Isn’t it crazy that I only became aware of the concerns surrounding plastic when I became a mother? Shopping in the baby section, I kept seeing the term ‘BPA’ free. What did it mean? I learnt it was a chemical found in plastic that can affect babies. There was very little education about what it meant and there was no real in-depth explanation.
I didn’t think too much more about it until I met my mummy friend Cindy AKA Earth Mama. She was so incredibly passionate about plastic-free living, and taught me so much about how plastic can cause all sorts of health issues, not to mention the impact on the environment! At first, I thought she was overreacting, but I realised there is so much research to support the theory that the chemicals emitted from plastic have been connected with cancers and other health conditions.
Babies being babies, are so often in contact with plastic. Whether it’s a shatterproof bowl or a beaker for their drink, the risk is so much higher. Obviously, as adults, we use glass or porcelain for eating and drinking. That said, how many times have I bought a sandwich in a plastic packaging? How many cocktails have I had with a plastic straw? How many water bottles have I chucked in the bin? Where is it going when it doesn’t biodegrade and what damage is it having on me? I had so many questions!
As a travel enthusiast, I have been far and wide, visiting 81 countries, across six continents. Let’s not talk about my carbon footprint, I admit, it’s atrocious, so it’s even more important to reduce my impact on the environment in other ways. I can’t tell you how disappointed I’ve become seeing beautiful destinations completely destroyed by plastic rubbish in the ocean, washed up on the shore, or just blatantly chucked on the street. I’m talking tropical islands, so beautiful, where exotic fish were once seen through a snorkel mask metres off the beach.
I went snorkelling a few months back in Belize, where we found a marine protected site that was beautiful and had all sorts of species, from sea turtles, to nurse sharks. It was the most incredible feeling showing my 3 year old an underworld that so little is known about! She was amazed and seemed to forget about learning to use a snorkel from the tranquil state she became. Her little hand relaxed in mine as I guided her past the coral reef. These are the experiences I want my kids to have growing up, not to mention my grandchildren too. The truth is, our grandkids probably won’t. Just a hundred miles away from our beautiful spot in Belize we went for another snorkel, where it use to be a great place for spotting sea life. It was the most isolating feeling in the world. Eeery, weird, I can’t explain! The water was merky, no life to be seen, just floating pieces of plastic. A straw, the ribbon ripped from the sticky edge of a panty liner floated by. It was like the movie 28 days later, accept it was an underwater horror!
Do you know what, all too often on our ventures around the world, I’ve seen these scenes. It disgusts me! I feel a lot of people have an ‘out of sight out of mind’ mentality. The bin man comes and takes the rubbish never to be seen again. Where is it going? It’s real and people need to pull together to fix the issue.
Now a mother for the second time, I feel more informed and I’m making changes much earlier in my sons life. I must admit whilst travelling it’s been hard to find the products I wanted. On visiting NZ, I’ve been stocking up on stainless beakers and ditching the plastic one we’ve been stuck with. He started weaning onto solids when we were travelling through Central and South America, so our choices were limited. Interestingly, places like Costa Rica and Nicaragua don’t have many eco-friendly kids products, but they are leading by example when it comes to ‘one use’ products. So many bars and restaurants in very rural, developing places, do not give straws in drinks and offer people water refills if they have their own bottle. I found it amazing to see. Our daughter loves a straw with her drink and it became embarrassing when she’d ask for one, she would so often be told it’s not good for the nearby lake for example. She knew that, but we find it’s something we need to keep reinforcing. We’ve since bought a packet of stainless steel straws.
It takes a village they say! I am constantly undoing others influences. “Esmé, do you want a straw with your drink?” I find the generation before ours are less informed, and although trying to be helpful, it’s often undoing our education and confuses our little one. When we were in Costa Rica, our daughter went to a play group where they often did beach clean-ups. The teachers taught them about the impact and then reinforced the issue by taking them to the beach and cleaning up bin liners full of stuff!
I have to admit, I find our lifestyle of full-time travelling very challenging when it comes to plastic-free living. I was once set a task by Kleen Kanteen to go plastic free for a month. They asked me to calculate my savings and impact of the changes. Let’s say ‘day one’ was an eye opener. In I went to the coffee shop, I asked them to put it in my reusable stainless mug for the purpose of waste. The lady made it in a disposable cup, tipped the drink into my thermal and then chucked the cup away! I felt I was fighting a losing battle immediately. It really needs individuals, small business and large corporations onboard.
Another issue with travelling is having bulk. Be it our stainless lunch box, or our three water bottles that we take everywhere. It can take up lots of space. I’m always looking for good ideas, like stainless stack boxes, that pack away so neatly. The process of becoming as plastic free as possible, is something that takes time and effort. In my opinion it’s very much a lifestyle choice and it ties into other everyday practices of our family. For example we are vegetarians. Although I would prefer for our family to be vegan, its baby steps at the moment. Hubby is a staunch meat eater and although he’s supportive of my choices with the kids, he has to parent them alone sometimes which could make it hard. It sounds awful but it’s like teaching an old dog new tricks. It’s much easier to instil these practices that are good for us and good for the environment young. With 32yo hubby I have years of mindless consumption to undo. Don’t get me wrong I was the same for years until I became aware. We don’t eat meat because we feel it has a negative impact on our health and the environment in a similar way as plastic.
I really hope and dream we can continue our impact on the environment and eliminate harmful products from ourselves and our kids. Maybe, just maybe, by the time our grandkids come along, the planet will be on the way to healing from all of the mindless damage.