6th April 2019
Hello. My name is Libby, and I am a plastic addict.
I didn’t even realise.
Like many of us, I championed the 5p bag charge and proudly endeavoured to have a tote on my persons to avoid an abundance of plastic carrier bags. I remembered to turn off the tap while brushing my teeth, recycled efficiently, and opted to walk as opposed to hopping in the car.
There I was, but a month ago, so naive in my belief that I was a junior environmentalist. Then I started at Studio Republic, and I was faced with a harsh reality.
Without realising, I’d been contributing to one of the major controversies of modern life: I was a plastic junkie.
The Studio Republic office was warm and welcoming; natural light and open space creating a peaceful backdrop. At lunch the team ate locally, bought non plastic wrapped foods, heated up their pre-cooked meals in Tupperware. It was like entering an eco haven.
It wasn’t until a few days in that it hit me. I was approaching the office, Starbucks cup in hand, pink Lucozade Zero in my bag and a packet of mangetout in my pocket, and I thought, “What am I doing?” Although the team didn’t preach and there’d been no discussion directly about our personal use of plastic, it just felt so wrong. Like I was morally cheating.
Over the next week I continued to purchase plastic items as I would in my previously standard environment. Each Lucozade Zero bottle – this isn’t sponsored, I’m just a loyal fan – feeling bittersweet as I stored its plastic shell for later.
And that week? Well, it looked like this.
I know what you’re thinking – and yes, it’s a lot of soda, but that’s not the issue here.
Studio Republic turned out to be a curious place to work. As well as being a well respected creative agency, they offer a sustainability consultancy service which is threaded into their business ethics as a whole. Not only was I welcomed into the world of environmental and social sustainability in alignment with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, but I was encouraged without any judgement to educate myself on the consequence of our current wasteful lifestyles.
I researched. I put a white flag up and asked our Sustainability Consultant, Halina, to guide me into not living so selfishly with my decadent penchant for plastic. She taught me the small tips and tricks, and the rest of the office followed in sharing their knowledge.
I sourced products via Wild Beauty co from Friendly Soap, Ethically Organic, Natural Deodorant Co, and Earth Organization. I had an hour long session on skincare with an advisor at my local Lush, got myself a little hessian bag for my loose veg and looked the soda aisle in the carbonated eye: enough. Those miniature bubbles of gas had toyed with my tastebuds for too long. Cans were recyclable and stored right beside the plastic bottles! The perfect 330ml solution of liquid joy that supports a sustainable planet: win-win.
How to survive a week plastic free? A little like this:
Writing it down like that doesn’t necessarily sound so daunting. But in reality… it wasn’t as troublesome as expected. It just takes an awareness of choice, a realignment of thought process.
Reminiscent of the 27th of December, this whole day was an opportunity to parade all my shiny new ethical goodies. Cheeky photo-op with my KeepCup, channeling my inner Wes Anderson aesthetic while holding veg from the market in my arms in the city.
Itch day. I was craving that satisfying pop of a new soda bottle opening, I didn’t feel like my toothpaste was giving me quite that freshness I was used to, and my partner was grouchy that I wouldn’t use the 3D pen he’d gotten me for my birthday.
Morgan Spurlock popularised the ‘three-day-hump’ theory following his Supersize Me documentary, stating that the first three days of giving up a bad habit are always the worst. If you can make it to day four then you’ve cracked it!
A friend once said that after a few days of giving up smoking they saw cigarettes everywhere. They swore that even more people were smoking in the streets, the smell was thicker in the air, more butts were cast aside to the kerb. At the time it sounded curious, but I get it now. On day three I was seeing plastic everywhere. I wondered how my own little contribution could help when the use was so heavy – stores littered with unnecessary plastic packaging, the doctors surgery using it en masse, discarded coffee cups and plastic wrappers on every table on the train – my blood was boiling. It truly had become as common to us as sliced bread.
So I told myself: everyone has a choice. While we can encourage others, we can only accept responsibility for ourselves. So I wasn’t going to break. Even if it did mean Lucozade’s profits were going to be hindered.
A day long moral exam. Tired and having missed my train, podcast hosts teasing me with an ASMR-esque experience as they sipped coffee, no KeepCup and no option for mugs, my natural instinct was to say “heck with it” and get a coffee to-go. But not this time.
I’d made it through the three day hump. That fifteen minute caffeine hit wasn’t worth compromising what I had come to learn thus far.
I almost turned myself yellow from too much turmeric in a homemade face mask. Nobody really specifies how important adjusting the volume of turmeric is according to your skin colour. Here’s a friendly tip: if you’re incredibly pale then perhaps forego the turmeric altogether. That way, you’re simply just a scented madagascar vanilla yoghurt, which frankly is how I like to spend my Friday nights.
This day turned into a stark realisation of what the war on plastic really meant. I looked into a few articles online and ended up in a dark-web wormholes that makes you question the ethics of man itself. Add to the mix that you’re living with two NHS employees who discuss the excessive plastic usage at the hospital, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a plastic induced headache. I went for paracetamol to cure it but, lo and behold, those little capsules were encased within marine corruption.
Comparing week on week my plastic use confirmed what I had anticipated. And I needed that stark visual to swallow. If that’s the volume of plastic I saved in a week, what could I do in a year? What if I could encourage someone else to make even one or two of these swaps, like the Studio Republic team encouraged me?
I’d become hyper aware of the materials in my day to day routine which had previously been the norm. The cotton buds, the shampoo, the face wash which was also laced with microbeads, the cellophane around my fresh fruit. I even found a ‘recipe’ for making vegan-leather ticket holders for train tickets, which are made out of dried mushrooms in case you were curious.
Day seven simply had me reflect, while nursing a diet soda in it’s convenient can. Sure I may only be one person, and my individual impact minimal. But this wasn’t about me. This was about being part of the change, part of the revolution, part of our rebuilding of the future.
This tiny choices mean so much in the long run. The more I became aware of the plastic problem, the greater the guilt weighed heavily on my mind. It was a relief to know that I had at least not contributed to the issue, even better if I could stop another. The bottles on the street I’d previously seen, I’d pick up and put in the recycling. Those in my social circle were also adapting to the minor shifts in our routine behaviour. After all, that’s all it was.
A pretty destructive routine which we can change – now.