New Perspectives

Hello, old friend. I know I’ve been absent for a while – nearly six whole months, in fact. Where does the time go?

Truth be told, the last few months of 2016 seemed to disappear in a flash. “Is it really October already?” I thought. “November? December? 2017?!”

I kept meaning to come back here, and write a blog post – or five. My absence has not been for lack of inspiration. But when life is rattling along at a breakneck pace, the easiest commitments to drop first are those I keep solely for my own enjoyment, and blogging sits squarely in that basket.

That’s not to say my life was passing swiftly by without me. When I look back over the past year, I can see I filled my time with things I love and that are important to me – dancing; hanging out with family and friends; learning Te Reo Māori; rediscovering downtime; finding a new home with my husband; moving to a place that helps me to live more in line with my values…

It’s those last two points I’d like to elaborate on now. Moving to a new home brought about several changes in my attempts to tread lightly on the earth, for better and for worse.

Ginger cat sitting on footpath at intersection

The neighbourhood cat

Unfortunately, I found the process of moving to a new neighbourhood rather disruptive to my nascent zero-waste habits. I’d spent months finding local shops and suppliers that enabled me to reduce household packaging, and now I was back at square one. Not only that, but the stress of moving into and setting up a new home took its toll and I found myself growing lax about buying plastic-packaged food. I’ve started to establish new waste-minimising routines here, but getting back on the zero-waste bandwagon is definitely a work in progress.

This was the first time my husband and I moved into a completely unfurnished home, so we had to acquire a number of new-to-us items. Some of these items we did have to buy brand new, either because we needed them urgently or because it’s the only way to source apartment-sized furniture and whiteware in New Zealand. But we also found a lot of the things we needed secondhand, in op shops, online, or donated by relatives. 

One of the things we acquired was a car. It’s the first time I’ve officially owned a car, and I have very conflicted feelings about it. Car travel is far more damaging to the environment and to local communities than going by foot or public transport, but I must admit that it’s so darn convenient to own a car in Auckland. In the past I’ve always been able to access a parent’s car for those trips I couldn’t make by bus or train. At our new house, my husband and I don’t need a car for any of our day-to-day work, study, shopping or recreational trips. But when it comes to visiting far-flung friends and family (or bulk bin stores) there really isn’t a good alternative to the car.

On the other hand, I love the location of my new home because it means I don’t need to use the car very often. I can walk to work in less than an hour; the nearest supermarket is just five minutes away by foot, as are op shops and whole foods stores. I can go to dance and yoga classes with a fifteen-minute walk. The local bus route runs every five minutes all day and every ten minutes late into the evening and on weekends, and the train line is also nearby. As far as Auckland locations go, it’s pretty much perfect for (almost) car-free living. Ultimately, being able to access such a variety of destinations on foot gives me a sense of freedom and autonomy. I love that walking can legitimately be the easiest and fastest way for me to get where I’m going, and I love being able to get a regular dose of exercise as part of my commute.

On balance, the move to a small, central apartment has made me feel like I’m living more in keeping with my values. I can drive less, walk more, spend less time commuting and cleaning, and more time enjoying my home. And I can access the people and places I want to visit more easily, so I’m looking forward to another year filled with the things I love. 

Jacaranda tree in bloom

Jacaranda tree in bloom

P.S. I’d love to end on that positive note, but as we dive headlong into the second month of 2017 I feel the need to somehow acknowledge the darkness clouding the world at this time. I’m feeling pretty powerless down here at the bottom of the planet though. While I don’t have the capacity to engage with the issues in a meaningful way right now, I promise: I am here, I am awake, I am watching, I am listening. 

While the light lasts I shall remember, and in the darkness I shall not forget.

Plastic Free July: The End!

Can you believe we’ve reached the end of July already? And with it comes the end of my Plastic Free July challenge! But — and I cannot stress this enough — it does not mark the end of my commitment to use less plastic.

The situation at home

Since I last posted I’ve reached something of a plateau on the plastic-free front; I feel like I’m getting into a steady pattern with my new habits, but not making any progress in the trickier areas. For example, we were hoping to buy plastic-free cheese and toilet paper last week, but alas we had no luck finding these items despite the internet’s assurances of their availability. Instead I continued to carefully ration my cheese this month. Of course, toilet paper is a bit harder to avoid so we bought the plastic-wrapped version. (On the bright side, no trees are harmed in the making of our toilet paper — we stick to post-consumer recycled paper or bamboo and sugarcane byproduct, both of which are readily available at supermarkets, unlike the paper-wrapped versions *grumble grumble grumble*…)

Here’s our plastic from the remainder of the month:

Our plastic from the last 10 days of July. Doesn't look much better than the first 10 days, does it?

