The Builder shares his plastic-free and zero waste journey

27 October 2017
The Builder shares his plastic-free and zero waste journey

Late last year I was asked by a blog reader to share the Builder's journey to plastic-free and zero waste living. While I tried to give my best response on his behalf it did not feel right to tell his own story for him. I floated the idea for a interview style blog post on Instagram. It was met with a lot of enthusiasm and eager questions from you all. He said yes. We finished this blog post a day before our baby was due to arrive and has languished in my drafts folder ever since. Each of the questions below came from you, the readers. I was surprised to hear some of the responses from him.

For new readers, my husband is referred to as the Builder throughout the blog. This is his trade. He ticks some of the stereotypes us Aussies associate with tradies; drives a ute, wears flannel and loves the footy. Living a plastic-free and zero waste life is not something one would apply to a man working in the construction industry. Hopefully his story will prove there is no eco greenie stereotype. Because you would not catch my husband in the bush hugging some tree. At least not sober...


I'll pass it over to the Builder to answer your plastic-free and zero waste questions...

I completed my first Plastic-Free July in 2013. Two months later we moved in together. By this stage, I had decided to live plastic-free but had been doing it in my own home. What was it like at the start for you? Was my lifestyle change difficult for you to accept when I was living it under the same roof as you?

Do you want to know the truth? I thought this woman is crazy! Kidding. I thought it was OK, but it was a bit too much for me at the start. It felt like everything took so long. There was a bit of work involved, especially for someone who was not eco mined I suppose. It was a struggle. But once I had the habits and new systems in place it became much easier.

What was the catalyst that made you want to follow along? What clicked?
Like you, it was also a movie. You were settling in to watch the film 'Bag It' and asked if I’d like to watch it as the movie might give some perspective on why you became this crazy plastic-free person. I was alarmed by all the health concerns like BPA and what they could do. I had no idea these existed! A movie is a good way to help explain a big issue like how harmful plastic is.

Have you ever felt like I've forced any of my own changes on you? Does it feel like you've made decisions to reduce waste on your own or are you following what I do?
I don't feel like you have ever forced it on me. I've always had an option to say no and you made this clear from day one. At the start I followed your lead, but only because you were doing the research and could answer any questions I had. Now I have my own systems in place to suit me at home and on my worksite. When I got to the football, beer is served in a plastic cup and not once have you made me feel bad or guilty for purchasing them. They recycle the cup! But a beer at the footy is a vice and I choose it. I think you need to give each person their space and allow them to decide what they'll give up because it can be hard for some and easier for others.

What did you think of plastic-free living before you jumped on board?
I thought it would bottle-neck my life and slow it down, stopping me from getting stuff done. This might have been because you were still trying to figure out the whole plastic-free thing out too.

And now how do you feel about it?
The opposite. There has been a nice knock-on effect of positive benefits adding much more value to my life.

Like what?
Learning to question what I've been told I need, which has helped me step off the hamster wheel of mindless consumption. I feel I have more control. I learned to appreciate the finer things in life. These days I'd much rather be making memories than buying something. I also enjoy the connection to my community. Getting creative fixing things. All the same things as you.

What's the one plastic item you've given up you miss the most?
I do miss a Powerade. It's kind of hard to substitute that. I'd have a lot of Powerade during the week. Twix, chips. You know the same kind of junk food you sometimes miss. But then the whole palm oil stuff turns me off as well.

Would you continue to pursue a zero waste lifestyle if I was not around?
Yes, I would. But I will admit that you set up many of the processes in the beginning. I enjoy this lifestyle so it would be hard to want to go back, especially now I'm a dad.

You and I both loved second hand shopping years before we met. Buying second hand is part of the zero waste movement. Do you think your love for second hand shopping made it accessible?
Yes, I was a vintage shopper from way back. I didn't have any phobias buying second-hand. Some people do have and will look down on you. Second-hand shopping can be a challenge. You go in there and have to think outside the box. Sometimes you go into a second-hand store wanting to find something and you can't. But then an item surprises you. It kind of forces you to be creative which is something I like. I think that's why I like this lifestyle, it kind of makes you stop and think and get creative.

Quality of life is not measured by the things you buy, it’s measured by the moments you live.

What has been the hardest adjustment for you?
Probably my mates, who always have something to say about the way I live now. Their happy to provide their expertise in the area. They just think you have become this totally different person, but really I'm the same person only thinking somewhat differently now.

We have people in our lives that 'don't get it.' How do you deal with this? What are your tips for others?
Just don't bother getting into debates or force stuff onto other people. Some of my mates have come to respect that. They leave me to it and I leave them to their lifestyle but I’m not afraid to banter them when I see a disposable coffee cup in their hand. I'm not out to change anyone’s lives. Just because you don't live the same lifestyle, does not mean you can't still get along. Also don't waste your energy on the naysayers. It's easier for others to drain your energy, so you must step away and stop worrying about what they think of picking up rubbish or saying no to plastic bags.


