Claycups Guest Blog Post by Helen Barry
Helen is a Claycups ambassador and Sydney mum of two on a Zero Waste adventure. She’s also editor of soon-to-be-launched WOWW magazine (War on Waste Weekly) Follow her on Instagram @waronwasteweekly
People often ask me how I came to join the War On Waste. The funny thing is I had no idea it was about to happen – that I was going to start caring so passionately about the planet.
I didn’t plan to reduce my waste week by week and blog about it on Instagram. Well, not at first. I’m what you’d describe as an “accidental activist”. The whole thing unfolded organically over a year and it started, innocently enough, with a Claycup.
Choosing to switch to a reusable coffee cup was the first lifestyle change I made on what was to become a journey towards Zero Waste. The thing I loved most about making the switch to the Claycup – and still do – is it didn’t take a massive effort on my part. It merely involved a slight shift in my morning routine. Instead of shuffling out the door half asleep and arriving empty handed to my local barista, I’d pop my lovely new Claycup in my handbag. On arrival I’d present it proudly – and let me tell you my barista was impressed. He’d handed out his fair share of disposable coffee cups and he applauded my switch to a sustainable option. He also loved my choice of a reusable made out of clay.
My new morning routine became a ritual, something I’d look forward to. My Claycup would spark conversations with curious strangers. People wanted to know: “What’s the deal with the cup?”
Then there’d be the funny looks I’d get from the customers with plastic reusables, and the raised eyebrow from my barista: “They don’t get it yet,” he’d whisper sideways at me, “the problem is plastic.”
I’d pretend to nod knowingly then rush off home to Google: “Problem with plastic.”
What I discovered was an eye opener. Sure, I knew about the billion or so cups going into Australian landfill – which was worrying enough and the reason I’d made the switch – but I didn’t know about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The island of plastic floating off the coast of Hawaii that’s three times the size of France! And there are five more of these plastic accumulation zones in the world’s oceans.
I also didn’t know about the sea birds feeding their babies plastic and the turtles eating straws and plastic bags.
I didn’t know much at all about the way we make plastic; that it comes from coal and natural gas and crude oil. And that those resources are incredibly finite and how labour intensive it is to extract them and the damage it causes. I suppose really, until I started looking into it, I didn’t know much at all.
As if all of that wasn’t bad enough, I learnt that plastic objects are made from these tiny lentil-sized pellets called ‘nurdles’ that are melted down and shaped into the objects we buy. I didn’t know that these nurdles travel around the globe on container ships and every so often when disaster strikes, like when a Typhoon hit of the coast of Hong Kong in 2012, these nurdles end up dumped in the ocean. Like the dangerous microbeads found in some beauty products, nurdles wreck untold damage when they make their way into the ocean, killing the animals who ingest them and polluting our food chain.
This was sobering stuff. Most sobering of all was the realisation that every single plastic thing that’s ever been created still exists in some form. That plastic never really goes away. Sure, we can recycle it, but we can’t be rid of it. It can break down or “biodegrade”, if that’s what you want to call it, but that only turns it into microplastics, which can more readily find their way into the mouths of wildlife and back into our diet. (Maybe another reason to go vegan?! )
I won’t lie, by this stage things seemed pretty grim. The more I learned the less I wanted to have anything to do with plastic. I wanted to break up with it. The relationship was toxic! Like a bad boyfriend I wanted to show it the door.
And so I decided to stop buying as much plastic as I could. When I couldn’t avoid it entirely I’d recycle it to keep it out of the environment. I started taking my soft plastics back to the supermarket to recycle. I said no to kids party balloons – probably still my most unpopular decision with the kids. I chose to buy my veggies nude and started picking up other foods and household products from bulk stores if and when I could.
And all this new information made me realise something: that my choice of a ceramic reusable Claycup was a smart one.
These days, I quite enjoy sparring with strangers in the coffee queue about my quirky cup. Besides it’s not quirky, my Claycup is beautiful, and unlike the plastic reusables they’re carrying I know when mine has outlived its usefulness it will go back into the earth and become part of the archaeological record for the future.
Perhaps when they dig it up they’ll see it for what it is: the tipping point, where we started to truly understand that we all needed to change and we took action.