My Plastic-Free Journey: Imperfection, Investigation & Solutions

Alice Forrest

In the wake of Plastic Not Fantastic, and as Plastic Free July comes to a close, Alice Forrest shares her journey to a plastic free life, with all its ups and downs. Find out what made her decide to avoid plastic, and her top tips to avoid the stuff thats been found across our oceans, and even in our poop…

Firstly, let me start this article by making it perfectly clear: I’m not plastic-free. I’ve never done a Plastic Free July, and I often use plastic products. I think in a world where we have a constant feed of perfect humans and pristine lives flooding our social media feed, it’s important to draw some lines. I try my best, I have reusable items and a few tricks and DIYs that help me avoid a whole lot of single-use plastics, but I sometimes snack on things packaged in plastic, use plastic teabags, and right now all my almond milk is in plastic-lined cartons. I’ve even got polyester clothes (many made of recycled bottles). 

So why am I writing this article if I’m a self-confessed plastic user?? Because I think this battle about plastic pollution isn’t about striving for perfection, it’s about making decisions every day that can have a positive impact on our planet. I want to share with you some of my journey, the science, and most importantly some easy solutions and DIY tips to help you make better decisions and make a difference. 

Several years ago I began doing scuba dive clean-ups on my local beaches, mostly just as an excuse to spend more time under the water. What I found was that no matter how much trash we picked up, there was always more. It began to open my eyes to this product that we used every day, that was potentially causing large amounts of harm to our oceans and maybe was not as convenient as it seemed. 

Alice with her haul after a dive in Sydney. Photo: Alice Forrest

Alice with her haul after a dive in Sydney. Photo: Alice Forrest

I started researching marine plastic pollution as part of my marine biology degree, and ultimately was involved in research that took me to some of the most remote locations in the world, and consistently found plastic. We found the most polluted beach on the planet (Henderson Island) with over three and a half thousand pieces of rubbish washing up on its shores every day. We trawled the surface of the ocean with a specially designed net, and found over 5 trillion pieces of plastic in just the top 10 cm of the ocean. I collected fish guts from local fishermen across the Pacific Ocean and found that around 10% had plastic in their guts. What I learned was that according to the data and the science, we’ve made a huge mistake in becoming so dependent on single use plastics. That our oceans are choking on plastic, which never goes away, it just fractures into smaller and smaller pieces. That 80% of this waste was from land (not fishing boats or ships) and that we had no way of getting it out of our oceans (or our wildlife).

We now know that plastic is not just impacting on the ocean and all the animals that live there, but it’s also impacting us – with toxins and even tiny bits of plastic making their way into our food, our water and even being found in human poop

It’s depressing stuff. And for a while it overwhelmed me with a desperate need to rid all plastic from my life, to shout at people using takeaway coffee cups, to send angry emails to supermarkets using plastic bags, and to be generally pretty down about the state of the world. But then I started to see another side of the issue – I met incredible humans running beach cleans and school programs, I found cafes with mug libraries and bars with metal straws, I came to see that we have all the solutions we need to start fighting this problem and that instead of being angry I could redirect that energy into finding and sharing alternatives, to try and be part of the solution.

Plastic washes up on shorelines around the globe. Photo: Alice Forrest

Plastic washes up on shorelines around the globe. Photo: Alice Forrest

Here’s some of my plastic-free tips to give you some ideas of little changes you can make to start cutting back on plastic: 

  • Go reusable: Start with the “big 4” – coffee cups, bottles, bags & straws. Get in the habit of carrying reusables, leave them in your bag or car. 

  • Buy plastic-free and vote with your dollars: There’s so many easy alternatives, like shampoo bars (maybe these ones from Ethique or Lush), deodorant (like this one from Wild Search), sunscreen (e.g. Sunbutter), moon cups for the ladies (Gypsy Vibes) and bamboo toothbrushes. Find your local farmers market & bulk food stores. 

  • DIY: beeswax wraps (an easy to make alternative to cling film wrap), body scrub, laundry detergent – pretty much anything you can buy at a supermarket has an easily Google-able DIY alternative. 

  • Find what fits for you: Remember this isn’t about perfection. If you make a mistake then don’t give up, just learn from it and try better next time. 

  • Avoid what you don’t need: Plastic ear cleaners, straws, little plastic fish filled with soy sauce, fruit wrapped in packaging – if we stop buying it, they’ll stop selling it. 

  • Get involved: There are so many amazing groups doing incredible things - like Boomerang Bags - if you can’t find a local group you like, then why not start your own! 

This is ultimately about a larger shift – away from convenience and quick fixes and towards a nostalgic past where things are reusable, repairable, reusable… Where we have time to sit down and drink a coffee instead of downing a take-away on the run. Where businesses are responsible for their waste products. Where communities work together to consume locally and less, with clothes swaps and repair cafes and libraries of stuff (where people share things like tents, tools & kid’s toys instead of all buying their own). Where we shop locally and plastic free at farmers markets, reducing shipping, carbon emissions and food waste as well as packaging. But all these big changes have to start somewhere, and the best place to start is right now with your own life. Your changes influence your friends, family, local community, government and ultimately together that’s what will save our oceans. As Jane Goodall famously said: “You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”. 

What kind of impact do you want to make? 

If you’d like to learn more, there’s lots of information on my website, and this free e-book is a great place to get started.

Here are some videos about the work I’ve been up to

If you’ve enjoyed this article from Alice follow her here @aliceforrest and check out her website

Plastic Not Fantastic, part of our Research Series, highlights recent research efforts into the effects of plastic on marine life, and showcases organisations, individuals and initiatives fighting against the plastic tide

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