I imagine Bettina Maidment to have enviable cupboards full of Kilner jars in which she keeps colourful lentils in nice neat rows. I bet there’s not a single piece of plastic to blight the eye
For Bettina is the Plastic Free Community Leader for Hackney. She took the decision to live without plastic a couple of years ago, and then began to encourage her community to do the same.
It’s going well. She’s got the Council on board, swears by the menstrual cup, and organises monthly litter pickings. Milk is delivered by a milkman (pricier but then he gets a fair wage). And yes – she does use Kilner jars, but mixes it up with old Tupperware that she won’t throw out.
Here she is now, happily disclosing the contents of her kitchen bin and her plastic peccadilloes.
Q: How did you get started?
A: I can’t remember the exact piece of packaging that broke the camel’s back, as it were, but I do remember one day just thinking: enough is enough. This wasn’t totally new to me – I have always had a real issue with waste and would try to shun unnecessary plastics whenever I could.
Discovering the zero waste community online made me feel like it was possible and gave me the support to live in a way that felt right. With two kids (at the time 1 & 4) I wanted a different vision of the future for them than one suffocated in plastic. Whilst I do aspire to living zero waste I now advocate a low waste and plastic-free lifestyle that encompasses everything that we consume.
Q: Can one person’s plastic free actions really make a difference?
A: Yes! Individually it might not seem like you’re making a difference but collectively we have a huge amount of power. Whilst I do believe the government needs to bring in legislation, we can still build a movement from the grass roots up. And your wallet is an incredibly effective weapon!
Q: Isn’t it a lifestyle that suits wealthy people best – those who can afford beeswax for wrapping sandwiches, for example?
A: I really want to debunk this myth that going plastic free is for the wealthy – it’s about creating less waste which means consuming less in the first place. It’s about using what you already have – putting a plate on top of leftovers is free!
I’ve been using old takeaway and ice cream containers for years for packed lunches. I keep glass jars and use these instead of Tupperware (and ensure all my old Tupperware is still in use). Although certain things may cost a little bit more, on the whole I spend a lot less money living more sustainably. We don’t eat meat, shop mainly second hand, and ensure no food is wasted.
Q: What do you never leave home without?
A: My reusable water bottle, a tote bag, Onya food bags and a fork live permanently in my bag. If I know I might want a take-out coffee, my reusable cup. But if I forget I drink in or forgo the coffee.
Q: Any guilty secrets/plastic peccadilloes?
A: Ha! No guilty secrets – I’m not perfect – we live in a plastic world and it’s hard! I want to show honestly how I have managed to massively reduce the waste my family produces, especially plastics, and to show it is possible; what would be the point in pretending?
Erm so I bought a yoghurt maker but it never seems to come out right. I’ve stopped eating it (I’m a vegetarian but am trying to reduce the amount of dairy I eat too), but my husband still buys it for the kids and him. I still need to invest in a coffee grinder as a few places near me have started selling beans in bulk so I could avoid buying packs of coffee then.
But I guess my biggest fail has been… shock horror – nappies… I can give you the long story as to why, but I’m sure my detractors will say they’re all excuses and I’m a failure (I buy Bambo nappies which after a lot of research are the best of a bad bunch). Thankfully it’s just the one nappy a night now and hopefully not for much longer.
Q: Three top tips for a plastic free wannabe.
1. Take it slow! Think of it as a journey – and a long one at that. If you try and do it all at once it will become overwhelming and you’re more likely to give up. Just remember every switch is a positive step.
2. There are really easy simple swaps that we can make in our daily life/shop. Can you buy washing powder in a box over a plastic bottle? Can you switch from using tampons to a menstrual cup? (honestly it’s life changing and I would urge all women to switch. I feel like offering some sort of money back guarantee scheme I’m that evangelical about it!).
3. Use what you already have. This ‘lifestyle’ isn’t about an aesthetic, it’s about becoming less wasteful. If you’ve got loads of plastic bottles of shampoo use it all up before researching the alternatives (such as shampoo bars).
Q: How often do you empty your kitchen bin?
A: Not very often! The last time was December 31st and it’s about a third full… so hoping to make it to at least May [she does]. This doesn’t include nappies (seven a week, I use the inside of cereal packet as bin liners), plus recycling (tin, glass, paper). I don’t trust that our plastics aren’t being shipped abroad to SE Asia where they are devastating local communities and entering the ocean, so I’m keeping all my recyclable plastics at the moment. Hackney sends its waste to an Energy From Waste incinerator so the rest ends up there (incineration is also not the answer – check out UKWIN for more info).
Q: Favourite beauty product (that you make yourself)?
A: Moisturiser – made from almond oil, rosewater (had a bottle in the cupboard for years otherwise you can just use water) and beeswax. It’s brilliant and I use it on my face and body.
Q: Who is your own personal plastic free hero?
A: Lucy Siegle