Sarah Tait is one of those wonderful people who just have a glow about them. She is a beacon of health, is always smiling and just generally radiates warmth. Overall there is this sense that she has got it together. So it should come as no surprise that not only has she embarked on a plastic free life, but that she is thriving in one. As someone who is taking baby steps along the path of living with less plastic, Sarah is a huge inspiration for me and my family.
So who is Sarah? She is an ocean loving, yoga enthusiast, who loves to hug trees, eat nourishing foods and ultimately connect to this wondrous earth we live on. She is originally from New Zealand but is now a resident of our wonderful Northern Beaches. Sarah started her blog Wander Lightly to share her journey of reducing her plastic use and ultimately through her musings she hopes to educate and inspire others to wander just a little bit more lightly on this planet.
It is easy to read blogs on living plastic free and shut down at the thought that its just too impossible. Our lives are too busy, our commitments too great. Between family, work and staying healthy we have enough to think about. And what about those occasions when your pantry is bare and with huge effort you bundle your kids into the car, herd them around the supermarket, only to get to the checkout and realise you forgot your reusable bags. The sacrifices to live totally plastic free might just seem unrealistic. It is easy to feel overwhelmed by stories of eco-achievers and get that crushing feeling that you are never doing enough. But lets not get disheartened. As Sarah puts it “we all want to make a difference on this planet, however small; every little step counts to the bigger picture.” So instead let’s chose to be inspired to make small changes, to start somewhere. Over on her blog, Sarah makes this so much easier for us.
Sarah is quick to point out small swaps you can make in your daily life to cut back on your plastic usage. Plus, she puts together stats and information on what items contribute greatest to waste to help you make informed decisions. She has great plastic free tips and is starting a library of recipes for your body and home so that we have access to alternative beauty and cleaning product options. Her online shop sells self-made products to help promote plastic free living, including home-made deodorant, cutlery holders and snack sacks. Sarah herself works full-time, goes to to the gym, attends yoga classes, prepares her own weekly meals and has an active social life. Her lifestyle and plastic free ethos just might be more attainable than most of us think. While living completely plastic free might be setting the bar too high for most of us, don’t let that stop us from trying to reduce our plastic footprint.
Living Ocean interview local eco-warrior Sarah Tait on her inspirational journey to wander more lightly on our earth
Living plastic free is quite an undertaking, what inspired your decision to follow this path? Was there a defining moment or event that triggered your passion?
I went on the first Living Ocean Yoga Retreat held in Tonga in 2014… how I ended up going, and the trip itself, was all quite serendipitous. When I first heard of the trip it was already fully booked and I was disappointed to have missed out. Just by chance I received a mail out from Breathing Space Yoga [who jointly host the yoga trip with Living Ocean] saying that a space on the trip had at the last minute become available. It meant flying in to Tonga to start the retreat on my birthday and I just thought – it doesn’t get more perfect than this! It was during this week in Tonga that my eyes were opened. We went on this boat trip with this group called Whale Discoveries who spoke a lot about plastic pollution and the huge environmental toll it is having on our oceans. I guess I knew about it, but I hadn’t really ever thought about my own impact that much. I used to just think I ticked the box by recycling my things. But it wasn’t until this moment on the boat that I thought, wow, I am still really contributing to this problem in a massive way. I woke up at 4am the next day and there was literally no sound but the voice in my head that said “you have to stop using plastic for a year.” And I went okay. I got up that morning and said to the group, “I’m going to stop using plastic for a year.” I knew that was what I was going to do
Did you go cold turkey from that moment, or was the transition more gradual?
So the Living Ocean yoga trip was in October and I thought I would start fresh from the new year and give myself two months to prepare for a full year without plastic.
I imagine you had two busy months sourcing plastic-free products and reading up on things?
I did read a number of blogs on other peoples’ plastic free journeys, like American Beth Terry’s My Plastic Free Life, but I also realised that I wanted to go on my own individual journey and discover the challenges for myself. I worked out where I could buy things and regularly source products, so that on the first day of January I could start. I also set up my blog Wander Lightly to share my journey.
Sarah took stock of her plastic use in the two months before going plastic free
And once you started, how were those first few months, did you have to make any exceptions for plastic?
