Plastic-free Sophia tells her secrets to schoolyard sustainability
Author: Jennifer McMillan
What inspired you to start your journey to becoming Plastic-Free Sophia?
At school we were continuously learning about the plastic pollution problem but it wasn’t till I saw plastic in my own life that I was motivated to take action. My favourite sport is Soccer and one day I became acutely aware of the plastic litter that was being discarded at the soccer fields and this is where I began my journey at looking at ways to reduce this pollution.
How did you start and was it easier or harder than you thought?
I started by changing my daily habits and stopping using single-use disposable plastics and started bringing my own: BYO cup, BYO cutlery and containers.
The hardest thing for me has been to influence the NSW government to change legislation to ban plastic bags in NSW. Even though I mobilised more than 12,000 handwritten signatures in a petition to support the ban, the NSW government still did not agree to support the bill. I am still continuing to lobby the NSW government.
As a consumer and in purchasing mode, it is hard to differentiate products that are made sustainably and ethically. This is why I am content with the products that I have and I only buy brands that have a transparent life cycle and supply chain.
Now that you’ve been doing this for a while, who do you turn to for new ideas?
Social media is a great tool to be constantly informed, influenced and inspired by new ideas. There are many facebook groups that promote new ideas. Another way I find new ideas is if I find myself using plastic items I google alternatives and solutions to these items eg I love bubble tea, however bubble tea comes in excessive plastic packaging so now I bring my own reusable cup and straw to buy bubble tea.
What kind of things do you do at school to reduce your waste and encourage friends to do the same?
At my school we have a single-use plastic-free canteen where we promote students to BYO and sell bamboo straws in the canteen. We have a Green Team where we constantly brainstorm ideas and look to implement the best ideas in the school community. At school we also have solar panels to reduce greenhouse emissions.
Our next initiative is introducing a new waste management system (after a waste management audit was conducted late last year) and we are going to be introducing new bins to the school campus. The main aim is to divert our school waste going to landfill.
Do you feel like people at school and in your life have taken notice of your actions and tried to change their own behavior?
At school, in my local and soccer communities and after my public talks on educating others on how they can help the environment I have people telling me what they are going to do in their own life to reduce waste and for me this is so encouraging, seeing how they have been inspired to change their own behavior to positively impact their environment.
What are some of the biggest challenges about being plastic-free and taking control of your waste?
One of the biggest challenges for me is being a busy Year 11 student and looking to take shortcuts or the easy route. However it is important to plan ahead and developing these planning skills are useful now and also for the future. I now realize that the inconvenience of say a couple of minutes in my life is justified as the detrimental effects of using plastic will affect the lives of future generations and marine life.
Before becoming plastic free I thought that the biggest challenge would be about spending more on items to replace the plastic items that I was using, however being plastic free can be about utilizing existing products in your home. There is no need to spend extra money, it is all about being creative. For example everyone has cutlery at home, so instead of buying a cutlery kit, you can utilize your existing cutlery.
What’s in a standard Plastic-Free Sophia lunchbox?
For recess I usually have an apple (preferably green), a carrot and nuts bought from a Bulk Food Shop. For lunch I usually have leftovers from the previous nights home cooked dinner. I also have a metal drink bottle (which I also bring into the class room).
What reusables do you generally use (water bottle, metal straw etc.)? Tell us about your kit!
In my kit I have a container for take away food and a reusable cup, this is only if I know that I am purchasing food.
I never leave the house without my water bottle and my cutlery kit (which includes a bamboo straw). I always keep an extra straw and fork for my friends. I carry these items in a reusable hessian bag and if I am going shopping I will bring another bag. If I forget my kit or bags, I just delay or find shops that do not serve food in plastic or I eat the food straight away.
Is there anything else you would like to tell us about your experiences or recycling more generally?
Being plastic-free is not about being completely 100% plastic-free. I would rather everyone try and take some action to become plastic-free then having only three to four people in the world being 100% plastic-free.
Jennifer joined the Planet Ark team to support the 2018 National Tree Day campaign. With a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science and Master’s degree in Journalism, she is passionate about science communication with a focus on multimedia storytelling. Prior to joining the Planet Ark team she travelled to Jordan as a foreign correspondent. She works as a vet nurse in her spare time!