Ocean Heroes features stories of people from all around the world who deeply care about our nature, our health, and our planet's future. Down-to-earth people who decided to change the way they do laundry not because it's easier but because filtering microplastics is the right thing to do.
Meg used to work in the advertising industry for over 15 years, as she says, “selling people stuff they didn’t need”. And while she didn’t mind putting in all the long hours, she wanted her work to have a positive social impact. So, what initially started as an idea over a coffee with friends two years ago, is now her business and full-time job.
Meg’s consultancy ‘Discover Your Shade of Green’ empowers individuals, groups, and businesses via education, workshops and consultation, to create a sustainable lifestyle that works for them. Because, as we all know, there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to sustainability. Read on to see how she makes sustainability work for her and her family in the charming city of Berlin.
PlanetCare: Why have you decided to live sustainably?
Meg: To be honest, it started with becoming a mom. I think you just become so much more aware of how your little choices impact the future of your children. So that was definitely a big driver. But also, as an American, who’s moved to Germany, I noticed the stark differences between the US and Germany and how easy it is to be sustainable in Germany (once you figure out what goes in which bin). I felt it would just be such a shame not to take advantage of the systems that are in place here.
Your little choices impact the future of your children.Meg, the founder of 'Discover Your Shade of Green'
So, when I heard about Plastic-Free July, I decided to give it a go and I never looked back. What I also found really encouraging was the amount of positive feedback I got when I started this month of plastic-free living. Everyone — from my family, to my high school volleyball coach — was reaching out to me on Instagram, being inspired and wanting to change, too.
And while it did start by becoming hyper-aware at a certain point in my life and embarking on this sustainability journey, it also came from knowing how much power you have as a consumer. I saw that through my work in advertising. It’s something people really aren't aware enough of, and I am trying hard to bring this to everyone’s attention. We all vote with our wallets and have incredible power as consumers.
PlanetCare: What do you do to lower your environmental impact?
Meg: For me it started in the kitchen. I focused on single-use plastic and tried to avoid it at all costs. First, it was the vegetables, as we’re vegetarian. So, buying only loose fruit and vegetables - nothing that comes in plastic bags or film.
We also have this wonderful system here in Germany, called ‘Mehrweg’. It’s a re-use and deposit scheme for glass (and some plastic)containers which allows you to buy products such as yoghurt in glass, which you then return for re-use before it is eventually recycled. Glass containers can be reused up to 50 times before they are then broken down and 100% recycled at original quality.
It was also about educating myself about material choices in terms of recyclability. Because plastic really isn’t recyclable. And when it is, it’s usually downcycled. So, I try to reach for the materials with the highest recyclability rate.
I use reusable bags as much as possible and avoid plastic packaging in general. But, I am not at all perfect and that’s fine. My daughter has a metabolic condition and there are certain products that she has to have which come in plastic. And I don’t beat myself up about that.
When I don’t find a plastic-free alternative, I buy in bulk so there’s less plastic overall.
And while it's definitely a mix of many things I do, plastic is a major focus for me. We don’t drink from plastic, we don’t eat from plastic, we don’t prepare our food in plastic. This is sometimes hard, for example when you’re out and about or at other people’s houses. But it’s about balance and doing the best that you can under the circumstances, as well as making healthy choices that don’t hurt anyone else.
Overall, living as plastic-free as possible definitely makes me feel like I am protecting my family and doing something good for our health overall.
Overall, living as plastic-free as possible definitely makes me feel like I am protecting my family and doing something good for our health overall.Meg, the founder of 'Discover Your Shade of Green'
PlanetCare: How did you find out about the microplastics pollution problem?
Meg: Funnily enough, it was a TV show that opened my eyes. A TV presenter had his blood and urine tested for microplastics and then for four weeks ate only things that came in plastic. So, the really bad stuff, like heating up meals in plastic, drinking from plastic bottles, eating with plastic cutlery on plastic plates, etc.. He really took it to the extreme.
And at the same time, they also tested the urine from a bunch of kids at a daycare. Because, of course, when you have young kids parents think that they're doing something good when they give their kids plastic water bottles, plastic toys, plastic cutlery and so forth. Because they think it’s safer; they can't injure themselves… It doesn't break, so it's better.
After four weeks of this lifestyle, you could physically see how sick he was. He had headaches. He didn't look good. His skin was going bad. He felt ill.
When they tested his blood and urine again for the chemicals that leach from plastic (BPA for example) he had a 200-400 times increase in values and concentrations compared to the baseline before the experiment. And the kids, too, had plastic in their urine. Which really makes you think about that organic applesauce we give them in those squishy plastic sachets.
To compare and contrast they also tested members of a family that lives a zero-waste lifestyle for the same compounds. So a family who only buys products in ‘Mehrweg’ glass, doesn't have any plastic in the kitchen, buys things unpackaged, …
Looking at their results in the laboratory, they actually thought it was a mistake. They were so shocked that their levels were so low.
And that was really did it for me. Now, I know this was made for television and it was not a fully scientific experiment, but it definitely showed what plastic can do to your bodies, and how you can protect yourself by avoiding it.
I then also started looking into the endocrine disruptors and really just kind of went down the spiral. But, instead of freaking out (which I could have very easily done) I just started making small steps.
First, I changed my kids’ lunchboxes. No more plastic. Then my kids’ water bottles. No more plastics. And the same for my husband and me. And then I kept making those steps, changing more things all the time. And I still do.
PlanetCare: What are you doing to stop microfiber pollution?
Meg: I do a few different things but, again, it’s a balance. I like to buy second-hand, for myself and especially for my kids as they outgrow their clothes so fast. But buying second-hand often means I end up with synthetic materials. So, I was really struggling with this and I am now really happy that I have the PlanetCare filter to stop the pollution coming from our second-hand polyester clothes.
When I do buy new things, I choose natural materials such as cotton, linen and wool. And I love visible mending. I’ve been having a lot of fun with that. Patching our clothes and repairing and reusing them for as long as possible.
I also try to avoid hidden microplastics. Recently, I’ve started using Plastic Soup Foundation’s Beat the Microbead app and I got my students to use it as well. It’s wonderful. Because so many products have hidden microplastics in them and now I can simply scan them on-shelf and then make an informed purchase. And I’ve used it in Germany and in the US. Super helpful. There are a lot of good resources from the Break Free From Plastic and the Plastic Soup Foundation that I find really useful.
PlanetCare: Besides using a microfiber filter, what else is in your sustainable laundry routine?
Meg: I don't buy liquid detergent. I buy a powdered one that comes in a cardboard box and I also buy it in bulk. I also buy our fabric softener in bulk. Ideally, I would use essential oils and vinegar, but that was taking it a bit too far for my family, so I chose the best possible alternative.
We very rarely use the dryer, we hang most of our laundry up to dry. We also wash at low temperatures, normally at 30 degrees, or cold. If the clothes are really very dirty, I’ll wash them at 40 or sometimes 60 degrees. But that’s not very often.
PlanetCare: What's your advice for someone who is just starting to live sustainably?
Meg: Be kind to yourself and understand that you're not going to be perfect all the time. Keep trying. Because slip-ups will happen and we’re all in the same boat here, really. It's not about being perfect and wearing sustainability or zero waste as a badge. It's really about the bigger picture and doing your part. So, start small and then level up from there. And if you make a mistake, brush it off. No one is going to judge you.
Photo credit: Meg and @discoveryourshadeofgreen