When we moved to New York, my plastic-free-ness took a bit of a downhill turn. Moving anywhere is difficult because you often have to start completely from scratch. Things like buying milk and vegetables are a challenge, let alone furnishing a new home.
And I was lucky. New York has so much to offer for plastic-avoiders like myself. Moving to the countryside, or to a smaller, less forward-thinking city is a daunting prospect.
Luckily, there are things you can do even in the most secluded of environments. Here are some suggestions to keep you going if relocation is on the cards for you, or if you live in a less accessible area (these also apply to plastic-free newbies).
1. BE KIND TO YOURSELF
If you were to go plastic-free for the first time tomorrow, you wouldn't go cold turkey. You'd probably have tubes and bottles of things to use up first: toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant, cleaning products... You'd find alternatives to each item gradually as you used up old products.
So don't expect yourself to go cold turkey if you've just moved to a new home. Collect things when you find them, when it's convenient to you. In the meantime, don't make yourself and your family suffer - if you need something that comes in plastic, just buy it! And don't beat yourself up about it.
2. USE DAYS OFF AND WEEKENDS TO EXPLORE
Enjoy exploring options in your new area. I love scouting out new shops that I wouldn't have discovered if I hadn't gone for that walk.
Some maple syrup I found yesterday in Dépanneur while exploring in Williamsburg
3. BE PREPARED
When I'm out and about, sometimes I discover unexpected opportunities. I might walk past a farmer's market selling delicious loose strawberries. Or I might spot a new shop with bulk herbs and spices. I find it's a good idea to always carry a shopping bag or a little container if you have space in your bag.
Another way of being prepared that will make a big difference and can be done anywhere is to bring your own water bottle, cup, spork, and even straw if necessary. That way, if you walk past a juice bar and really fancy something, you can go for it!
Being prepared at the beach - no red plastic cups for me
4. BUY SECOND-HAND
If you need to furnish a new home, second-hand is a really good way to go. Vintage shops, eBay, Gumtree/Craigslist all harbour the opportunity for unique and beautiful finds. I did sneak in a cheeky trip to IKEA for basics (refer to point 1) but have found some great things on Craigslist and even on the street!
My favourite Craigslist finds so far have included a gorgeous West Elm rug, a bargain solid wood table and chairs, a coffee machine and a pasta maker. All with more character than anything from IKEA and bought way cheaper than if I had bought them new.
Second hand table and chair from Craigslist
Another Craigslist bargain
5. BE PATIENT
Don't hurry yourself too much. If you don't need something straight away, think twice about going to buy it new. Just keep an eye out for a second-hand one and it may very well present itself to you. Of course if you do need something now, again, refer to point 1!
6. BE CURIOUS
I love popping into shops I usually would have otherwise overlooked. Things catch my eye in windows (for example yesterday I walked past a shop in Williamsburg with tins of things that looked like deodorant in the window. I had a quick look inside to find a new bulk store to add to my map)!
Another day I walked into an African health store selling bulk essential oils and cocoa butter. Although the cocoa butter was in plastic, the owner said he would call me when his bulk block comes in so I could bring my own container. There are loads of places you can go if you're lucky enough to live in or near a city.
Another delight found whilst being curious. Can't wait to come back here with a container (I obviously don't listen to my own advice from no.3!)
7. BE OPEN TO CONVERSATION
If I hadn't have been open to chatting to people, I never would have been offered the opportunity to get the aforementioned bulk cocoa butter. Talking to people can also be a great source of local information and ideas.
8. BE OPEN TO ALTERNATIVES
I have definitely had to do this since arriving in New York. I had lots of good ways of doing things back in London that simply haven't been possible here (so far). For example, bin liners: in London, I could buy biodegradable 'plastic' liners from most health food shops. Here, I just can't find them and have had to go for second-best: recycled plastic liners.
You might even find that being open to different foods can help, for example a different type of grain or pasta if you can't get hold of what you're used to eating. We find cashew nuts or pumpkin seeds can sometimes be a nice alternative to halloumi cheese on pasta dishes.
I couldn't find any spaghetti in bulk either, but as I'd bought a pasta maker on Craigslist I decided to make my own. It was a fun but arduous task, not something I could do every day, but it was genuinely worth it!
Homemade spaghetti with cashews
9. GET CREATIVE
I'm sure some parts of the world make it very difficult to be a good environmentalist. For example, loads of towns don't have bulk stores. Some parts of the world don't have safe drinking water (here, by the way, is a really cool solution to the bottled water crisis in Cambodia - but we don't all live in Cambodia). In other places, it's almost impossible to get what you need without plastic.
If you live somewhere like this and are feeling like you want to do more to help, you could consider doing something else to offset the environmental problem that is plastic. There are plenty of problems in the environment that need help! For example, buy second-hand or sustainably-sourced clothing because fashion is the most polluting industry in the world after oil. Or plant some extra trees, or organise a clean-up event and remove other peoples' plastic from the earth. Maybe switch to a more renewable energy supplier, or fly less. Whatever works for you.
If nothing else, just say no to plastic bags and straws and you'll already be doing a lot more than many people!
I already touched on this in no.7 - sharing ideas and conversations with others can be such a good tool. But there are other ways you can share, to help make a difference.
My mum lives in a town in the north-west of England, where there are no bulk stores and not many health food shops. But she and her neighbours club together to buy bulk foods from Suma. The food usually does come in plastic but minimising the smaller packages means less plastic in the long run. She and her neighbours also share car trips to a health food shop near Liverpool. It's a bit too far to drive regularly, but when one neighbour goes there, they do the shopping for everyone else too.
11. GROW YOUR OWN
Nothing tastes sweeter than a fruit or vegetable freshly plucked from your own garden or windowsill! You'll be able to taste all the love and effort that went into growing it, you'll treasure every mouthful.
I'm no expert, but from my small amount of gardening experience I can tell you that it can be the most relaxing and rewarding solution to food and plastic waste.
Vegetables grown in my old garden back in London
12. STAY POSITIVE
There's no point making your life harder if you don't enjoy the challenge. I quite like scouting out alternatives and I get a positive boost from doing something small to help the planet. But if that doesn't sound like you, don't let it ruin your life. Only make the changes that make you feel happy.
Focus on your successes, rather than any failures. And reward yourself for them!