This post belongs to the “Real plastic-free homes” series, in which we show you how normal people, like you and us, reduce their plastic use. We do so by showing you their achievements, their mistakes, the effort they have made and the lessons they have learnt along the way. Without judgement and with a will to learn.
You can read the other articles in the series here.
Fanny and her 8 year-old daughter Éléna live in a town around 10 minutes away from Lille, in France. The family shares a house and a small garden with their housemate and they have been living plastic-free for years. In this interview, Fanny tells us about her experience trying to reduce her plastic use as a single working mother (who doesn’t have much time).
When did you start to become aware that plastic was a problem?
When I separated from my partner I started to become more aware, because previously I had been living with someone who used a lot of plastic. This time also coincided with other things, such as a bulk food shop opening near me, I also saw a documentary about Bea Johnson and I started to get very interested in this topic.
What were the first steps you took on this plastic-free journey?
The water where I live is renown for not being of the greatest quality, there are a lot of factories and industry, so I started looking for alternatives to bottled water. I also avoided plastic by starting to make more home-cooked meals and buying my ingredients at the local bulk food store and at the market.
I remember that I also started buying things second hand, such as clothes as well as other items using apps such as Vinted and this saved on a lot of packaging. Another of my first steps was to switch from using plastic bags to fabric reusable ones.
What has this road to less plastic been like for your daughter?
It’s interesting because by daughter lives in 2 different worlds. Her father and I share custody: she is with me 60% of the time and spends 40% of the time with him. Although her father still uses a lot of plastic, we don’t use any at our house.
When she is with me and wants something wrapped in plastic, I try to explain to her why plastic is not good. In our family there are others also trying to reduce their plastic impact, so it has become normal for us.
One way that has helped me to get her involved is taking her bulk shopping with me. Just recently, a bulk food store opened right next door to her school, so she even sometimes takes her dad shopping there and she encourages him to use fabric produce bags.
Some people believe, that in order to live with less plastic you need to have lots of spare time. As a mother who spends most of her time working and raising her daughter on her own, how do you manage to go do the shopping plastic-free?
Every Friday my daughter and I go to the bulk store next to her school, there we pick up our weekly box of organic fruit and vegetables, I buy anything else I need in bulk and I collect bottled water that comes in glass returnable bottles.
A couple of times a month, I arrange to go to the supermarket to buy all the items I can’t find in bulk, that way I don’t waste too much time.
And when I am really busy, I sometimes do the bulk shopping online from shops that home deliver the food wrapped in paper bags. In France, many shops like these are appearing and they are very helpful when you are time poor or if you do not have a bulk store nearby.
Sometimes products for smaller families or people who live alone come packaged individually in plastic. Has this been a problem for you, finding products that were not sold this way and that adapt to your needs?
As I buy everything in bulk, I don’t have this problem. I take small jars with labels and that’s it. It is true that occasionally I buy packaged biscuits… but it is not very often. For a snack I usually have some fruit or an avocado.
In fact, I would say that buying in bulk is an advantage because as you buy the exact amount you need, you are not obligated to buy more than you need or want.
You are French, do you think people are becoming more aware about plastic and waste in France? Or is it still a topic that only concerns a few?
I don’t see much effort being made by those around me, but it is true that there are more and more bulk stores and plastic shopping bags are now banned.
I have friends that are starting on this journey, but I don’t feel there are all that many people very aware of the subject. Some of those close to me still think it is just something for “hippies”, they may be interested to know about a specific item, like a solid shampoo bar, but they are not very committed to the cause.
What has been the most motivating thing about leaving plastic behind you?
For me, it has been the 3 pillars that have motivated me to turn vegetarian.
The first pillar is good health, for my daughter and for myself. As soon as I learned that the plastic bottle was contaminating the water inside it, I no longer wanted to keep giving it to my daughter.
The second pillar is the animal wellbeing. And the third, is environmental contamination.
What battles have you won in the war against plastic in the last few months?
For the last year Éléna and I have been living with a friend who uses plastic, so I have not been able to see how well we are doing by simply looking in our plastic recycle bin. However, she is going to move out soon and I will be able to calculate where our remaining plastic use is coming from.
Let’s see, a recent step I have taken has been starting to buy wine in bulk.
Thanks to the recent lockdown I have also stopped using make-up, I have stopped buying clothes… my goal is to keep going this way, even after the pandemic is over.
In addition, it is not just about plastic but also about living more sustainably. I have recently found a bulk supermarket very close to my home, so I have stopped taking the car and now I go on foot. This also ensures I don’t buy too much and only purchase what I need.
What is the next challenge you have on your less plastic radar?
I usually drink lots of herbals teas, black tea etc. but my favourite teas are sold in teabags. So, what I would like to do next is pay attention to the herbal ingredients used in my favourite ones and buy them in bulk and start to make the herbal teas myself at home using a reusable fabric filter.
I am also considering no longer buying yoghurt.
Another challenge is to only do my shopping in bulk stores and organic supermarkets, and as I live in a city with lots of options, I think I should be able to do this.
Conventional supermarkets can be very tempting: they have clothes, cosmetics and these items can be attractive at times. In organic health food supermarkets you can avoid all this product overload.
What advice would you give someone starting out on their plastic reducing journey?
Try and find 2 or 3 quality bulk stores. They have heaps of plastic-free products and if they don’t stock something you need, you can ask them to get it in for you. Having a small network of shops helps you to save time and function on cruise control.
Thanks Fanny for opening your front door and allowing us inside your home. It has been great to hear about your experience living plastic-free. And now, how about you: Would you like to tell us what you think about this little family’s experience in the comments section?
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