Updated: Mar 5, 2020
My relationship with stuff is constantly evolving. Looking back one turning point was zip lock bags. They were never a regular purchase in our household until I took my newborn on a driving holiday through Italy. My mummy group was unanimous that zip lock bags would make travelling with a baby easier.
So there we were ready to board our flight Los Angeles to Rome. Our backpack stuffed full. Large zip locks to separate the three changes of tiny clothes. Small zip lock for clean dummies. Medium zip lock with Tylenol, Gripe Water, Sudocrem and a thermometer. And some spares to stash poopy nappies.
My relationships with zip locks had begun. They were convenient. And cheap. And easy to dispose of. And the ones at IKEA...I’ve mentioned before…colour coded by size and oh, so aesthetically pleasing. They solved the problem. Or did they?
Three years later I came across the book ‘Simplicious Flow’ by Sarah Wilson. When speaking to a friend she said ‘the one where she uses only 5 zip locks a year?!’. Yep, that one.
The book suggests washing and reusing the zip locks you have until they split. When you’ve run out repurpose a plate or bowl by placing on top of your leftover dinner before placing in the fridge. This makes sense, and yet conflicts with the disposal, single-use society we live in today. And it made me feel uncomfortable.
Our lives are flooded with products designed to make our lives easier. More convenient. Yet, I’m becoming convinced they’re making our life more complicated. Our bathroom cabinets are overflowing. We can’t see the back of our kitchen pantries. Every time we go to the supermarket there are NEW and IMPROVED versions to deliberate over. Not forgetting the excessive packaging. And with all this noise I believe we’re losing the wonderfully satisfying human trait of self-sufficiency.
So, I began to wash my zip locks and yes, it was annoying and cumbersome compared to tossing them in the bin, but something happened. They began to hold a value I had not assigned to them when I treated them as a single-use product. And that made me think more about the impact my consumption had on our planet. It seemed pretty abstract. And overwhelming. How do we measure our use of something like a ziplock bag against what the world as a whole is consuming? We can’t. I’d tell myself things like ‘I’m only one person’ and ‘at least I’m recycling’. With something this big, it’s easy to think that your action doesn’t matter and like my friend, that someone else is crazy for trying.
Yet, Sarah’s action inspired me. I don’t buy zip locks anymore, but I do have a bag in the laundry comprised of my old and preloved IKEA zip locks. As well as the many that come into our house in the form of packaging other products. They’re there if I need them, but I find I don’t use them as frequently as I did. I’ve become more self-sufficient and focus on reusing and repurposing things I already have. Not just zip locks! There’s abundance around us, we just need to look for it.
And there is actually a way to see how our consumption impacts the world. Check out Earth Overshoot Day which marks the date when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year. If the world’s population lived like Australian’s in 2019 we’d need 4.1 Earth’s to meet our consumption.
Here are some more kitchen products I’ve ditched in favour of a more sustainable way:
Cling Wrap - Reusable containers or bowl over plate trick. I haven’t purchased cling wrap in over a year now. And if a piece does enter into our home via another means I reuse it.
Kitchen Sponges - Compostable options like coconut fibre scrub pad and 100% cotton squares my mum crochets
Plastic Dish Brushes - Wooden dish brush with replaceable natural bristle heads. My current head is nine months old and going strong.
Baking Paper - Wash and reuse. You should get a few uses out of each piece. When your current supply is finished grease pans with butter. If purchasing the most sustainable option is If You Care (unbleached, chlorine-free, FSC certified).
Paper Towel - Tea towels work well for spills. Then chuck them in the wash. If purchasing the most sustainable option is Who Gives A Crap made from a blend of bamboo and sugarcane (I still have a small supply & use sparingly).
Bin liners - Line with newspaper instead of plastic bags (if you compost your organics your rubbish should be fairly dry). It took me around 6 months to work up to this. Again I felt uncomfortable about this swap. I think this is part of the process of change. And I’m now working up to ditching the newspaper and simply washing out my bin when needed like our grandparents would have done.
We can’t do everything at once, but we can try one thing at a time. Experiment. Allow ourselves to feel uncomfortable. To fail. And ultimately find a better way.