My plastic free journey
SoP Supporter Sarah Keenan tells us how she managed to juggle work, motherhood and slowly removing plastic from her life
My first tiptoe into a sustainability mindset began as I stood at the bathroom door looking in at a basin with a tiny dress soaking in it. The thought struck me "I may as well be using cloth nappies".
Curiosity caused me to click the link to the Cloth Nappy Library Ireland and I spent the next few days reading the internet about the different types. I wasn't yet open to the much simpler approach of borrowing a bundle of different types to see what suited my baby. I read instead and told myself that if it didn't work out, I'd donate my newly purchased nappies to the Cloth Nappy Library.
Turns out there is no soaking involved... in fact it was easier in every way. It was an extra 2 washes a week which involved a cold rinse and a long cotton cycle -modern washing machines are fantastic!
No more asking my mam if I could put nappies in her bin because our smaller general waste bin was full. No more soaking clothes or bringing multiple changes everywhere. Her first time wearing a cloth nappy outside of the house was her christening as I couldn't afford to risk a disposable with all that white!
Cloth wipes were a revelation! They are more efficient and far softer. (Who hasn't tried taking off makeup with baby wipes? Ouch!)
Guilt stopped me from even looking into any "zero waste" groups as I immediately felt like a fraud despite using cloth nappies as I'd made no other conscious changes. Motherhood and returning to work was overwhelming at the best of times and adding more to that seemed an impossibility.
After my second daughter was born, I came across the concept of "baby steps" -small manageable habits built into your day to day life, one at a time, and decided I'd maybe pick one thing to try.
I decided to experiment with soap bars and shampoo bars. Reading the internet landed me at Living Lightly in Ireland's page and I was delighted to find an honest account of what worked and what didn't -very rare in my reading at that point! I noted that for her Lush bars had worked well up to a point so I decided I'd give them a go first and see if I had better luck with them.
I chose one for my hair type and found it worked as well or better than most shampoos. This baby step was an easy win. I've since found other Irish made shampoo bars and conditioners such as Three Hills Soap and Janni bars work just as well.
At this point I'd used cloth nappies on two babies and was eyeing up my disposable period products with suspicion... Disposable/single use was associated in my mind with flimsy, not fit for purpose and uncomfortable and I wondered what else was out there. Apparently... Lots!
Silicone cups, cloth tampons, sponges and cloth sanitary pads -my choice.
I tried a cheap cloth nappy brand's version that had PUL (waterproof backing) and a charcoal fleece top with inner absorbency. It worked.. and I didn't need a disposable -but it wasn't the best design. I eventually bought EcoFemme cotton cloth sanitary pads at the Earth Baby Fair and I finally found a design that worked for me. The PUL here was hidden and a more secure fit.
Soon I realised I'd need a few more ideas from locals around me about simple changes I could make. I'd left Facebook so I asked in a local WhatsApp cloth nappy group I'd set up if anyone would be interested in joining a 'Zero Waste Tips' group.
This was fantastic timing as Annie from Zero Waste Maynooth was just about to set up workshops locally and I may not have heard about it without this group. Serendipitously Zero Waste Maynooth holds workshops beside a Greengrocer who sells plenty of plastic free produce and Bare Necessities sell loose staples at a market stall at the events so it's a one stop shop! It was so lovely hearing all the little simple changes people had made. Everyone was busy and everyone was trying their best -even if it was something small. It's still a lovely group to be part of.
Slowly over time I swapped the my Sanex Deodorant (plastic) for Warrior Lavender and Geranium (aluminum tin) and disposable coffee cups for a reusable coffee cup.
VOICE Ireland and single use plastic
I managed to keep up the good habits that were really well practiced but for day to day single use plastic I was no different to any other household. I really appreciated the support of Abi from No Home for Plastic. It was great to, first of all, be motivated to do an audit of what plastic was coming into my home and secondly, to be told what manageable swaps were available.
‘A busy parent or working person should be able to quickly and easily make a plastic free, sustainable and ethical choice’
It's about a year now since I did the No Home for Plastic audit and I'm still slowly working changes in to my grocery shopping as I find better swaps. I don't feel as much of a fraud now but not because I'm now "perfectly" zero waste. I'm far, far from it!
It's more that I realise that the emphasis on personal responsibility is a great get out clause for those who are manufacturing the plastic items.
A busy parent or working person should be able to quickly and easily make a plastic free, sustainable and ethical choice -this responsibility lies with manufacturers and retailers.
We can make the right choices to show large companies that this is what customers want.
We can direct our business to the small local companies who are working hard to be sustainable and ethical.
After that, we can email companies to tell them what we want.
Then we can work with groups like Sick of Plastic to show how many of us there are so that there is a commercial and political will to make the changes that will make our lives… and our world… so much better.