Imperfect Sustainability – With Millie Clover and Sophie Dorothe

PLASTIC: Unwrapped – Milly Clover and Sophie Dorothe Lieke

18 months ago we began our journey with PLASTIC: Unwrapped, a partnership seeking solutions to plastic pollution. Our inspiration was drawn from a long-standing desire to actively engage in environmental stewardship and conservation. We wanted to find individuals around the globe who are making a difference and share their messages to inspire others to follow suit.  At the time we were just two final year biology students, two individuals, embarking on an exciting mission. Now, with a wealth of hands-on experience under our belts, we can say with hand on heart that individual action is both imperative and hugely impactful. Whilst we set out wanting to share this message, we didn’t realise just how powerful we are as individuals. Just one action makes a difference. Each decision we make, each step we take has an effect, and no matter how big or small the effect, it makes a difference to someone or something.

A bit of background for those who don’t know us

PLASTIC: Unwrapped started off as the name of our 9-month intercontinental plastic mission. We were fortunate enough to obtain a scholarship from the R&A last year that made our dream possible and set off in search of solutions in September 2019. Whilst the Covid-19 pandemic cut our journey short in March, we were able to visit 9/14 of our destination countries and continued our project online. We have learnt more than we ever thought possible about not just plastic but the world of sustainability in both our personal and working lives. We documented as much as we could about all of the amazing initiatives and individuals we met in our videos, all of which can be found on our YouTube Channel.

What exactly is a sustainable life?

 The word ‘sustainable’ gets thrown around a lot these days. It can actually be quite misleading and even intimidating at times and so we’d like to clarify a few things surrounding sustainability.

  1. A sustainable life does not mean you have to live ‘perfectly’

Nobody is perfect, nor is anyone capable of living ‘perfectly’. Sustainable living isn’t about extreme, sudden behaviours. In fact such action can cause more damage than good by putting too much demand on certain sectors, which is a pattern we have seen globally with many eco or vegan alternatives. A world full of people practising imperfect sustainability (i.e. small, baby steps within their means and context) is a whole lot more effective than a few people in the world doing it perfectly.

  1. Buying products that use the word ‘sustainable’ or ‘eco’ in their name is often not the answer

One thing we’ve learnt on our sustainability journey is that it’s very easy to get sucked into thinking that it is possible to live sustainably by choosing certain brands over others. Of course there is a time and a place for eco brands, and many are a great way of supporting small business or raising awareness. BUT. And this is a very big BUT. It is so important as a consumer to understand why a product has been labelled ‘eco’, as too often it is used as a form of greenwashing. Large companies are especially guilty of tricking us into thinking we are doing good when actually the effect of their actions towards corporate social responsibility are minimal. We have learnt to question the manufacturers. To check where these eco products are made – is it really sustainable to buy an ‘eco product’ that has been shipped halfway across the world? We’ve also learnt where to opt for not buying anything at all. Supporting an eco clothing brand is one thing, but why not support a local charity store so that we are prioritising the act of reusing over recycling or sustainable manufacturing?

  1. Sustainability does not always have to be expensive

Sustainability does not mean buying the new stainless-steel water bottle, when you have a hard, reusable plastic bottle. It does not mean to get rid of your lunchbox, to buy the newest bamboo or metal lunch boxes. Instead, it means eliminating single use plastics, and re-using the plastics that you already have until they have reached their end. Yes, being plastic-free can be seen as trendy, and yes, it can get expensive if you radically aim to change your life from one day to the next. Instead, start gradually, get second-hand where possible, search for ‘Exchange and Reuse’ groups in your area, repair what you have, and when you do make purchases, go for quality.

What are some simple swaps that we have made and what is their direct impact? 

After seeing an incredible amount of single-use, plastic firelighters being washed ashore on Tiwi Beach, Kenya, opting for matches or refillable lighters have been great alternatives. We are aware that the Corona virus has made this slightly more difficult, but throughout our entire travels, we carried our own knife, fork, spoon, metal straw, lunch box, water bottle and reusable coffee cup. This made it easier to refuse single-use plastics when eating out. Interestingly, especially in parts of Central and South America where polystyrene is proliferate, bringing your own containers and cutlery avoided this other, highly polluting substance. Yes, there were instances where we could not avoid being given plastic, but that is not the point here- The point is that if you have the attitude and awareness of how much plastic you ‘eat’ through with your meals, you will realise how much you are saving for the times that you are able to implement plastic-free alternatives. What is more, people notice that you are bringing your own. Never doubt how many people you can inspire with your actions! A half-litre bottle can weigh around 10g. If you buy one such water bottle everyday for a year, that is 3.65kg of plastic. If the world’s population would do the same, that would be 28,470,000,000kg of just plastic water bottles in one year… Each time you bring your own plastic free alternatives or reuse what you have, you will save resources, energy, and an eventual journey into landfill.

We are all capable of making a difference as individuals. Never underestimate your own power or ability.

“Individually we can make changes. Together we can  make a difference.”

Milly and Sophie Dorothe of PLASTIC: Unwrapped