My goal was to buy no new plastic unless I really needed it. I did give myself some exceptions from the outset which included: if my cat needed anything, if I needed anything medical and my dietary supplements. This year I am actually really trying to focus on getting all my requirements from food. Though there are some things that I need like Evening Primrose oil that I will just have to take supplements for. I did discover in those first few months that living a plastic free life can be very time consuming and requires a good level of organisation. I had to make a lot of stuff from scratch and as a result I didn’t blog as much as I had planned. And even with all my effort, I was still getting plastic.
I can well believe that. I have found that even when I am buying takeaway from a place that serve the food in a paper box, I always have to double check. I have been caught before where they have run out of boxes or happen to serve the particular portion size I ordered in a plastic container.
Yes, plastic is tricky to escape. I found plastic would come in the mail, sometimes in the packaging of a product – things that you just wouldn’t have thought of and planned for. So I challenged myself to investigate any occurrences such as this and seek out alternatives wherever possible. When there wasn’t a solution I would ask myself – do I really need it? I am still doing this now. The biggest thing I have really stuck to is food. Like I love, love potato chips and I used to consume a big bag a week. And now I just don’t buy them anymore. Sometimes I must admit that I do look at them and think mmm I would like to have a bag of you!
What about if a friend has a bag of chips?
I will share them! There are some people who say no I wont eat any of that stuff. But I think, well they have already bought them, so I will just have a sample. Especially when I am out somewhere and people put out those kind of things… The other thing is people say all the time to me, “oh I wanted to buy you a present but it was plastic.” And I think, well it is me that is doing this – not you, so don’t think that you have to completely avoid plastic for my sake. But at the same time, it does challenge the people around me to think about the plastic issue themselves and maybe it encourages them to avoid it where they can. For my birthday I have started giving friends and family ideas for plastic free items that I would like or that I need, like a certain wooden brush for example.
Have you found your family and friends to be supportive of your decision to live plastic free?
Yes, I have felt quite supported. Most people kind of understand it. The present thing was a little bit tricky. People often just don’t notice plastic. They might buy me flowers wrapped in brown paper, not realising that there is plastic packaging underneath it.
Do you broach it with your friends?
With the presents I feel it is different and you don’t want to tarnish someone’s gift and generosity. But it is much easier to pull my family up on it.
And socially, has it been challenging?
Not really actually. If we are going on a picnic for example, I will ask if they mind if I bring dips because I can make that at home relatively easily, rather than bringing the crackers that are a lot more difficult to make. Which means I guess in a sense there is still plastic involved in the setting, but I can control my contribution more readily.
Have you found living plastic free to be more expensive?
No I have actually found it cheaper. I tend to buy all my fresh food at the Frenchs Forest organic food market because I like to go there. I don’t really buy anything processed as it is generally plastic packaged and because I very rarely go to the supermarket I avoid impulsive buying. I definitely save money by the fact that I am making so much from scratch. Since I also shop in stores like Scoop where I can use my own containers, I find that I buy less and have less wastage as I purchase items in the quantities that I need.
I have also saved money on other things like razors and sanitary items. I have just started using a metal razor recently and have for a while now been using a sanitary cup. I must admit I hesitated over the cup for a long time, but its actually great! I am currently writing a post on it – which as you can imagine is a work in progress!
Many people, including myself, would love to be completely plastic free, but just worry that we won’t have time between work and family commitments… Do you believe anyone can live a plastic free life?
Look I would be interested to know how people with children can do it. I know my sister and her family try to live a simple life and make a lot of their own things, but it is not completely free from plastic. People have to do what works for them. Its not going to suit everyone. And with a child, or even yourself, you may need to be able to grab a quick packaged snack here or there. But I guess I believe that most individuals and families can do some of the really key things like using reusable water bottles and coffee cups and not using plastic shopping bags.
There are some plastic items which we do rely upon daily, such as household appliances, that you do just have to replace if they stop working. I try where possible to replace these items with second hand purchases. But this can’t always be the case. Recently my hairdryer died and I searched for a second hand one, but ended up having to buy a new one. I figured this wasn’t too bad as you use them for such extended periods of time. I also do use an electric toothbrush – though I rarely change the head.
I really feel what is most important is that individuals and families make steps where they can and I hope to inspire people to challenge themselves over time to step up what they can manage.