You work in a very masculine industry, with its share of stereotypes. How do you deal with these and being a “greenie”? Do the people on site make fun of your choices. If so, how do you cope?
Yeah for sure they make fun of it. But I don't let it get to me. It's generally the people who are like that are the ones I find hard to manage. It's not their attitude about the environment, it's just their attitude in general. The industry does not encourage you to be eco on the job site, beyond energy ratings in the final build.

Do you have any advice for other people in similar positions? 
Do what you feel you can do at your job no matter where you work. Over time the majority of people will respect it. Sometimes you do feel like people are making fun of it but then you realise people will like you for who you are. People will make so many assumptions about the plastic-free or zero waste lifestyle, and sometimes it’s easier to let people just enjoy those assumptions. I find it simpler to just lead by example. Quality of life is not measured by the things you buy, it’s measured by the moments you live. When you change this focus you begin to enjoy the interaction life has to offer. Then you never fall victim to your previous lifestyle.

What advice would you give a couple who have different views?
Run in the opposite direction! Kidding!! That's a tough one. I think you need to be in a completely supportive relationship that allows each person the freedom to try stuff even if it's different. If you don't have a common ground then it’s going to be a struggle. I didn't give plastic-free a go for a couple months, but I supported you and I know you would have done the same if the tables were turned.

Lastly, what do you like most about living plastic-free and zero waste?
I like not having to go to Woolworths and Coles. Major supermarkets make me frustrated. They seem unethical, a contradiction and full of waste. It's nice spending my money somewhere that is more aligned with my values and supporting my community. Life is simple, happier. A healthy, kind lifestyle that makes you feel good.

If you have anymore questions, feel free to put them below and he'll answer them for you.

5 comments

  1. Awesome to read. My husband is an electrician..an industry where there is lots of plastic used in the purchase and installation in customers homes. How does the Builder deal with that?

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    1. Hi, this is the Builder here: Most job sites pretty much put their waste in a skip, send it off to a sorting station which gets recycled/sent to land fill. At these stations would send timber to mulch, recycle metals/copper wire, bricks for road base, paper and cardboard etc then the rest to landfill… but generally this mostly would go to landfil as the bins would be jammed with mud and rubble and separating using excuvators would be hard and difficult to sort through

      On my last job we were sorting onsite which requires effort and time but also saves us in land fill costs, using facilities like the local transfer station gives us a chance to recycle more of our waste and cut our costs. Its free to recycle clear plastic, plaster (some facilities), metal, polystyrene, cardboard, electrical wires etc

      Some products like concrete/plaster are hard to get rid of because you need a tip truck to get it recycled as some facilities only accept tippers.

      Another easy way to reduce waste is giving things away for free on gumtree and within days are gone. eg bricks, door, plants or sheets of some sort

      Off cuts of timbers will go to mulch or sometimes people collect it for fire wood to heat homes during winter.

      When making purchases i generally ask suppliers how it is packaged and give them feed back on how they can improve it. For example i once purchased tiles packaged in polystyrene paper thin sheets which were a nightmare to contain as they would flake and the wind would blow them into the sky. Ever since then i made sure all my tiles come in cardboard and paper as they are easily contained, better for the environment and can be recycled for FREE!

      On several occasions many other people have told me that i am the only builder they have ever come across that sorts rubbish onsite, most people are generally aware of the stance the company takes on the environment not through comments but through our actions. In reality most things are recyclable its just up to the trades to do it….

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  2. Thank you both for this interview! So interesting to hear the Builder's viewpoint. My husband is a Locksmith and is constantly appalled by the amount of plastic packaging (often completely unnecessary) involved. Similar to Mandy's question above, I'd love to know more about your experience working within a trade and whether you have had any success reducing plastic consumption in the workplace?

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    1. Hello Sharina, this is the Builder: Yes you right, over packaging is a problem but having an organised site where plastics are stored and recycled so they dont get muddy is important as our transfer stations dont accept muddy products.
      Reducing plastic onsite can be tough but general awareness of how your products are packaged and delivered can assist you in avoiding that purchase.

      Paper/cardboard packaging is our number one preferred packaging as all forms of it are recycled for free, where as our local transfer station only accepts clear plastic.

      To avoid the countless amount of coffee cups onsite on our last job we had mugs situated at the front of the job so these were used when purcahsing takeaway coffees and if i shouted coffees it would strictly be in a reusable mug, so the fellas generally used these or brought their own cups.

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