13 Oct 2017

The family living plastic-free

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 1:18 pm on 13 October 2017
Ngahuia, Rachel, Luka with Charlie (ginger cat) Rosa, Albert and Oscar Wilde Paws (kelpie)

Ngahuia, Rachel, Luka with Charlie (ginger cat) Rosa, Albert and Oscar Wilde Paws (kelpie) Photo: Supplied

Rachel Benefield's family of five hasn't bought single-use plastic for six months.

After attending a talk on zero-waste living, Rachel, who lives in Paekakariki, tried to do her first plastic-free grocery shop and hasn't looked back since.

It's surprising how hard ditching plastic isn't, she tells Jesse Mulligan.

One day in April, Rachel heard a talk given on The Rubbish Trip and was blown away.

She rushed home, unearthed some yoghurt and ice-cream containers and headed for the local Bin Inn, but halfway there she realised she'd forgotten the containers.

Refusing to give up, she detoured to PAK'nSAVE and managed to do an almost plastic-free shop there.

"I was shocked. That was what really tipped me over. I thought 'Hang on, this doesn't even require that much planning and foresight."

When she came home and told the kids, they were right on board, she says.

The Benefields follow the 5Rs:

  • Refuse what you do not need (not only plastic bags, but all plastic, such as new shampoo bottles: "You can refill that. You can take golden syrup and oil containers and get Ecostore refills."

  • Reduce what you may need but not so much of

  • Reuse whatever you can

  • Recycle (as a last resort)

  • Everything else Rots (in your home compost)

The money the family saves on not buying big blocks of cheese they now spend on gourmet cheeses – blue cheese, camembert and brie (which are wrapped in tin foil or paper).

Alternatives are everywhere if you keep your eyes open, Rachel says.

They now refuse potato chips and instead have popcorn you can buy in bulk.

Instead of buying yoghurt, they make it with an EasiYo bought from The Salvation Army for three dollars.

Baking powder is commonly used as cleaner and toothbrushes are now bamboo.

Rachel says the family have been shocked by how much less rubbish the eight of them are producing.

It used to be one bag a week, but they've only filled three in the last six months.

It doesn't long for the 5Rs to become automatic, she says.

"Just change a few things. You'd be surprised how hard this isn't."

As well as taking action at home, she recommends people take other small actions like sending quick emails to food producers:

"Hey, your product is great because it's wrapped in paper and we're buying it because of that."

You can follow the Benefield family's plastic-free journey and get some tips on how to do it yourself here. 

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