A Guide To Cutting Plastic Out Of Your Life
Zero-waste warrior and Gen.T honouree Tamsin Thornburrow on how to play your part in the plastic backlash
Single-use plastic has become a modern bête noire. But while it may be the proverbial monster under the bed–destroying our oceans and clogging up our landfills–we are still completely wedded to the material. Only decades after plastic embedded itself in our everyday lives did this long-overdue war against it begin, which means disentangling ourselves from the material is a particularly difficult task.
But help is at hand. Tamsin Thornburrow is among a growing number of activists and entrepreneurs who are researching our addiction to plastic and helping wean us off the bad stuff for good.
An interior designer and founder of lifestyle store Thorn and Burrow, Thornburrow has recently opened a shop in Hong Kong’s Sai Ying Pun called Live Zero. From there she sells all the essential foodstuffs we consume daily: flour, spices, grains, sugar, oil, baking powder, coffee and tea, as well as toiletries and utensils. But not one piece of plastic is found throughout the store – products such as flour and quinoa are kept in large self-serve bins, which customers decant into their own containers, while smaller items come wrapped in paper bags. Household goods are made from wood or metal, and everything is sourced in an organic and sustainable way.
All of which makes Thornburrow the ideal person to proffer tips on how to live a plastic-free life in a plastic-filled world.
1. Look around you
Until recently, plastic was anonymously ubiquitous–it was everywhere, but we barely noticed it. And, sadly, that is largely still the case. Today’s cars and planes are about 50 percent plastic, and more clothing is made out of polyester and nylon, both plastics, than cotton or wool. And then there is the visible plastic: toys, household goods, and food and consumer packaging are all, overwhelmingly, made of the substance. “I’m not saying you have to get rid of everything, as that is almost impossible in the modern world,” says Thornburrow. “But once you realise how much plastic is all around us, quitting the non-essentials isn’t that difficult. Ask yourself if you need that packet of crisps or chocolate bar and the answer is probably no.”
2. Start small and grow
Like many of us, Thornburrow’s journey began with trying to source a really good reusable water bottle, one that didn’t drip or have condensation (today, she swears by S’Well bottles). “Getting a reusable bottle is a good place for everyone to start,” she says. “Say you’ll stop buying plastic water bottles, and you’ll see how easy it is to go from that to bringing a lunchbox in to work or containers to do your shopping in.”
3. Change your mindset
In major global metropolises, we all have busy lives and often worship at the altar of convenience. But watch the BBC Blue Planet clip of a turtle hopelessly tangled in plastic netting, and an albatross, dead, from shards of plastic lodged in her gut, and you might change your priorities. “Yes, it feels less convenient to take a lunchbox to work, or to stop buying food and goods wrapped in plastic, but once you get used to it, it becomes your new normal and there’s no looking back,” says Thornburrow. “Change is always difficult at first, but it very quickly becomes part of your routine. If you really care, you have to put yourself out–refusing a plastic straw is a great way to start, but it’s not enough if you want to make a difference.”
4. Embrace all things second-hand
Just because something is new, doesn’t mean it is better–just look at the global trend for vintage clothing and antique furniture. “There are so many amazing second-hand items around, from clothing to furniture to household goods,” says Thornburrow. “This is particularly true in cities like Hong Kong where there is a high turnover of people moving around the globe. If you need something, don’t automatically go to a shiny new store–have a look on Facebook or listing sites to see what you can find. Charity shops are also brilliant for amazing vintage finds.”
5. Pick wet markets over supermarkets
“In Asia, we’re so lucky to have wet markets,” says Thornburrow. “They’re amazing and very different from anything else. They are such a great thing and they aren’t used enough–rarely is anything wrapped in plastic and a lot of the time, all the goods you buy are organic and fresh.” Or, if you’re lucky enough to live near Thornburrow’s Sai Ying Pun store, Live Zero, head to High Street and fill up your containers, with the happy knowledge that each purchase is a small victory in the global war against plastic.