Plastic Free is a Practice, Not a Perfect

I went to a yoga class first thing this morning. For those of you who know that I work with clients as a Yoga Therapist, that probably doesn’t seem like an earth-shattering announcement. But it was BIG for me, because I haven’t been to the studio as a student for a really long time. We all perform better when our thoughts, feelings, emotions, goals and values are in balance. Yoga is my tool for creating that harmony.

Coming back to the practice after a hiatus, I don’t look back, beating myself up for the days, weeks, or months that I haven’t shown up. I just re-commit, and get excited to feel that I am connected again: to something bigger, and to myself. I don’t write off the practice because I can’t “do it perfectly,” or because I have an injured toe, or because I’m feeling less flexible today than I was in my 20’s. I do what I can.  

It’s the same with Plastic.

Our family is in month 3 of shifting over to a single-use-plastic-free lifestyle, and we continue to invite this guiding principle to shape our daily actions and choices. Now that mindyourplastic is taking up so much of my mental bandwidth, I have to carefully organize my energy. I need yoga more than EVER to ground me in what’s good, and to live and share our process in a constructive way, because, lets face it, it is NOT inspiring to absorb loads of awful news about the planet. My friend Dr. Emily Colwell gave me the words I needed to describe my desired approach: “high vibe.” What’s “high-vibe?” It’s a way of looking at this process that invokes positive feelings of action, that inspires and that focuses in on all that we CAN do. And we can do SO much, even when there are some things we just can’t do, or really don’t want to do. Even then, we can still do SO much. Isn’t that awesome?

In the spirit of practice, I have some humanness from our Plastic-Free journey to share with you guys. We continue to purchase fruit with the attached, tiny plastic sticker and kale with a plastic-lined wire that holds its shapely bunch. We buy dog food in a 35-lb bag that is certainly coated in plastic, inside and out. In February, we consciously chose a half-gallon of Trader Joe’s Ice Cream in a plastic coated carton over a Yeti-filled to-go mug, because it was late. We both wanted ice cream, and I was just too tired that night to have the Plastic Free conversation at the local ice cream shop. I traveled for a week with my daughter and accepted peanuts on the airplane because I wasn’t prepared. I drank 4 bottles of Gatorade out of altitude sickness desperation. We’ve granted our 3 year old his choice to poop in a disposable diaper, throwing out 7 plastic-riddled diapers per week (yes, we know we could have switched to cloth, but we chose not to). And do you know what? I feel solid in all of these moments, too.  I am not beating myself up. I am celebrating what we HAVE done in line with our pursuit, and letting the rest GO.

Why the confessions? Perhaps the circulation of Lent-driven plastic-free choices is rubbing off on me. We’re human, we recognize our own humanity, and, we see yours. Changing ingrained habits is hard, period, and reminds me that this is simply another form of a Practice. This is not a Perfect.  We’re learning. Emma and I are simply inviting a form of mindfulness into the process of shopping and obtaining that has never been there before, and sharing that with hopes that it might open a space and inspire others - opening our eyes and becoming aware. There are still some moments that 100% Plastic-Free just cannot work, for whatever reason. That is OK. We aren’t judging ourselves, and we aren’t judging you. I’ve heard some feedback that our process is too intimidating to take on. Please don’t take on our process. Take on yours.

I’ve seen this sentiment circulating on Instagram and think its worth a share: We don’t need a handful of people doing Plastic-Free perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly. So for today, what’s your high-vibe, best-self step? You can only answer that for yourself. I can only answer that for myself. But let us all start where we are, use what we have, and do what we can.

Plastic-Free Tip: Wondering how to get berries if you want to skip the plastic? Check your salad bar and buy by weight! We often see blueberries, black berries, raspberries, and strawberries all on the same salad bar! Now, if you want Organics, you might just wait until they are in season and buy at a local farmer’s market in cardboard pints.

Let's Keep Going

Sibling sips out of paper straws

Sibling sips out of paper straws

This morning before school, our family did a little “Whole New Month! Whole New Month!” dance in the kitchen. I think it was my friend and teacher, Patti Digh, who made “Whole New Month!” a “thing,” and it’s SUCH a good thing. I know that I feel uplifted and spacious and engaged by what’s possible moving forward when I pause to recognize the space between an ending and a beginning. Celebration is important and today, we are celebrating a great month and a fresh start – February 1st! In truth, we have that opportunity with every new moment, every next breath, but that’s a post for another day.

