Real Life Minimalists: Polythene Pam

Every Monday I post Real Life Minimalists, a profile of one of my readers in their own words. If you’d like to participate, click here for details.

This week, we have an inspiring contribution from Polythene Pam, who tells us how her plastic boycott is leading her down a minimalist path. Visit her blog to learn more.

Polythene Pam writes:

Boycotting disposable and unnecessary plastic has led me down some strange roads; I am now a composter, a jam maker and even, on a good day with the wind behind me, a crafter!! But lately, I have found myself wondering …is it possible …could I be …a minimalist? Let me explain:

In 2007 (incensed by increasing plastic trash that doesn’t biodegrade and lasts forever), I started my plastic boycott. One of the things I no longer buy is plastic packaged stuff. This means I don’t have a zillion hair care products or face creams. On the other hand I do buy the basic ingredients to make my own (simple) hair care products, creams and sun tan lotion. Far less bottles versus a cupboard full of Shea butter and special thermometers. Hmmmm. But I have liberated another cupboard. The one under the sink full of scouring, polishing and cleansing products. I have replaced them all with one bag of bicarbonate of soda. Bicarb is wonder stuff, you can use it to clean everything from your teeth to your carpet – just don’t use the same brush.

So far not so minimalist you might be thinking, and for sure boycotting plastic has meant the purchase of some new products – like my juice maker. I bought it so I don’t have to buy plastic lined cartons of juice, and the end result has been a reduced consumption of cartons. Less consumption has meant less rubbish, so while I have a machine in the kitchen, I have less trash in my bin. My bins are truly clutter free – check them out.

Because I don’t buy anything plastic packed (and did you know that tin cans are plastic lined?), and refill my bottles with homemade products, I have very little in my recycling bin.

Most of my rubbish is biodegradable so it goes in my compost bin. I have no icky food waste in my day bin, which means I don’t need plastic bin liners. I have no soiled plastic food wrappers or plastic disposables. As a result my rubbish bin needs emptying every 6 months (if that).

True, I had to get a compost bin and that gets to see some action but it is low maintenance. It sits in the corner of the yard, happily eating bucket loads of stuff. I have yet to remove any compost which suits me fine. I bought it to cut bin liners, (and my carbon footprint), rather then produce plant food.

I still use some plastics and I think they have an important role to play in future provision. We cannot supply all we need from natural resources – at least not without increased farming and so destroying what few natural habitats we have left. Man made plastic fibres for example are a useful complement to natural yarns and, in some cases, more appropriate. Think camping – I have slept under canvas and ughh, shudder! However, using either natural or manmade fibres to excess is foolish; the first destroys the wilderness, the latter becomes everlasting litter. So I use both of them as little as possible. I only buy the minimum I need and make it last. I do have a synthetic raincoat but I have had it forever. I do this with all products from plastic computers to wooden chairs. Minimalist!

To conclude, boycotting plastic leads to the purchase of some new, reusable products, but the end result is less consumption. Less consumption means less rubbish. My drawers might be rather too full, but my bins are barren. If you don’t buy many synthetic or natural products, you don’t have much new stuff. As things fall apart not to be replaced, my possessions are thinning out. On the whole I think I might be turning minimalist. That’s why I am submitting this for the minimalist of the week slot, on the best minimalist blog on line, I need to know….

You can learn more about my plastic boycott, source a whole load of plastic free products and learn how to make your own sun tan lotion over at

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

89 comments to Real Life Minimalists: Polythene Pam

  • Hmmm…Polythene Pam, I think you are headed that way! I’m impressed with your ability to eliminate so much plastic! My mother refused to buy a lot of items when we were growing up because they had “too much packaging” and her sister was more extreme. But I don’t think either one of them were ever able to take it as far as you. My prediction is that this will start spilling over a bit more into other areas :-) Good luck!

    • Green_Nut

      If we avoid supermarkets, we can avoid much packaging. Street markets sell vegetables loose, my local butcher will wrap meat in paper for you, as will my fishmoger with wet fish, etc. Shame we can’t take things like detegrent bottles to stores for refilling.

      I love this web site and this thread!

      • Sarah

        I actually use a washer ball with little ionized ceramic balls in it. I soak it for an hour before I put it in with my laundry. Yes, it’s plastic, but it’s also good for 500 loads. Works for me!

