As a child, the words “plastic-free” never entered my vocabulary. Like any other normal child, I loved eating junk food, like sweets or crisps, which came wrapped in plastic. I ate from a plastic spoon, drank from a plastic beaker, and played with all the usual plastic toys. Knowing what I do now about leaching chemicals and microplastics, the thought makes me cringe.
My eyes were truly open to the perils of plastics through world travel. For three and a half years, I lived in South East Asia, working at an organisation raising awareness and funds for elephant conservation. I began noticing plastic everywhere—both freely handed out in marketplaces and stores, and then piling up as waste on the streets, in the rivers, and in the oceans. I realised that just by living my life as usual, I was stacking up mountains of single-use plastic trash—just like everyone else.
At the same time, I was reading myriad news stories about animals dying from plastic. One covered a whale who washed up on a beach in Thailand, vomiting because it had eaten so many plastic bags it couldn’t keep food down, ultimately dying after five days of attempted rescue. Another told of an elephant living in a national park, who died from eating plastic waste left behind by tourists.
Awakened to the issue, I was dismayed to find plastic was all but inescapable in my daily life. The tap water in Chang Mai wasn’t drinkable, so we had to buy bottled water. My food, water, necessities—all of them came wrapped in plastic. Yet I was there to help animals—elephants in particular. The plastic I was using was causing their death, and contributing to the visible mountains of trash around me.
Motivated to take action, I gathered all of my plastic bags from just one week and made them into a dress, wearing it to an event that was bringing attention to plastic pollution. Then, I started a website: Aim Plastic Free.
I started the blog for the simple reason that I was disturbed by all the waste I saw on the streets and litter in nature, and by the harm such plastic waste brought to animals. Aim Plastic Free would be a place I could share plastic-free alternatives with friends and inspire others. (Fun fact: “aim” happens to be my name, Mia, spelled backwards.)
Digging into plastic pollution, I found myself pulling back layer after unsettling layer around the issue. Beyond the impact plastic has on the environment and wildlife, it also affects human health (hello endocrine disruptors and penis shrinking) and our air quality (we will each eat about 20kg of microplastic in our lifetime.) It is also an incredibly political issue. Western nations export our plastic recycling to developing countries and pretend it isn’t a problem—out of sight, out of mind. In spite of copious, readily-available data about the impact of plastic pollution, nothing is getting done. Companies and governments acknowledge that there’s a serious problem, but do nothing about it. Which makes it all the more important for us to take personal responsibility for how our actions contribute to this bigger picture.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by a problem as massive as plastic, and by the lack of action in industries and in politics. But instead of letting that get me down, I used Aim Plastic Free to share knowledge and small wins. The site’s mission is embedded in the name: you don’t have to be perfect, you just have to aim toward progress in the right direction. You’d be surprised by how many people now message me to say that they have changed one small habit since following along.
One of the main ways I encouraged others to act was by starting the Aim Plastic Free challenge, which offered a playful way to get motivated. It breaks down a massive, overwhelming issue into fun, daily challenges. It’s my way of taking a hard-hitting topic and making it joyful by taking on small DIYs or swaps. No one has to be a perfect eco-warrior—we just have to collectively aim to do better.
Aim Plastic Free has kept me motivated to keep researching new topics and learning about new, innovative alternatives. It’s exciting to see small companies challenging the status quo, providing alternatives to common plastic items, from bamboo toothbrushes to corn-based compostable freezer bags. It’s incredibly inspiring to see companies are finally responding to consumers’ demands for better, eco-friendly solutions.
Most importantly, I love hearing from readers, friends, and family I’ve inspired to make a small change in their lives. In my day to day existence, I’m often the odd one out with my reusable bottles and plastic-free alternatives. But Aim has given me a community, allowing me to connect with like-minded people from around the world—from India to Australia. None of us are perfect, but we can bond over our attempts to do better. We’re all doing our bit to share the message and inspire those around us.
I’ve been campaigning for life with less single-use plastic-free for three years now, and my life looks vastly different. When the convenience of purchasing prepackaged items is taken away, it forces you to be much more mindful of everything you buy, from toiletries to food. I distinctly remember shopping the aisles of stores for hours, being pulled in every direction by clever marketing tactics. Now, I shop carefully, with intention. My home is more minimal: I’ve mindfully chosen every item, without the pressure of advertising controlling my decisions. I feel happier, surrounded by less clutter, which is very calming.
We are still a long way off from a single-use plastic-free world, and addressing the massive issue of plastic pollution will require systemic change; but we can’t wait for the world to change. We have to drive demand for a better world. We have to question industries and governments. We can do that one day at a time, and one decision at a time. With template lobby letters to brands and politicians, tips for living plastic-free, and an undying commitment to supporting our growing community, I am here to help. If we all join forces, we truly can make a difference and create a better world, together.
Tags mentioned:Conservation Environment Sustainability