This post is part of a new blog series called “Real plastic-free homes”, in which we show you how normal people, like you and us, reduce their plastic use. We do so, by sharing their achievements, showing the effort they put in and what they learn along the way, whilst not passing judgement but instead with a strong will to learn.
You can read all the other articles from this series here.
If you think plastic-free living is just for couples who live in the city, you are going to love the following story about Mónica and Andrea along with their 3 children Miquel (9), Guillem (6) and Júlia (3).
This family lives in a town of 3,000 inhabitants in Catalonia. They live in a typical town house, that is divided in two, and that they share with Mónica’s parents: Miquel and Maria Dolors. Today, they are going to tell us all about what it’s like for a large family like theirs to reduce their plastic use living outside the city.
Hi, Mònica. Firstly, thank you very much for sharing your story with us. How did it all start for you guys? When did you decide to avoid using plastic?
We nearly started accidentally, and it was only a year and 3 months ago that we made a conscious decision to continue doing so. But we have been making small steps on this path for several years now.
During the economic crisis we went to live in Switzerland because my husband is from there. In Switzerland, you have to pay for your waste disposal. If you take your separated recyclable rubbish to the waste disposal centre, they take it without charging you, but they are very strict: the paper goes with paper, cardboard with cardboard, glass is separated by colour. Everything that is not recyclable you have to pay for, at €1.30 per bag. So, you recycle everything you can. In Switzerland, it’s not that the people are particularly community-minded, it’s that they charge people for not being community-minded.
Therefore, when my daughter was born we had a lot of additional expenses, what with the price of disposing of dirty nappies, we were going through a bag a day… it didn’t make financial sense for us to use disposable nappies. Therefore, I bought some fabric reusable nappies and it was a great decision: no more red little bottoms, it was very affordable… So, then when we returned to Spain, we already had this recycling mentality and had been using fabric nappies… And then the local council introduced the door to door rubbish collection.
Until this point, we were very relaxed because we recycled everything. But hey, when you see everything you recycle on your doorstep… it freaks you out!
Was it then, that you realised you should reduce your total waste and not just recycle?
Yes, for us it was an adjustment. The door to door service was introduced in November and on the 1st of January my son Miquel and I decided we could not continue like this.
So, we decided to attack the bulkiest items in our waste container. We opened the rubbish bag and there were heaps of 1.5L milk bottles, water bottles (because water here tastes bad), coffee capsules and yoghurt containers. This is what we started with.
From then on, we discovered where to buy water in glass bottles and we saw that the same shop also had flour, rice and pasta in bulk… and slowly, little by little, you start to get to know a new network of places to shop and you realise that you can buy heaps of things plastic-free. Our intention was not to stop going to the supermarket, but these days we just don’t go. We suddenly noticed that we had already stopped going. It was quite a surprise.
What is the thing that gives you the most satisfaction when it comes to eliminating plastic?
Well look, I have always wanted to feed my children very well. They saw it as a dramatic change “now Mum buys biscuits from the organic shop” or “ now Mum cooks brown wholegrain rice”…But in fact, cutting out everything that came packaged in plastic has helped us improve our diet, live a healthier life and to have less toxins in our home. In other words, what I have always been wanting to do via other means, I didn’t manage to achieve until we stopped buying packaged goods.
Which has to do with being more aware of what you are buying, do you feel that this too has changed for you and your family?
Of course, I go shopping once a week and I buy 10 big biscuits, the large cookie kind. When there are no more, no one expects there to be any more. We used to go to the supermarket and buy potatoes in a big bag, biscuits, cereals… I shopped every week. Whereas, now we go to the bulk store once a fortnight and everyone knows that when the cereal is finished… there’s bread.
Sometimes my son says to me: “tomorrow’s Tuesday and the bakery bakes muffins and they sell some before putting them into packaging, so I’ll get up early to go and get some for breakfast”. Good idea, I think to myself. I don’t mind if my son buys muffins once a week at a local shop, instead of buying them in a huge plastic bag of 40 muffins that you continue eating for 2 weeks.
Perhaps this is what has been most rewarding. We started this journey with a technical challenge of wanting to reduce our waste, but it has actually taken us on a different path and changed our whole lifestyle. That is the most beautiful part.
You mentioned supporting the local economy, has that helped you to reduce your plastic use?
Absolutely. We used to go to the supermarket and when I showed up with my own containers they gave me some story about how they couldn’t accept them, and I was really dumbfounded because I never imagined not going to the supermarket. Instead, I went to my local shops and no one had any objections.