      • Mims

        You used to be able to at Bodyshop, which is why I relied on them for shampoo and such for years. Unfortunately they stopped and I haven’t been able to find out why (haven’t checked with the HQ yet though). Maybe there are still some companies out there who do it or would consider it!

      • Kathie

        You can refill at Berkeley Bowl.

  • My wife is currently on the no-plastic war path. So many things we can do for our own health and for the environment if we just take a few mindful steps.

    Do you buy shredded cheese? If so you might be wasting your time, see article below.

    Dan Garner

    • Mindfulness is the key.

      I don’t buy shredded cheese because, in the UK at least, it invariably comes packed in plastic. But even when I did eat it, it always tasted of plastic anyway. And now there are more reasons to avoid this strange product.

      Good on you for raising the issue.

      Kate blogging as Pam.

    • Lindsey UK

      I don’t buy that ready-grated cheese either. I only bought it once and it tasted horrible, like it was coated in something? Yuck!

    • Green_Nut

      Our health is an issue we often overlook in connection with plastic (focussing on the recycling issue in the main), despite empirical evidence that the chemicals/toxins that “leak” from the plastic into our food are doing untold harm!

  • yay thanks. Getting rid of stuff is so liberating isn’t it?

    I am loosing the (plastic packed) cd’s as we speak.From now on all my music is digital.

    x kate blogging as pam.

    • Green_Nut

      And your computer/digital music device also contains quite a lot of plastic….!

    • Yes – but I don’t boycott all plastic – as I sit busy typing on my plastic keyboard. I do try to reduce what I use to the smallest amount. I have to say, all my LPs (yes I am that old), onto one hard drive, is a firking awesome reduction and saves me millions in moving costs. Plastic is a wonderful product that we are abusing and overusing.

  • stella

    Thank-you!It happened to me too.
    Drinking lemon with tapped water,buying hard hairsoap etc.I live a lot healthier and have less trash too!

  • Wow, love your post. A few months ago I passed a soccer field by a park I was taking my kids to. … it was covered with plastic water bottles. Usually there is some litter (which is really bad) but this was crazy. There were empty water bottles everywhere. The whole picture really stuck with me. First of, the group using the field was incredibly rude for leaving their trash, but having all that in the trash trash can.. on just one day.. in just one city.. really opened my eyes.

    I would love to go without plastic. I will have to check out your blog :) I already do the simple cleaners that I make and minimalism has seriously cut down my ‘beauty’ products but I am sure there is more I could do. Thanks for sharing :)

    • Yes, trash is maddening – but when its trash that lasts for ever it is insane. At least in the old days litter used to biodegrade. Now, one litterlout dropping on wrapper, or one windblown plastic bag snatched out of a bin, and the envirnmnet is degraded for decades, centuries, possibly for ever. We are making one use disposable products out of an indestructable material. Go figure!

      Thanks for the kind words x.

    • Green_Nut

      This drives me crazy, too. People can be utter litter-pigs!!

      Did you pick the bottles up and dispose of them in a recycling facility? I hope your “Womble gene” kicked in, as mine would have, faced with that park!!!

  • Plastic! Plastic! Everywhere! I think it’s a little crazy when organic food comes all wrapped up in plastic. Makes no sense! I used to be a germophobe (okay, more of one), so I would even put my bananas (bananas!) in a plastic bag at the grocery store. Now I just put them and my other fruits and veggies right in my cart. I love being a minimalist because it helps me be more of a environmentalist. They don’t always go hand in hand, but I think they could be beautiful together :)

  • Mindfulness is the key.

    I don’t buy shredded cheese because, in the UK at least, it invariably comes packed in plastic. But even when I did eat it, it always tasted of plastic anyway. And now there are more reasons to avoid this strange product.

    Good on you for raising the issue.

    Kate blogging as Pam.

  • AussieGirl

    Well this is timely! Just the other day I was thinking of how we could reduce our garbage and my solutions were installing a sink incinerator and having a compost bin. I honestly never thought to completely eradicate our plastic stuff, as we have a good recycling program in place.

    Thanks for sharing your story with us. I do think that you’re a minimalist. Minimilism isn’t having X amount of posessions – It’s choosing to live simply and live with just enough for your needs. It seems that you are doing just that! :)

  • This is an awesome story. I don’t know quite where to begin, though. I think if I were to avoid plastic wrapping I would definitely eat more healthily.
    Thanks for sharing your story Pam.

