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ECO WARRIOR FROM CHILDHOOD Teal McGurk was born and raised in Montreal, Canada. She now lives in Northern Ireland with her husband David, their one year old and baby number two due at the end of March.
"Water bottles, plastic cutlery, coffee cups, straws and toothbrushes. We live in a disposable culture. Where did it begin and how can I stop it? It’s something I’ve asked myself for so many years. One hundred years ago plastic didn’t even exist so how is it such an essential part of our everyday lives now? My eco warrior stance started as a kid. I grew up camping every summer and spent all my time outside. Littering was frowned upon, we wasted nothing and bought second hand camping items. It was a way of life. As a teenager, I became really conscious about recycling at home. I bought a kitchen sized recycling bin for my family and always carried reusable bags, which may seem basic now but 15 years ago, it wasn’t such a common thing. Fast forward ten years to when I moved to the UK and I was left in shock. I moved from a city, which was quite environmentally conscious - we had scoop shops and supermarkets where I could easily access plastic free fruit and vegetables - to a place where carrots and basics such as pasta and rice were and still are
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"They know me as the crazy bag lady, as I walk in a shop they ask for my bags first"
nearly always plastic wrapped. I remember thinking - surely it’s not possible. It’s the UK. A well developed country with access to so many resources.
ON A MIS ION We all have the power to turn a negative situation into a positive and so I made it my mission to do something about it. Back in late 2016, I tried to buy cotton produce bags locally with the hopes of reducing the amount of plastic coming into our house. Unfortunately and surprisingly, no local options were available - only China, India or the States. The lack of plastic free options in the UK and Northern Ireland in particular is what lead my husband and I to start our small family business called DoYourBit.
We started out in our dining room, sewing organic cotton bags at the weekend using 100% locally sourced organic material. In the months following, zero waste companies from mainland UK got in contact to stock our bags. It was so rewarding! We actually felt like we were ‘doing our bit’. Two years later, different zero waste shops and cafes UK wide stock our bags to help in the fight against plastic. The plastic free lifestyle for my husband and I truly started two years ago alongside our business. It hasn’t always been an easy or a perfect one but in my eyes, this journey should never be about perfection. It’s about progress. It’s a lifestyle that has gained so much momentum and inspired so many people.
BATHROOM CHANGES David and I started tackling our house room by room, starting with the bathroom. Certain swaps like soap bars and bamboo toothbrushes were quite effortless but I failed time and time again with shampoo bars. I tested three or four before giving up and resorting back to bottles for six months and then finally discovered a way and a bar that worked for me. Once we reached our target, we moved onto the kitchen and laundry. We swapped disposable sponges for a wooden kitchen brush, aluminium foil for reusable silicone baking sheets and toxic filled laundry liquid for soapnuts. FACING CHALLENGES At first glance, the kitchen seemed like an easy one. But walk into a high street supermarket here - plastic free is IMPOSSIBLE. Pasta and rice barely ever come in cardboard boxes and the entire sweet aisle is double wrapped in plastic. Oh, and don’t get me started on milk. I much prefer to support local so we started doing our produce shop at the local farm. The local farmer agreed to fill our glass jug with milk as long as we gave him it one week in advance. The reality is that plastic free here can be quite challenging. I’ve had to politely insist at the local bakery to put cakes directly into my bag or container and I’ve gotten more strange looks than you can imagine. On a good note though, they do know me as the crazy bag lady now and as I walk in they ask for my bags first. Our plastic free journey took another turn one year ago when our baby was born. Disposable nappies, wipes and a senseless amount of new clothes worn a handful of times seemed crazy. We opted for reusable nappies, reusable wipes and a dozen good bargains for second hand clothes on ebay. Reusable nappies and wipes were the best zero waste swap we ever made. No messier than disposables and you never run out. We’re far from perfect and we have a lot of things to improve on but we’re doing our bit, bit by bit, hoping to leave a lighter footprint for our kids and generations to come. Remember, progress over perfection."
Come back next issue to follow Teal’s journey and see how their plastic free life as a family has changed. And on Instagram @doyourbit.ni
FEBRUARY/MARCH 2019 www.thegreenparent.co.uk