Plastic Free July with @Mamalinauk
'Plastic Free July' is a global movement that unites millions of people to spotlight plastic pollution and shares the ways in which we can all help to reduce it. It’s the time of year when lots of people and organisations rally together to help fight the use of single-use plastic and encourage people to take part in the #PlasticChallenge .
To celebrate this fantastic movement, we talk to Emma Ross, founder of @mamalinauk, a slow, sustainable and plastic-free parenting site. She talks about her plastic-free parenting journey, the difficulties and surprises she found along the way, together with some tips and helpful resources that might inspire you to join July’s #PlasticChallenge, and go even for the many months ahead!
Over to Emma…
You are such an amazing advocate for Plastic Free Living - what prompted you to start this journey?
When I fell pregnant with our first son back in 2013, we were lucky to have access to attend local NCT antenatal classes. At the end of one of these classes, our lovely teacher, who’d we got to know well over the weeks, started talking about something none of us had any idea about: reusable nappies. I had no clue how to put on a disposable nappy, let alone a reusable one. But the concept of a nappy that wasn’t throwaway piqued my interest due to the sheer volume that babies go through in their early childhood (it’s estimated to be around 5,500).
Whilst everyone else quietly said their goodbyes for the evening and waddled out the door, I stayed back talking to the teacher and learning as much as I could. It was really this that set me off on my journey as I began to discover that there was a different way to parent that potentially - using a bit of imagination and time - was less wasteful, better for the environment, better for our babies and in my eyes, much more fun.
What are the most difficult things you have encountered when trying to reduce your plastic consumption? And also, what did you find surprisingly easy?
Plastic-free food shopping is a huge challenge and will continue to be so. It’s about supermarkets giving consumers the choice to be able to buy package-free, because right now the aisles are a sea of plastic. It’s also about making plastic-free shopping more accessible - why does that multipack tins with that little plastic holder cost less per tin than loose tins? The issue is that ultimately, plastic is an extremely effective and cheap way to keep food fresh. The good news is that retailers and brands have come a long, long way and are experimenting with different materials (edible packaging made from seaweed? yes please!)
In terms of switches that might be easy, the humble soap bar has to be the simplest way to eliminate plastic from your bathroom and kitchen. These days there’s a soap bar for everything - from washing your dogs’ hair to doing the dishes, there’s so many options out there, sustainably made, priced fairly, that work brilliantly well.
As a Plastic Free Parent would you say this has made your day to day a bit more complicated or has it been a smooth transition for the whole family?
I don't like to put labels on my parenting style, but just try overall to do my best to parent as low waste as possible. The main point to acknowledge is that living in this way - having the time, money and space (it takes up a lot of room to hold on to clothes and toys to be able to pass them down to future generations!) to invest in making these choices - is a huge privilege. So, yes, it’s more complicated in some ways but if you’re in the position to be able to make it happen, I would urge folk to try to give low waste parenting a go.
What are your Top 5 tips and rules to make a success out of a Plastic-Free lifestyle?
- Find an area that makes your heart sing - so maybe it’s food and you could start to think about plastic-free ways of shopping, growing your own food, composting or preventing food waste. Perhaps fashion is your passion and you might want to concentrate on shopping less, making your own clothes, upcycling, shopping second hand or just loving what you already own. If you don’t find the fun in it, it’ll be tricky to succeed.
- Don’t go it alone! Not only will you find yourself totally up against it on the time front, but there is also so much joy to be had to make these changes as a family/community. Get other people close on board and go together to the food market, make pizza dough with the kids, organize litter picks in your local park. Tie it into your day-to-day life and it won’t feel like work. That said...
- Don’t push this on anyone else - maybe your other half isn’t in scouring charity shops or maybe your friends really do not understand cloth wipes and just find them gross. Don’t force them to see otherwise. You do your thing, let them do theirs, and maybe, just maybe, one day they’ll come around.
- Start small - even just saying no to plastic toys and opting for wooden or second-hand ones might be enough of a change to start with. Slowly slowly, you’ll realise that it’s not as challenging as you may have first thought
- Don’t be too hard on yourself - cutting down on plastic use is a journey and everyone needs to travel at their own pace. When I was pregnant in my first trimester with our third child, I was horizontal most of the time - cue food deliveries and takeaways. It’s important to prioritise your health.
This is now your lifestyle and you do such an incredible job spreading the word through your social media platforms and website. What other organisations or projects focussed on reducing plastic pollution have you been part of / worked on that you have been really proud of?
Back in 2018, I partnered with Plastic Free Me, a network of volunteers and a community interest company passionate about the planet. Together, we created the Plastic Free Parent campaign which thousands of parents around the world took part in to help reduce their family’s plastic waste. I’ve also worked with Hubbub, an amazing platform to inspire positive environmental change. I’ve appeared on stage at Vevolution and given talks around the country on plastic-free parenting. More recently and locally, I’ve been spending time in my son’s school trying to get a plastic-free tuckshop up and running. It was also pretty neat to feature on the BBC news homepage discussing my top 5 tips for plastic-free parenting.
Could you share with us any helpful/informative resources (books, websites, social media accounts, etc) which helped or motivated your plastic-free lifestyle?
Sure. Lucy Siegle’s Turning The Tide on Plastic was a big one for me and opened my eyes to the urgent need to take action. I love anything written by Riverford founder, Guy Signh Watson - the way he talks about the Earth is magical - and I also have a stash of parenting magazines from the 80s. These are actually my greatest inspiration - we have so much to learn from our parents’ and grandparent’s generation. To learn more about Environmental Racism, I recommend looking up Dr Robert Bullard and finally for anything food-related, check out @cheftomhunt.
Our commitments to reduce the use of plastics
At Salt-Water Sandals, we care about the environment and constantly work to reduce our environmental impact. Among our initiatives to be more environment-friendly, we have made some efforts to reduce the use of plastics. We know we still have work to do and are committed to doing it:
Plastics have been removed from our packaging; all of our packaging is now 100% plastic-free.
Our collaboration with the Marine Conservation Society
We are long-time supporters of the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), UK's leading marine charity who works to ensure our seas are healthy, pollution-free and protected.
We support them with the MCS Official Sandal, the Silver Original. 10% of all sales of this sandal going directly to this charity to gift for seas full of life.
We also take part in Beach Cleans to help clear up beaches of plastic and rubbish.
Read more about this partnership here.