    • I lost weight (no cheese on demand) and eat seasonely because of my boycott. I also learnt to cook. And I realised that things like breadcrumbs are really easy to make yourself. It’s been great. Thanks for commenting.

  • Sky

    I had lunch with my youngest son the other day and he refused a drink in a Styrofoam cup. He is a dedicated recycler and doesn’t environmentalist. I recycle and after reading your post I will do my best not to buy so much packaging in the first place.
    I like your blog!

    • Green_Nut

      Assuming you ate in a restaurant/cafe, had the drink been in a glass, would he have questioned the owners as to whether they used detergent or eco-friendly deteregent to wash the glass? Just a thought. Principles need to run through the whole chain of being environmentally-friendly, not just selectively!

      • Marylynn

        I don’t think that’s necessarily true. All you can do is the best you can. All or nothing is saying that if you don’t want to ride a bike to work, you might as well drive a Hummer. The little hatchback is middle ground, and it’s still better for the environment than the Hummer. Make changes where you can…

  • Sky

    Also….my son and daughter in law use cloth on their baby. That’s dedication!

    • That truely is – I so admire the people who do that. i don’t have a baby so I have never been tested. But I fear I may fall down at that particluar hurdle. Good on them all x.

    • Green_Nut

      When I was a child, there were no disposable nappies, so my parents had no choice. As such, let’s think of the old ways and imagine nasty disposbale nappies don’t exist!

    • Jenifer

      We used cloth and elimination communication. It meant less washing of diapers. We used one diaper a day, no mess in the diaper, and then the diaper was basically clean — like undies — and we tossed it in the wash. One diaper every 24 hrs. I had 12 diapers, but we only ever used about 5-7 of them. On a “bad day” though, we would use 3-5 cloth diapers.

      It was a fun process. . . and the child was basically self-potty trained (or what we call in EC circles, completely potty independent) at age 2.5! Unheard of these days.

      Anyway, it was fun for us. :)

  • Lindsey UK

    Great post, Pam!

    I also use bicarb (and vinegar) to clean, I’m trying to avoid all chemicals. Environmentalism and minimalism go so well together; I try to be as kind to the earth, and myself, as possible!

    To other posters: Not sure about other countries but in the UK, some supermarkets are charging customers 5p a bag to encourage them to bring their own. I hope every shop starts doing it!

    • Bicarb is magic isn’t it. I use it for everything – even exfoliating. I wish they would put that charge on all plastic bags. I am in England and we are lagging behind the rest of the UK. It drives me mad. Thanks for dropping by.

    • Green_Nut

      These are the self-same supermarkets where four apples come in a plastic tray, covered in polythene film…. Hmmm! Mass hypocrisy on the part of the supermarkets to charge 5p for a bag when they are guilty of providing so much plastic waste that is totally unnecessary and, in some cases, totally unrecyclable.

      It is time we made a stand and unwrapped goods at the checkout and let the supermarkets deal with the recycling. I bet they’d all start to change then!!!!!

      • I think the WI (womens institute) did something like that once. Google time! It would be good to do it again.

      • Brian

        Hi, Green_Nut

        It is interesting that you talk about the hypocrisy of the supermarkets. For me, in the UK, M&S are one of the biggest culprits. Spend £100 on groceries and they will charge you (rightly or wrongly) 5p per bag you use (if you don’t bring your own); go to the clothing department and buy a pair of sports socks for £1.50, and they whack the said article in a plastic bag (1) without asking and (2) without charging for it! The mind boggles at their bizarre logic… especially when, in my opinion, they are the worst offenders for unnecessary (and often unrecyclable) food packaging!

        • Nicola B

          I went into M&S to buy a top the other day, and had no reusable bags with me. Luckily, my bf and I had walked into town with the dog, so I had my Barbour on…which has lovely big pockets. So top went into pocket- I think the staff thought that I was nuts, but who cares! Large pockets- an undervalued resource :D

  • Pam, you are quite the inspiration and I believe on your path to minimalism! Like Lindsey said, environmentalism and minimalism go so well together! I just started composting a few days ago and am really excited about it. I think your post will make me more conscience of what I purchase. Yesterday, I bought avacado dip in a plastic container…in hindsight I’m feeling guilty because I could have made my own and composted the ingredients. Kudos to you!

