What do cheese, toilet paper, milk, steak, shampoo and spinach have in common?

RSZPlasticBefore you start on drawing up your spreadsheets and making comparative lists to find the common denominator in this question, let me put your questioning mind at ease: Plastic.

Perhaps it might seem an odd thing to find in common, but it’s nearly impossible to buy these products (and in fact most of our consumables) in New Zealand without purchasing plastic. Think about it. How do you get any form of meat in NZ without it wrapped plastic packaging? Own a farm you say? Well I can tell you that I’ve received farm meat before, and the butcher puts your prized animal in plastic bags.

I dare you to do a normal grocery shop and look at what isn’t wrapped plastic. Look in your rubbish bag before the week’s end.

Why are cheap fruit and veges almost always in plastic?

Why are so many products putting plastic around their cardboard packaging?

I started noticing the amount of plastic in my life, and it disturbed me. Why? Well, if you didn’t know or need convincing about the myriad of environmental and health problems linked to plastic then all me to direct you here, or here, or here, or here. Plus I believe in a God who created a world that was good, and he doesn’t like to see it groaning or people suffering because of the way in which we are destroying eco-systems.

So in an attempt to challenge myself about the plastic in my life, earlier this year I did something:

Not purchase anything in plastic for 3 whole weeks!!

I was doomed to fail.

But, I was determined to do it, or if I failed, prove my point twice-over about our consumerist dependence on a destructive material.

It was a journey. I was surprised how difficult it was and what I found most challenging, but was proud of my amazing plastic-free-finds along the way (like this toilet paper and these toothpaste tablets!). And I achieved my three weeks. But I couldn’t sustainably live plastic free for much longer.

What I learned:

  • Not buying plastic isn’t always the best option. Sometimes the not-plastic alternative is worse for the environment than plastic that is recyclable. As an example, Milk inTetrapaks rather than the plastic milk bottles is a tricksy one; it looks like cardboard but it’s NOT CARDBOARD, nor recyclable. (I bought milk powder in an aluminium tin.)
  • Any choice to live in a way that is not the easiest and most convenient for us means planning must be our best friend. Being caught ‘unawares’ when you run out of an essential item, or you leave your lunch at home (true story) makes going plastic free very difficult. I had to ask: Am I willing to go without food today for this cause?
  • Going cold-turkey on plastic is tiring and impossible to sustain. I got somewhat fed-up with the battle by the time three weeks was up and was guiltily lazy about some purchases in the following month. Now I’ve had time to reflect, I’ve been able to take a slower more sustainable approach to keep up certain plastic-free purchasing habits and look for the next thing to try and change.
  • People may not get it or call us crazy, others will be intrigued and encourage us along the journey. (Thanks to my hubby who got on board with the whole crazy scheme!) But it made me realise: it’s hard to make life changes big or small on our own. Having friends to journey with on whatever sustainable/ethical change we want to make is soooo encouraging. Plus surrounding yourself with the amazing amount of online support, resources and ideas like these guys was great!
  • The other thing I found really fascinating about the plastic free adventure, is that it was exceptionally hard to do on a budget. I’m coming to the conclusion that organic or ethical shopping choices are a privilege of the wealthy. Hmmmm… Think on that.

I came to see that the bigger question behind all of this activity was of course:

Am I willing to change my lifestyle to live in a way that’s more sustainable and less destructive of God’s creation?

What is my responsibility in the global-ethical-sustainable challenges of our world as I seek to live a faithful life following Jesus? How can I make choices and orient my life in such a way that keeps me committed and challenged to living a Christian life – a life concerned less with myself and more with God’s concerns for our world, recognising my consumer choices affect the environment and other people.

How I live in big and small ways (words, deeds, and purchases) is a response to the God who loves me in abundance and leads me to radically consider the world as his world, and my place as a steward within that world.

Yes, I failed to live plastic free forever, but is the posture towards living with a concern for God’s creation more important than achieving the ‘next sustainable thing’?

Kirstin Cant


This was originally posted here on #NZCMS – the NZ Church Missionary Society’s blog for under 30s. They blog weekly about looking through the eyes of mission at the sort of stuff we face day-to-day – it’s good stuff, you should definitely check it out!

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One thought on “What do cheese, toilet paper, milk, steak, shampoo and spinach have in common?

  1. Interesting challenge. It’s a real shame that plastic is so cheap. I’m often disgusted at how much rubbish our 2 person household makes. One thing I do like doing though is getting food delivered. Our vegetables come in a cardboard box which we return each week, though meats will always come wrapped individually in plastic.

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