I’ve been wanting to write this a long while – gathering thoughts, memories, photos – and trying to work out how to write it in a way that doesn’t come across as too much ‘look-at-me-aren’t-I-good?’ – and then I read this by the genius Melissa Harrison, and realised whatever I wrote will be futile and meaningless.
But I’d already thought my thoughts and gathered my photos – so what the hell, write it anyway.
Here’s my new soap dispenser, Joseph and Joseph, from John Lewis. One of our little efforts in the war against plastic. We can now get a refill of hand soap at a couple of local shops, ditto washing up liquid and shampoo.
Life has made it convenient for us, with the shops right there on our high street (we are peak South London gentrification after all) – so I can do it without feeling like it’s a hair-shirt thing.
I don’t have to be a martyr to the cause, and yet I never need buy a bottle of shampoo again. It’s a weird feeling – but freeing, somehow.
I used to feel reassured every time I bought new cleaning products or toiletries; somehow as if owning more of this stuff shored me up against domestic chaos: look, I have Windolene and Mr Muscle and oven cleaner and a range of wipes and dusters and sponges.
I am a real grown-up with a cloth for every occasion, and good tea towels still in their wrappers. I’m not like my eco-conscious parents using my dad’s old pants to polish shoes. I refuse to reuse my old pants; they go in a clothes bin and presumably get turned usefully into rags somewhere far away where I don’t have to think about it.
But. But. That doesn’t work now, does it?
Now everyone cares about it. Now it’s not just the weird hippy stuff my parents did. We’ve gone back to glass milk bottles, we have keep cups and shun straws. We’re all doing our bit. And we all know that not everything we put in recycling bins ends up where it’s meant to.
I like the bonus feeling of less stuff cluttering the cupboards, of not accumulating new hand creams and shampoos just because I feel compelled to spend my money on something.
Owning those objects no longer feels like a proof of adulthood – rather, paring back makes me feel I’m shedding layers, freeing myself of unnecessary tat for the next stage in life. Not just sending plastic to the recycling, but stopping it even getting on my shelf in the first place.
It’s not actually a smug look-at-me feeling – it feels calmer and more internal than that: but it must be look-at-me too, otherwise why would I be writing this blog, if not to show off how good I am?
What about the bits we don’t want to deal with, though? Here’s our new bamboo toothbrushes, but guess what, I don’t like them. I want a proper hard bristle brush that will make the back of your mouth feel really clean. This one just doesn’t feel right in my mouth. Same goes for the wooden washing-up brush; it looked the part, but the bristles got messed up too quickly and within weeks we had to chuck it.
Here’s my zero waste cupboard with chia seeds for my breakfast cereal, nuts and dried mango for snacks, all bought in Tupperware at the local shop. But if I have this to snack on why am I still buying Graze boxes?
And I vowed this year to stop buying palm oil products, but they still creep into the house – I might do ok with spelt oatcakes and palm-oil-free peanut butter, but what if I buy mini rolls for the kids? If I think of orang-utans every time I reach for the mini rolls, will I shame myself into not buying them? And will the kids not mind if they are given fair trade choc buttons instead?
So, what next? One minute we are told the individual small actions make all the difference, en masse; the next we are told none of it matters if governments and fossil fuel giants do nothing, and we wring our hands and keep recycling, or sit in paralysis and worry.
I’ve already done the ‘big’ thing in my life – I haven’t flown on a plane since 2013 and I see no reason I’ll fly again next year or the year after – how long before I’ve ‘earned’ the right to have a flight? Do I ‘deserve’ one return flight to somewhere I really, really want to go one day, like Venice, to offset all the flights I haven’t taken?
What about all the people jumping on planes every few months or even weekly? When does that stop being acceptable, and who am I to say my friends shouldn’t get to visit their families and loved ones around the world?
These are all choices I made long ago, so for me personally there’s no big struggle in giving up flying – I knew once I’d ticked off the major transatlantic places I most wanted to go, I wouldn’t feel a massive pull to see more of the far-flung places, and I haven’t regretted that; there are plenty of places closer to home I wanted to see and I’ve seen and done many of them.
Plus travelling shorter distances with small kids is much more conducive to our family life: we’ve found what works for us and largely stuck to that. So, in absence of any other solutions, I’ll keep on with the Tupperware and keep cups, and maybe we’ll get the train to Venice one day.