  • Thanks for sharing! We’re trying to reduce our waste. Actually, our goal is to be down to one plastic grocery bag of garbage a week, by the New Year. We’ve got a way to go! I’m definitely Blogrolling your blog, because I think your suggestions will help me with this…

  • Jenifer

    Sounds like great progress.

    We are lucky that we can purchase so much in bulk, so we simply reuse the containers that we originally purchased. Some are plastic, others are glass, but we do our best to reuse them.

    Like you, our personal and home care products are simple: castile soap, bicarb/baking soda, vinegar. I use my orange peels and lavender from our plants to scent the vinegar a bit too (just stuff them into the spray bottle or into a jar with vinegar to infuse). Castile soap for hair and body, coconut oil for conditioner and body lotion, coconut oil and bicarb for toothpaste.

    Our recycling is, quite literally, all paper and cardboard, which we put out about 1x per month (it’s one of those huge trash-can sized bins), and our trash was really only compostable waste, but we didn’t have a suitable place for compost.

    Our next project, therefore, is setting up both bokashi and worm bins. I learned that you can put bokashi in a worm bin — including the meat/dairy/etc so long as the bokashi has had it first — and the compost will be fine. It will take 3 bokashis and 3-4 worm bins to manage our waste most effectively. In addition to the kitchen waste, though, we’ll be able to take the paper waste out of our recycling and use it for two things: 1. home-made bokashi starter; and 2. dry carbon waste for the worm bins (to keep the moisture right).

    This means we’ll be decreasing our recycling and our landfill waste, so we’ll probably have a trash-bag full every 6 months or less! That’s the goal anyway. :)

    Great stuff, right?

    • AussieGirl

      That is awesome Jenifer!

    • Green_Nut

      It is a shame that we have got out of the mindset of reusing bottles, etc. When I was a child, on the rare occasions my Mum had a yoghurt, my sister and I would argue over who was going to get the yoghurt container as we would be desperate to make something from it! Likewise, my grandfather once gave me a cigar box: I painted it and it became mt “treasure chest”! My brother used to make toy rockets from washing-up bottles!

      Ah, what a shame so many kids now lack the imagination and creativity for these pursuits!

      • Jenifer


        When we first moved here, we would buy these beautiful buckets of yogurt. We still use them nearly two years later.

        We use them for food storage (taking lunches to school, etc), we use them for our family cloth (alternative to toilet paper) — obviously, the different containers are designated — for beach toys, for storing toys (lego), and so on. We don’t have any official “tupperware” — everything is reused containers from purchasing yogurt or ice cream.

        Then, we joined a cow-share, and so we get yogurt delivered. They put it into a milk bottle, and we return the bottles to them every week and trade out for the new yogurt. It’s great!

        I’m always looking for ways to decrease the purchases of plastic and reuse whatever we have purchased.

  • So cool – I had a Bokashi bin – it really does compress your waste. All the water / juice drains out, but doesn’t smell. The juice can be used to clean drains(!) or, well watered down, as plant food.I believe you can also make your own bokashi bran – you can buy the special stuff on line and spray it on your own – cheaper – bran. I have only read about that though. I also had a worm bin which worked well. Rather too well. The worms went mad for the Bokashi and then I had too many worms. Do let me know how you get on. You can hook up with us or comment on the blog of course. Good luck.

  • Less Is Best

    I have a dream… …where in the future childrens toys can be purchased without all the unecessary packaging, or at least the bare minimum to get it from A to B globally, at a reduced cost when compared to a fancy packaged option if chosen. I think Toys R Us could learn a lot from Ikea whereby you can touch, play, & interact with your proposed purchase on display & pick the item up from the warehouse on the way out in a brown cardboard box where applicable.

    • Green_Nut

      If more woodwork and crafting skills were taught in schools, we could make more toys!!!!

      • Jenifer

        In steiner schools (also called waldorf), a lot of the parents and children craft. It’s integral to their education, actually, and one of their main methods of teaching mathematics.

        Most of DS’s toys come unpackaged, or if they are packaged, they come in paper/card so we can recycle it.

