New Year, New Direction

I haven’t written here for a while now – in fact it’s been well over a year since I last blogged regularly. The longer I’m absent, the harder it becomes to return; it feels as though the first blog post after a long break has to be a reintroduction of sorts, that I can’t just pick back up where I left off without providing an explanation and apology for my absence.

So here is that explanation-apology-reintroduction post. It doesn’t say much, really, but it gives me the freedom to talk about anything I like in my next post.

2017 was a busy year for me. On paper, it looks like a year full of success and achievements. But the final few months, in particular, were some of the busiest months of my life (perhaps excluding the time spent writing my PhD thesis, which I don’t find at all comparable to regular busyness). In the middle of the year, when I knew my life was already full to capacity with work and home life and study and volunteer activities, along came a new opportunity that I just couldn’t say no to. And instead of making room by dropping something else from my long list of commitments, I just added it to the mix and hoped for the best.

I got through the last few months only with the support of family, with too many days in bed recovering, and with asking too much of my husband while he’s trying to finish his PhD. So in 2018 I’m refocusing towards a slower pace of life. I’m not sure yet exactly how this year is going to pan out; I’m still not good at letting go of the things that I know aren’t as important to make more time for the things that are. But I want to be at home more to support my husband. I want to give myself more space to think and breathe and be. I want to enjoy life every day, not just look towards a future where I might finally have everything I want.

All this might mean I have more time to write. But then again, it might not. Slowing down is about choosing to do less, and choosing to prioritise the things that are most important to me right now. And as much as I love writing, it still falls fairly low on my list of priorities – below supporting my husband at home, below looking after my health and well-being, below spending time with my family and friends, below choosing sustainable but time-consuming options over convenient but wasteful ones. And, as much as I love blogging and reading other people’s blogs, the last thing I want to do after spending a long day sitting in front of a computer at work is to spend my evenings and weekends sitting in front of a computer screen writing and reading.

So all this is to say: I hope to see you again soon this year, but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t quite happen.

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Plastic Free July 2016: Final Reflections

My Plastic Free July experience this year took an unexpected twist in the final week. Things were trucking along nicely, with a relatively small trickle of plastic entering my dilemma pile and my cravings for dairy getting a little weaker. Then a family emergency temporarily turned my life upside-down, and avoiding plastic suddenly didn’t seem like such a high priority.

So this post reflects on what I learned from the plastic-free challenge itself and from dealing with the realities of an unpredictable world.

But first, what plastic did I accumulate since my last post?

The Plastic

Plastic packaging from July - pill packets, meat tray, chocolate wrappers, and jar stickers

This is the plastic I accumulated in the third week of PFJ.

  1. Meat tray and cling wrap: Both these items can be recycled, and while that doesn’t eliminate the plastic completely, I am much happier buying meat on recyclable plastic trays than polystyrene trays.
  2. Pill packets: Healthcare is one area where it’s difficult—and perhaps not even desirable—to avoid plastic packaging.
  3. Chocolate wrappers: As I said last time, these were a gift (given with good intentions—and delicious!)
  4. A bag of pinenuts: This was purchased a while ago and finished during July. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find replacement pinenuts in any bulk bins yet.
  5. Plastic stickers from glass jars: A disappointing find, and something I’ll have to watch for more closely in future.
  6. Tear strip from an envelope: I received an official document in the post in a cardboard envelope with a plastic tear strip. Compared with the usual plastic parcel bags, I thought it scored pretty highly on the plastic-free front.

The Lessons

Here are the key lessons I learned this July. While they aren’t strictly new lessons for me, they are important reminders about the best way to journey towards a lower impact life.

1. Buying food in your own containers will only get you so far

All I can directly control through my purchasing decisions is my post-consumer waste. Buying from bulk bins or getting takeaways placed into my own container avoids packaging going into my household rubbish and recycling bins, but almost everything I purchase will have arrived at the store in some form of single-use packaging.

However, I can help to reduce this pre-consumer waste by choosing local (hopefully reducing the packaging needed for transport), choosing fresh, choosing to support companies working to reduce waste through all parts of the supply-chain (like Ooooby), choosing to grow or make my own, and choosing to buy less stuff.

2. Living a more sustainable life is not about deprivation

I really struggled with giving up dairy products this July, which is clearly a sign that I’m not ready to do so completely yet! For example, in the middle of winter a hot drink is comforting and warming, but I find tea and hot chocolate taste much nicer with milk than without.

The journey to a more sustainable lifestyle needs to be just that—sustainable. That means gradually building in lifestyle changes that align with your values and don’t feel like too much hard work. It’s impossible to stick with a diet (whether it’s a low-carb diet or a plastic-free diet) if it’s built around a narrative of deprivation instead of mindful consumption. I haven’t yet figured out how to significantly cut back on dairy and meat packaging in a way that feels sustainable for me, but I’ll keep working on it.

3. Sometimes other things are more important

When a family emergency took over my life in the final week of July, sticking to my environmental principles seemed pretty unimportant compared to spending time with family and helping everything run as smoothly as possible (e.g., by contributing to and partaking in meals made with plastic-packaged food, including copious amounts of tea!)

Making the decision to give up Plastic Free July for the final week was actually really easy. I’d read Pip’s recent post on her lessons from Plastic Free July last year just a few days earlier, and I felt like it gave me the permission I needed in order to let go.

It’s also worth mentioning that the plastic-free challenge and my other environmental values still featured in my life, even though they’d dropped lower on my list of priorities. Extended family members were happy to chat about my efforts to live a “plastic-free” and “car-free” life (and gently tease me for failing in those aspirations).

So in closing I’d like to reiterate what Pip said: Some people have other things to worry about and simply aren’t able to reduce their waste. Sometimes, we are those people. And for all of us, some areas of our lives are harder to tackle than others. This just makes it all the more important that those of us who can reduce our waste (and our car travel, etc.) do what we can for the benefit of the whole world and all the people in it.

Count Your Blessings

A recent death in the family — sudden but not unexpected — has made me realise how much I take for granted.¹  It’s so easy to assume that there will be time to catch up with family and friends next week, next month or next year, but the reality is that we never know how much longer we have.

On the other hand, seeing everyone pull together to help and support each other through such a difficult time has made me appreciate the strength and value of family bonds so much more than ever before. With that thought in mind, a somewhat bittersweet list of things I am grateful for at the moment:

  • Having a loving and supportive extended family
  • The connection and growth of families through marriages, partnerships and friendships
  • Time spent with loved ones
  • The way people work together and look out for each other
  • The ability to move freely and experience life fully
  • Living in a country with good sanitation and healthcare

 

¹ It’s also reconfirmed for me what a bitch of a disease metastatic melanoma is. Stay safe everyone — be sun smart!