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Life without plastic: pioneer families show how it's done


Carrier bags are easy to replace and milk can come in glass bottles. But what about deodorant, toothbrushes and clingfilm?

Bettina Maidment hasn't emptied the kitchen bin since the beginning of November. The time before that was in August. "You can reduce your rubbish a lot," she insists, pointing to her recycling and food compost bins. "I have two kids and they're pretty anti-plastic – I am their mother after all – but it is do-able."

Maidment, 38, is the founder of Plastic Free Hackney, a campaign to rid the east London borough of single-use plastic and has been serious about committing her family to plastic-free, zero-waste living for two years now. First to go was milk cartons. "That was an easy switch, we got a milkman."

Then came bamboo toothbrushes, swapping out supermarket shopping for the local greengrocer, and making deodorant, cleanser, moisturiser and handsoap at home. She opens her fridge to reveal shelves of glass jars and reusable containers; her larder is stocked with lentils, pasta, porridge and the like, bought in bulk and stored in glass or canvas bags.

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"At the moment, there are all these headlines about sales in shops being down, but maybe everyone has enough stuff."

Her aim, she says, is to instil the principle in her sons, who are three and six, "that they can be happy with as little as possible".

She is not alone. As public anger grows over the environmental impact of single-use plastic, trying to live plastic-free and more sustainably has become a mainstream concept. "There was a huge uptick in the conversation after Blue Planet about how to reduce plastic use and it remains, by quite a margin, the single biggest topic area people call us for," says Julian Kirby, lead campaigner on plastics at Friends of the Earth. "In my experience, the amount of public concern for this environmental issue is unprecedented," he says. "It's been phenomenal."

Maidment admits that her gradual awareness of the amount of plastic and litter in the street has become an obsession. Now, everything that can be is reused, recycled, bought on eBay or sourced from a charity shop. The family have had their second "buy nothing new" Christmas. Maidment's husband works as an engineer in sustainable design but she didn't tell him about her project at the beginning.

"My interest was piqued online and I saw how other people were doing it and slowly started reducing my waste." She opened an Instagram account to document the process of going plastic-free. "It was very much a secret at first – I thought people would think I was mad – but I couldn't reconcile the idea that so much of what we buy is designed to be thrown away. It's insanity."

For Kiran Harrison, 43, who works as a massage therapist and storyteller in Worthing, West Sussex.the impetus to go plastic-free came around the time her son, now nine months, was born. She visited her local cloth nappy library, where parents can loan reusable nappies, and gradually began swapping out the plastics in her home. "Nappies are the number one offender," she says. "And cloth nappies are so much easier than people realise."

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