        We are also toy-minimalists. Here at home, we have some soft toys (no packaging, but many of them are not all-natural materials, which is what we prefer, but most of them were also gifts), wooden blocks (bought used, sent in a cardboard box), wooden vehicles (some home made by grandpa, some by other artists), and some real musical instruments (a real ukulele, real harmonica, rattles from the fair-trade shop — again, minimal to no packaging for these things — and a drum from the fair trade shop).

        At the office, we have a artisan made easel with natural side walk chalk and also bees wax crayons for coloring, a play mat/drop cloth (this is plastic, sent by his grandparents), and lego — which come in paper boxes but we store them in old yogurt containers.

  • There was an excellent documentary not to long ago about the effects of plastic on the environment called “Plastic Planet.” It hits on a lot of the topics that you all are talking about and challenges us to think about the role of plastics in our lives.

    Excellent post!

  • Debbie Baskin

    Have you guys checked out the This woman in San Francisco area only produces a handful of trash a year. Reading about her in Sunset magazine is how I got into minimalism. We now use cloth napkins instead of paper, put leftovers in reusable tupperware (instead of ziplock bags), bring our own produce bags and cloth bags and tupperware (for meats) to the grocery store, we’ve found a store to refill our shampoo, conditioner, laundry detergent & castille soap. I’ve just started using baking soda for toothpaste — given up dryer sheets (use wool, compostible balls). It’s all been much much easier than I would have ever imagined. And like I said before, she’s the one who got me into minimalism — so we now buy much less and have been donating (and recently selling) tons. Her name is Bea Johnson … if you want to check it out — she has a lot of great ideas.

  • An inspiring read for all would be ‘green’ people! Very topical, too, as I just heard on the news this morning that plastic waste has been found in samples taken from all over the arctic, endangering the wildlife there, and also anyone who eats the fish.

    • Of course, plastic doesnt biodegrade, but degrade. It breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces. This degrading process can go on indefinitely it seems.

      Particles of plastic of 20 microns in diameter (a width thinner than a human hair) have been found in the oceans and are being found in increasing amounts.

      These tiny pieces of plastics are called micro plastic… and are entering the food chain –

      And did you know plastic is in the wax they use to polish up lemons?

  • WOW! I love your mission.

    The day before I received this blog post I was talking with my partner about reducing our rubbish, particularly plastic.

    And then I read about your mission.

    Thanks for sharing

  • Linda D.

    I truly believe that plastic is what is causing some much cancer today. What do you think?

    • I think any product that leaches chemicals into your food, many of which have not been passed for human consumption, should be treated with extreme caution. I also wonder about the hormones used to make plastic and the increase of hormone related issues in frogs and wild life. Finally there is no doubt that plastic is entering the food stream as micro plastics get ingested by animals. Until we really know the consequences, we should be very careful x

    • also you might want to look at this link – in particular the work of Dr Ana M Soto – interesting

  • Wow! This post really had an impact on me. I started to walk around my home, noticing all the plastic…it’s pretty horrifying. I’ll definitely be more mindful of my future choices. Thanks for sharing your story!

  • Maria

    This discussion really opened my eyes. Thank you all! I took a peak at the zero waste blog and whoaa – great stuff!

    Thanks for sharing :)

  • […] This guest post form over at Miss Minimalist is more about being eco friendly than decluttering but that is important to me so I have included it. […]

  • […] Check out how I did it in her fantastic blog. […]

  • Tina

    Recycling plastics over and over again. Taking our cloth bags to the grocery store. Wrapping our restaurant leftovers in foil or brought from home containers. The only real use we have for plastic bags is dirty cat litter disposal and I’m thinking of using paper for that. Hoping everyone cuts down on the use of plastics and other disposables.

  • Tina

    Have now cleaned out cabinets of 2 very old people saving used plastic silverware. I told my husband I couldn’t be old because I didn’t save plastic silverware.

  • Tina

    We live on the 4th floor. Fruit and vegetable waste go in the compost bin, then I have rich soil for my houseplants.

  • Recycling bread bags for cat litter. Reusing paper cups to pass on plant cuttings. Have reduced our trash to one bag a month. I know we can do even better. Using bar soap in boxes v. Plastic bottles of liquid soap. Using envelopes instead of plastic sandwich bags whenever possible.

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