So with the start of February, we realize that we have met our original goal of living a “Plastic Free Month.” For the last 31 days, with the exception of a few accidental “oopsie’s,” we haven’t brought any new, single-use plastics into our lives. We’ve finished the contents of many single-use plastics that we already owned, and have made plans for replacing them sustainably – refilling, re-sourcing, doing without, etc. We’ve had to be mindful, creative, innovative, and sometimes, down right simple.

“It’s the end of our month, what do you guys think?” we asked the kids. Quietly, we both expected a response bemoaning the loss of yogurt tubes and snack packs, carefree dining out, and the convenience of everything disposable.

“Lets keep going.”

Wow. We paused to take in our 9 year-olds words.

Wow. I tear up every time I re-read her words.

“Why do you want to keep going, Inga?”

“I dunno, because it’s fun. It’s GOOD. “

Two months ago, I didn’t give too much thought to the contents of our garbage can, or a restaurant’s option for take-out containers. I didn’t spend any mental energy thinking about the future journey of every single piece of plastic I used. I didn’t make choices based on how much waste they would create. I didn’t opt-out if waste was involved. I didn’t worry about the occasional to-go cup from my favorite coffee shops, or my take-out containers, because “they would eventually break down, right?” I admit the repeated thought “one cup is just a drop in the bucket” (echoed a few billion people every single day.) Now, I do. Just like that. An exercise that began as a one-month experiment has evolved quickly and fiercely into a whole new way of day-to-day living. Our month has also fueled a new project – the mindyourplastic Public Awareness Campaign.

What’s up with the ease? We expected this to be painful. Surprisingly, this shift to avoid single-use plastics feels doable, and apparently, our whole family feels lighter (there’s something to a light footprint after-all!). Its been a lot of work, for sure, but its joyful work. Plastic-free resonates at the deepest level with our values and our concerns about our planet and collective health, so how could that be painful? It is, in fact, a relief.

Inviting a mindfulness process has been the first step in changing our habits around plastic consumption. At its core, mindfulness is simply taking the time to notice: notice what you’re thinking; notice what you’re saying; notice what you’re feeling; notice how and what you’re choosing. Once you notice, you are aware, and you can make your choices from a place of intention and integrity. It’s a powerful act (not to mention great for the grey matter of your brain). When we open our awareness to what is, and see our thoughts and actions in process, we can affect powerful change as individuals, for ourselves and for the collective. SO THAT’S AWESOME.

Here are a few takeaways from our first month:

- We’re supporting healthy brains with a new, constant mindfulness practice

- Our bodies are happy – both my digestion & my daughter’s has never been so healthy, thanks-be to wholesome, local foods, free of any process or packaging.

- We’ve saved $250.00 this month on groceries by shopping the bulk bins and farmers market, and by refusing anything processed or packaged.

- I have more focused mental energy

- Our compost bin is thriving

- We have near-empty trash and recycling bins

- We’ve supported local businesses and bought according to our values

- And in Inga’s words, “Its GOOD.”

Why would we stop now? We’re just getting started.

Our Planet or Our Plastic?

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According to National Geographic statistics, we’ve created 6.9 billion tons of plastic waste, and of that waste, 6.3 billion tons never made it to a recycling bin. It feels almost impossible to wrap our minds around these numbers. So instead, we decided to take a closer look at what we, as a family of four, create in terms of plastic waste. We took a good look at what we were routinely creating before the start of this process, and we multiplied that visual to understand the depth of the global problem we contribute to daily.

At the beginning of our process, I took this picture of our recycling bin. We try to be pretty mindful shoppers, visit farmer’s markets, grow some of our own food, etc. - but it was brimming over with plastic clam-shells from salad, plastic egg cartons, plastic bags from cereal, plastic yogurt tubes for the kids, plastic yogurt containers for the moms, cardboard sprayed in plastic sealant, plastic wrap from toilet paper and tissue boxes, etc. The list goes on and on. We couldn’t avoid plastic. Or, could we?

Julian, age 2, shopping for Toilet Paper at Costco

Julian, age 2, shopping for Toilet Paper at Costco

We launched 2019 Plastic-Free - finishing what we had in the house, but not purchasing any new single-use plastics (or short-term use plastics), noticing along the way what feels sustainable to maintain over time. We will be reporting our journey here and on Instagram, sharing resources, and hopefully inspiring others along the way.