Sharon’s plastic-free story: not just a drop in the ocean

June 22, 2018 6:22 am Published by 1 Comment

Back in the spring of this year, many people in the UK were inspired by David Attenborough’s Blue Planet series to try to reduce their use of plastics. The programme showed how serious the issue of plastic waste in the oceans had become, with its devastating effects on wildlife. This is the story of one family who watched the programme intently – and decided to live life a little differently afterwards.


It’s the story of Sharon, her husband and two children, aged 14 and 12, and the changes they’ve made to their lifestyle this year. What have they done? How easy has it been? And does any of it really make a difference?

A drop in the ocean?

Sharon is clear-sighted about the problem and about her family’s chances of making a difference. ‘The main issue is with Asia’, she says, referring to the fact that most of the plastic waste that ends up in our oceans has its source in that continent.

‘Our ability to affect what happens there is limited. We had to work out whether what we were trying to do was really going to make the world a better place – or was just something to make ourselves feel better’.

The family discussed it together. In the end, they decided that cutting down on plastic use was a good thing, objectively, in every sense. While their impact as a family might be small, they would be joining with other people on a similar journey, increasing the effectiveness of their actions – and would be leaving the world a better place for it. It wouldn’t just be a drop in the ocean.

The start of a plastic-free journey

The family then embarked on the first stages of their plastic-free journey.

First, Sharon spread the word, shouting out on social media about what they’d be doing and prompting many others to think about their own plastic use too. She made a point (politely) of telling the shops and organisations she deals with that she didn’t want to use plastic and challenged (again, very politely!) instances where she felt too much plastic was being used. She started a grass-roots campaign among the young children in her youth group, teaching them about the problem and encouraging them and their families to follow her lead.

Plastic alternatives and swaps

Sharon and her family then found an alternative to plastic wherever they could. The following is a taste of what they’re currently doing. It’s a list of small steps, little changes and easy swaps.

Image: Darcy Lawrey

  • Having milk delivered to the door in glass bottles, rather than buying it in plastic bottles from the supermarket.
  • Taking their own cloth mesh bags to the supermarket for loose fruit and veg, instead of using the flimsy plastic bags provided.
  • Buying meat from the butchers, cutting down on packaging.
  • Home-baking snacks and desserts, rather than buying these pre-packaged.
  • Using cotton buds with wooden or paper handles, instead of plastic.
  • Buying bird food and dry pet food in paper bags.
  • Giving everyone in the family reusable flasks for drinks at school, at work and on the go.
  • When buying a takeaway drink, choosing a can over a plastic bottle.
  • Using 100% biodegradable bin liners from If You Care (proudly stocked by Naturally Good Food)!
  • Using paper sandwich bags for packed lunches from If You Care too.
  • Using bamboo toothbrushes, which can be composted or burnt after use. Sharon points out that one of her children really didn’t like these, so a compromise was found for him: he uses a plastic toothbrush with replaceable bristles.
  • Buying soap in bars, shampoo in paper beakers and ‘solid shower gel’.

Image: George Becker

Overall, Sharon’s main aim has been simply to stop the plastic getting in the house in the first place. ‘Reduce’, she says, is the most important bit of the mantra ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’, because it’s only by addressing the problem at its root – stemming the tide of plastic streaming out from the manufacturers – that we’re ever going to solve it.

One final point: forgiveness

The first thing Sharon mentioned when I interviewed her for this blog has become my final point – and it’s a vital one. It’s what she calls the importance of ‘forgiveness’. If you get it wrong, she says, using something plastic when you really shouldn’t – don’t beat yourself up too much about it. Celebrate every little step, but don’t feel crushed if you can’t do everything all all at once. Despair isn’t going to get any of us anywhere!

Sharon’s family’s changes are small and easily achievable by most of us. And just as an ocean is made up of millions of tiny drops, so all our changes, put together, might just provoke a real sea-change in the way we use and dispose of plastics in this country.

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This post was written by Yzanne

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