Also, I used to go to the supermarket and leave the kids with my mother. Nowadays, we walk through town with everything we need from home, we go to the shops where they know us, we have a relationship with the shop owners, they tell us about what’s new and that has a lot of social value.
Is there a particular type of plastic that has been difficult to avoid?
We go through 14-16 litres of milk a week, because we also make our own yoghurt. We buy it all in glass bottles from a local farmer, apart from about 5 litres a week that we buy from the local patisserie on a Tuesday, that comes in large plastic bottle. When we finish it, we cut open the top and we repurpose it as a recycling container to collect our paper.
There are many people who believe that it is very complicated to avoid plastic as a large family and/or living in a small town, what would you tell them?
I would tell them that living in a small town gives you thousands of options and a whole different approach to shopping and consuming, one that is more local. Now, with the lockdown in place, we can see it. The local shops are the ones that are providing for the town. Here, home delivery from the big supermarket is now booked out until April 1st (note from Sinplástico: the interview took place during the first week of lockdown due to the Coronavirus pandemic). Whereas here, Jordi from the local corner store is making daily deliveries for those who are elderly or unwell.
Supporting Amazon, Zara and big business is not going to solve anything. The local economy is something very special and made up of many family owned businesses that people used to go to with their own containers in days gone by.
There are people who say it is also very expensive. Yes, it is more expensive but the quality is also different. In addition, I must say that I save a lot of money. I used to spend 175 Euros a week going to cheap supermarkets and now, I spend 140 Euros on plastic-free food and cleaning products.
Where do you think that saving comes from?
It’s clear. You don’t buy anything you don’t need. This way you don’t waste your money on junk. For example, no matter how cheap the no name brand of skimmed yoghurt with fruit and muesli is… there is nothing cheaper than homemade yoghurt.
Have you seen a change in people’s awareness since you arrived in town?
Yes, 3 years ago when I took my own bag shopping it was considered strange, but now I see a number of people doing it. That makes me very happy and I feel as if I have planted my little seed.
I have a lovely anecdote of a neighbour who, when she saw me with my string produce bags, thought that I was taking my delicate washing bags to the supermarket. Later, she was spotted shopping with her own delicate washing bags! That was great! That was the moment when I really felt like an accidental activist.
How do you get your kids involved in the plastic-free lifestyle? What is your secret?
Getting kids involved is easy, they are like little sponges. If you sit in front of them and tell them: “I am worried about the earth, it’s raining more and more and the summers are getting drier”…That’s what I did with my eldest child. Then you ask them for their input: “we can do something, what do you think we should do?
My eldest son was very quick to sign up, he is the most daring, so I got him hooked first, as I knew he would be keen to follow and would get the others on board by saying: “don’t worry Mum and I will take care of everything”. Then the littler ones got hooked pretty much straight away.
How are you managing with plastic-free isolation?
Vegetable shopping is the same as ever, instead of going to the co-operative store to collect them, Armand is delivering them to us at home with his face mask on. Plastic-free rice, pasta, and toilet paper… these are things we normally buy at the co-op, but at the moment we are not able to do that. So, we have been rationing the toilet paper to be used for doing number 2’s and for wee we are using reusable cloths, that we then wash. We also have a bidet at our place.
For our local shopping in town, the shopkeepers have asked us to call them on the phone to place an order, thereby avoiding to possibility of crowding. They give us our order from the shop door with the produce they have available. They know us well and are aware that plastic doesn’t agree with us, so they wrap our order in paper, apart from cooked grains that they give us in plastic bags.
We are not going to go crazy because they are doing such a great job and we will just have to deal with a little more plastic during this exceptional time.
What tips would you give to someone looking to reduce the plastic in their lives?
Start with something specific, the thing that takes up the most room when it comes to plastic in your rubbish bin, because this will motivate you very quickly. Then, it will open your eyes and you will realise that there are many alternatives. But slowly, take baby steps.
Many thanks Mónica and family, it has been an absolute pleasure chatting with you.
If you too liked this chat, we would love to know what you think in the comments (in a respectful and non-judgemental way of course). Has this post inspired you? Did it give you some new ideas? Would you like to share your thoughts? Please, don’t hold back!
P.S. Would you like to take part in our “Real plastic-free homes” series by telling us your story? We are looking for all types of households: single-person, single-parent, LGBTQ families, large families, in the country, in town, in the city, flatmates, older people…even nomads!
We would like to tell your story, so if you are interested in taking part, send us an email to [email protected] with the subject “Real plastic-free homes” and we will be sure to get in contact with you.