excited to take a few steps along side me on this green journey.
Beeswax wraps from The Greener Good. The colors & patterns are always changing!
Besides the reduced plastic in my trash can (we are now down to about a bag and a half per week), I’m saving money. But the financial aspect is truly just a pleasant side effect. What I’ve really gained is a feeling of doing a small part of a big picture. I’m much more aware of what’s going in my body, on my body and what is in my home. I have a feeling of accomplishment from having made something with my own two hands, the joy of sharing it
with others, and the satisfaction of looking around my home, inside and out, knowing that I’m as natural as I can be at this point in time.
It’s created a softer, gentler me that treads lightly in the world than I used to.
Am I truly zero-plastic? No. I’ll go so far as to say that that is nearly impossible in our
world today. But I’m far less-plastic than I used to be, and it feels great. I don’t deprive
myself things, I’m just more aware. It’s created a softer, gentler me that treads lightly (or
lightER, at least) in the world than I used to.
Lavender lotion from The Greener Good - this stuff smells like heaven!
I wish I could go back in time and sit next to little me in the back seat of my mom’s car and gently tell her that she should never throw trash out the window. I want so badly to talk to my college-age self to tell her to hold off on charging the new outfit, that not only do you have to pay for it later, but not everything should just be disposed of without much thought.
I still have a lot to learn, but my world, my trash can, and my mind is lighter. And I am
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