Any other tip for people wanting to start small?
Carry a kit in your car with cutlery, a reusable coffee cup, a few glass containers in a couple of sizes and a jar. So when you are out and suddenly think of something you might need or want, you have containers on hand. Like this afternoon I thought that I would like to pick up some fish for tonight – so now I know I have a container to take to the store.
Do you find that people are receptive of you bringing your own container into the store?
I was really nervous about taking my own containers when I first started doing it. People have said no for health and safety reasons or because they can’t weigh the item so easily. I have never had any issue with butchers or fish shops. In terms of take away I tend to now make the effort to sit down and eat in at a restaurant. But there are those occasions where you just want to hit the couch. So I have sussed out those take away store which are cool about me bringing my containers, like my local Indian. You still have to remember to ask for any condiments or extras to be popped in with the meal as I have been caught out with this.
What alternatives to plastic products do you recommend?
I make a great toothpaste with baking soda, coconut oil and spearmint or peppermint oil. You can find the recipe on my blog. I actually prefer how it cleans my teeth to regular toothpaste. I buy blocks of shampoo bars for my hair as after a lot or trial and error I found this to work best. I finish with an apple cider conditioning rinse, for which the recipe is also on my blog. I also highly recommend Scoop, Manly Food Corp and The Source Bulk Foods (in Willoughby) for shopping. I get my liquids in bulk from Manly Food Corp and The Source. They have shampoo and conditioner too. From them I get my dishwashing liquid, olive oil, coconut oil, sesame oil etc. You just take in your own containers and weigh them in store first. Oh and the little Onya produce bags are fabulous. I just attach them to my market basket and reuse them, it makes it super easy.
Do you feel that the living plastic free movement is growing?
More people are interested in it. My family and my friends have been exposed to the idea and information through myself and therefore have grown much more conscious of it. My friend for example watched a film on plastics that I lent her called Bag It, which is kind of old now, but still very relevant and speaks a lot about the health risks associated with BPA. After watching it she messaged me the next day to tell me she had bought a Keep Cup. I think for people who have a lot of plastic pieces at home the easiest way is to wait till it breaks and then where possible buy alternatives to the plastic. You don’t have to go out and initially spend a lot of money on it. You can collect glass storage containers and jars over time.
I loved your January blog post on your intentions for 2016. You speak about David Bowie and what an inspiration he has been for you. His death seemed to make you really focus on your passion and your desire to live with true authenticity and to further challenge yourself on your plastic free journey. You quote him saying “I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring”. What have you done so far this year to challenge yourself and follow your passion?
I guess my first year doing the plastic free was more about me and my adjustment to living plastic free. I did do a few blog posts here and there hoping to inspire someone, but overall my focus was more inward. This year I wanted to be a bit more public with my message and broaden my platform to challenge peoples set ideas – like that coffee take away cups are deemed cool. I have done a couple of talks already, one at Breathing Space yoga studio in Avalon, and I plan to do more over the year. And initiating the joint Wander Lightly/Living Ocean beach clean ups has been a big thing and a great way to get my message further afield.
What do you dream of for Wander Lightly in the future?
I would like to do something a little bit more corporate like going around to companies to advise them on how to reduce their plastic footprint. It would be great to be able to show these companies what sorts of changes they can make. Not that they have to go completely plastic free – but even small swaps that can make a big difference. Like ensuring access to ceramic mugs and glass cups in the work place and not offering take away coffee cups or plastic water cups. Or going into cafes and restaurants to show them how they can reduce their plastic use by offering affordable alternative solutions for them.
If you could say just one thing to encourage people to do something, what would it be?
Just do one thing. Start with one thing. Establish that habit for yourself and then try a new thing. Don’t think that because someone else is doing all these other things that you have to manage this as well. Not comparing yourself to others is important. You have to do what you feel good with.
Sarah’s Take home tips:
You can follow Sarah’s journey on her blog at wanderlightly.com and get regular updates and living plastic free tips by following her facebook page and her instagram feed @wanderlightly
Please come on down and get involved in our joint Wander Lightly/Living Ocean beach clean ups. You can check our facebook pages for regular updates. The next planned beach clean will be held at Palm Beach on Sunday the 21st of August. We will be meeting at 10am in the park directly opposite the Boathouse Kiosk.