My wife Jess and I had the pleasure of looking after our nine-year-old nieces one weekend when we lived in Port Melbourne. Short of things to do - we took them down for a walk along the beach. As soon as we hit the sand, they bolted for the water like they’d never seen it before. As they danced barefoot along the shore we saw them picking up what we thought were shells out of the shallows. We were wrong, they didn’t care for the shells! They were running around picking up plastic and sprinting it back to the bins and with smiles stretched across their faces.
After we were done, they begged us to lock in the next trip to the beach to “save the turtles”.
Not only were they doing a good thing cleaning up the shores, they absolutely loved doing it. It’s like that saying, “if you want to win someone over, ask them to do you a favour”. We get a hit of ‘happy hormones’ doing something selfless. Selfishly selfless…
Dr IsHak says studies have also linked random acts of kindness to releasing dopamine, a chemical messenger in the brain that can give us a feeling of euphoria. This feel-good brain chemical is credited with causing what's known as a ‘helper's high’.
For us, this is a key driver in our daily decisions. If you’re out and want a coffee but don’t have a reusable mug - say no. And you’ll feel good doing it because you just stopped a cup going into landfill.
Here are my five pointers to get you started with your random acts of kindness for the planet.
• The car kit. Set yourself up with a reusable coffee cup, cutlery, reusable napkin, bowl, bags for the supermarket and of course a water bottle. Keep it in your car and you’ll never go wrong. Aussie owned Seed & Sprout is great for stuff like this.
• If you forget, go without. If you don’t have your coffee cup with you, skip it until you do or have a dine-in coffee. I’m a huge coffee drinker so if I can turn one down, you can. Obviously, don’t go turning away water on a 40-degree day, but consider asking for a glass of water instead of a plastic bottle and have it on the spot. This also sends a message to businesses that this is what people want!
• At home rubbish sorting facility. We’ve set up a corner in our laundry for sorting different types of plastics (and foil) so they can be recycled. We have a section for milk bottle lids, bread tags, soft plastics and foils. If you didn’t know already - small amounts of plastics (bread tags, bottle lids) and foils can get stuck in the machinery at the recycling plant and may end up going straight back to landfill. To avoid this - you can scrunch your foil leftovers into a ball the size of your fist. And with bottle lids and bread tags, there are organisations that will collect, recycle and donate or upcycle, all because you stopped them going into landfill; you just need to take it to a collection point listed on their website. Soft plastics are a little easier; collect them and drop them off at most Woolworths and Coles stores that have allocated soft plastics bins. The rule is - if you can scrunch it up, you can pop it in these bins.
• Buy second hand. The best solution for plastics already out there in the world is for them to be reused over and over. We have a rule, if we need something, it must either be plastic free and sustainably made or second hand. You’ll be surprised what you’ll find on Facebook Marketplace and usually at a fraction of the price. And don’t forget to sell your old stuff too. And even if can’t sell it, give it away for free. You’ll be doing someone else, your cupboard space and the planet a favour.
• You don’t have to be plastic free tomorrow. Don’t set the bar so high for yourself that you get discouraged. Tackle one room in your house at a time to reduce or reuse. Start with your bathroom, get bamboo toothbrushes, buy toilet paper wrapped in cardboard, not plastic, use soap bars instead of pump bottles etc. Then your kitchen. Buy in bulk wherever you can, ditch your glad wrap and so on. Start this July and ride the free hits of dopamine!