One step at a time to plastic-free living

24 July 2020

For most Wellington families, the idea of putting out one rubbish bag every seven weeks would be something they could only dream of. But for Laurie Foon and her whānau, this is a reality and a record that they are constantly trying to beat.

Wellington City councillor Laurie Foon standing next to a half-filled Council rubbish bag, which was the entire waste output of her family-of-four for a month.
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“That’s not actually a very good result,” the Paekawakawa/Southern Ward Wellington City councillor says. “We are certainly not perfect and still end up with plastic in our rubbish.”

But regardless of wanting to do better in the waste minimisation department, Laurie admits that getting to this point hasn’t exactly been easy, however, once you make a change you don't tend to go back.

As a family of four including two teenage daughters, she says it has only been achievable by taking small steps – changing one habit at a time.

“Now it’s more of a consistent action. When my children bring something in the house, I ask ‘do you really need that?’ ‘Did you think about that when you purchased it?’ – It’s a consistent conversation we are having – asking if there is a better way that we could have done that.”

READ MORE:
Plastic Free July – what’s it all about? 
Plastic Free July – simple shop swaps

Laurie’s journey to live sustainably began many years ago. She founded eco-fashion label Starfish, and keeps her environmental footprint to a minimum by riding her bicycle to achieve what’s on her busy schedule.

“I’ve always been on a zero-waste mission,” she says. “When it comes to trying to reduce the family rubbish, my children may call it an obsession – but I call it a way of living.”

Laurie was encouraged to take her efforts up a notch after launching Wellington Access Radio show and podcast, B-side Stories, featuring yarns with Wellingtonians doing inspiring things.

“I thought we needed to hear more positive stories so I started the radio show to hear what Wellingtonians were doing that was good for the environment. On the show, I met Hannah and Liam from The Rubbish Trip and I was absolutely blown away.”

Laurie was so inspired by the couple’s commitment to live waste-free, she decided to give it a go herself starting with a single goal.

During a Plastic Free July, she decided to stop using plastic takeaway containers. She carried a reusable container around with her so she was never caught out, and she’s kept up the routine and never looked back.

Now she has struck a deal with her hairdresser to refill her shampoo bottle, she gets her wine bottles replenished at Everyday Wine on Cuba Street, and has got her husband in the habit of remembering the well-used ice cream container when visiting the butcher.

She says the trick is to focus on a single action, which is far more achievable than trying to do everything at once. Once it becomes a new habit, pick a new goal to concentrate on.

It could be switching to a bamboo toothbrush, buying tomato sauce in a can, or purchasing groceries from the many eco-minded stores popping up around Wellington (check out The Rubbish Trip’s shopping guide).

While shopping at multiple places does take a little longer and can be pricey, Laurie says eco-friendly products are generally made to a high quality and last longer than the cheaper, mass-produced items, so the overall cost balances out.

She says she enjoys the challenge of finding the products she needs – minus the plastic – and it’s a rewarding way to go. 

“I actually enjoy it because I’m not rushing to do the groceries and the people you meet along the way – I now have friends all over town.”

Laurie says reducing her household waste and making efforts to go plastic free have enriched everyday life for her and her whānau.

“We look at what we used to consider normal and that doesn’t seem normal anymore. I know going waste or plastic free is not right for everyone, but for those who make just a small change, you’re actually making a big difference.”