Our plastic from the last 10 days of July. Doesn’t look much better than the first 10 days, does it?

This plastic pile includes:

  • Box from an Easter egg. (Yes, we still had a chocolate egg left over from Easter four months ago… We somehow ended up with a ridiculous amount of chocolates and sweets in the house this year and have slowly been working our way through it all!) The label on the plastic box has a lovely “Please recycle” printed on it but the plastic itself shows no sign of a plastic identification symbol so this will unfortunately be heading for landfill.
  • Stock powder jar. We’ve replaced the stock powder with cardboard- and foil-packaged stock cubes, although my long-term goal is to try making stock at home.
  • Plastic mailing bag from magazine — a great reason to switch to online delivery and/or ask the magazine distributor to switch to cellophane bags.
  • Dental floss. A quick google search came up with a few options for less-plastic or even zero-plastic alternatives — something to keep in mind when I run out of my existing supply.
  • Plastic wrapper from a bunch of organic, fair-trade bananas. While I understand the need to differentiate fair-trade or organic bananas from regular bananas, for me this really highlights the conflicts that arise when trying to shop ethically (both for food and for other items). Do I buy the fair-trade version, the organic version, the free range version, the locally grown/made version, the packaging-free version, the toxin-free version, the second-hand version, the reusable version? Ideally the answer would be “all of the above” but sometimes that just isn’t possible. I’d love to deduce the best possible choice using science and logic, but often the positive and negative impacts of a purchase can’t easily be compared on the same basis (if they’re quantifiable at all), so it ultimately comes down to a value judgement: which issue is most important to me at this point in time?

On the bright side, I continue to become aware of plastic items that I’ve already been avoiding without any conscious relation to PFJ. A great example is buying butter in a paper wrapper instead of “table spread” in a plastic tub — and the butter is perfectly spreadable thanks to the butter conditioner in our ancient fridge.

Last week I also went for another plastic-retrieval mission in my local neighbourhood. This time I went out two days before the rubbish collection, rather than two days after, and what a difference it made! I collected about half as much rubbish off the streets as last time. I’m overdue for this week’s plastic hunt, which I’ll have to do in August instead to help assuage my emerging plastic-purchase guilt.

The totals for this post are:

  • New plastic: 187 grams (176 grams of this is from recycleable milk and yoghurt containers, i.e. the products I said I wouldn’t stop using during PFJ, which means we were actually reasonably successful at avoiding other new plastic).
  • Pre-PFJ plastic: 80 grams (at least half of which came from food items that we’ve now replaced with plastic-free versions).
  • Street plastic: not weighed, but estimated at around 100–150 grams.
A brief excursion to the office

Once a month my workplace provides a lunch for all the staff as part of a regular office-wide meeting, and I was curious to see how this month would go with PFJ. Our lunch meeting was held last week, and the food on offer was the ever-popular Revive. I applaud Revive for doing such a great job of enticing people to eat vegetarian meals. Unfortunately, their takeaway meals are packed in plastic containers accompanied by a pile of plastic sporks, and so I chose not to partake in the office lunch this month. My colleagues all thought I was missing out, but you know what? I was more than happy with my own plastic-free lunch: a delicious sandwich of fresh, home-baked bread filled with home-grown salad and home-made roasted butternut hummus!

It’s also worth recognising that my work would have struggled to find a plastic-free takeaway lunch option for a group of a dozen or more people. When my colleagues and I discussed the issue, the the only option we could come up with was pizza. Can you think of any other alternatives?

Not “The End”

July may be over, but my waste-fighting journey sure isn’t. As I said in my previous update, I can’t unlearn the problems with domestic plastic disposal, I can’t pretend the plastic is no longer my problem once it leaves my house, I can’t reclaim ignorance of just how pervasive plastic is in our society, I can’t go back to sleep. As a result, with every future purchase I make I’m still going to be conscious of avoiding plastic.

Having said that, I am looking forward to opening the pack of crackers in my pantry, and even enjoying a bite or two of jelly-tip chocolate!

Keep an eye out for my follow-up post reflecting on the whole PFJ experience, and I hope you’ll stick around for future waste-related posts too.