Plastic Free July: Author Fiona Barker on her Zero-Waste Journey

Children's author Fiona Barker holding copies of Setsuko and the Song of the Sea

Fiona Barker’s dedication to going plastic-free and preserving the environment shines through not only in her lifestyle but also in her work. The children’s author’s second picture book, ‘Setsuko and the Song of the Sea.’ Inspired by her passion for sustainability, and keeping our oceans free of plastic pollution. Fiona has embarked on a personal journey to reduce plastic waste and has written this blog post to help others understand how easy it is to make the change.

by Fiona Barker, author ‘Setsuko and the Song of the Sea’, ‘Danny and the Dream Dog’, and ‘A Swift Return’.

Thinking about using less plastic? Tired of seeing your bin overflowing with ridiculous packaging?

Changing your behaviour and doing things differently can feel intimidating, like going on an exciting but slightly scary journey. It can suddenly feel like you’re faced with a huge mountain to climb. You’ve had no training for the trek, you’ve got no compass, no map and, if you’re like me, your footwear is probably inappropriate (why is my footwear always inappropriate? Lord knows, I have enough shoes, I just seem singularly incapable of choosing the right pair for the right occasion). It would be very easy to sit rocking in a corner of Everest base camp, crying over your flip-flops. When I started, I began to see plastic everywhere. It felt like it was impossible to avoid, at least if I wanted to maintain my unashamedly middle-class liking for Waitrose (other supermarkets are available and also full of plastic).

Being positive has been key to my less plastic journey.

Luckily, Plastic Free July is here to help! This initiative started in 2011 and I had my first go in 2017. I was already trying to use less single-use plastic in a kind of random way but I wanted to be more focused about it. Each day there are suggestions or tips for making different life choices. They are small, achievable changes, and no pressure to do them all. It feels doable. 

I’m no hardcore zero-waste evangelist but looking around my house, I guess I’ve come a long way since 2017. My milk is delivered in glass bottles, my shampoo is in a bar, I brush my teeth with tablets, not toothpaste, I carry an insulated metal drinking bottle everywhere, I’m a packed lunch ninja, my bread comes from the bakers in my bread bag, fruit, and veg from the greengrocers in bags I made from an old sheet. As a result, in a typical week, we have no bathroom waste and a small half-full kitchen bin.

Being positive has been key to my less plastic journey. Every small win is still a win. Every straw refused, reusable cup remembered or an unwrapped loaf of bread from the bakers is a triumph! Celebrate every lower-plastic choice. That’s what Plastic Free July is about. Don’t beat yourself up about everything you’re not doing yet.

Sometimes I still end up with flip-flops on in the rain. I’m not some sort of plastic-free saint. I still buy yoghurt. I haven’t been able to make any as delicious as my favourite shop-bought one (and believe me, I’ve tried) but I make sure I buy a brand with a lid so I can use the tubs for storing and freezing things (because I haven’t bought a freezer bag for years). Really want a crisp (go on, everyone likes crisps) but don’t want to make your own? Bad news… they nearly all come in plastic bags that can’t be recycled or composted (with the noble exception of Farmers).

Yes, I could never eat another crisp. But then I would be sad. The environment would be a teeny tiny bit better off but my life would be a teeny tiny bit less enjoyable. So, *whisper it* I’m afraid I still buy crisps. But I choose to buy my crisps loose in the largest possible bag rather than the big bag with the smaller bags inside. Less plastic per crisp. Seriously, these are the things I think about (probably best not to come shopping with me). But a win. A small win maybe but still a lower plastic choice made. Thinking like this instead of torturing myself about buying crisps at all helps me go on and make other, bigger, better, low-plastic choices. Be positive with yourself. Every less plastic choice you make is A GOOD THING.

Be positive with other people. I’m not perfect and neither is anyone else. Even the beautiful zero-waste people on YouTube. But by encouraging people, sharing your tips and choices, and celebrating theirs, we can all move forward and make this a positive experience instead of a negative one. We can all stop rocking in the corner and being upset about how difficult everything is and help each other take baby steps up the mountain. We must all get there in the end, even the people with no shoes at all, and this way we might actually all enjoy the journey.

About Fiona Barker

Fiona Barker is the author of ‘Danny and the Dream Dog’ and ‘Setsuko and the Song of the Sea’.

In 2024, Tiny Tree will publish Fiona’s book titled ‘A Swift Return’. Fiona’s passion for picture books is unlimited and she has also been published by Scholastic Books and Happy Yak.

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