Bettina Maidment shares how the power of the individual is amplified through the power of community at Plastic Free Hackney
‘I’ve always hated waste,’ Bettina Maidment tells us. ‘And I’ve always known fundamentally that plastic wasn’t right; it always seemed very wasteful to me.’
Bettina had always been interested in blogs and stories of other people living plastic-free lifestyles. One day after an online shop, when she stood by the bin stripping off layers of plastic from the produce, she decided she’d had enough. And so, in January 2017, Plastic Free Hackney was born.
Now Bettina and Daisy Hutchison, who joined after seeing Bettina’s Instagram post about helping Hackney get rid of single-use plastics, run the campaign group. The host awareness events, litter picks, workshops and other activities with the goal of reducing single-use plastic in their community.
We sat down with Bettina to learn more about the campaign group, how she handles plastic toys for her children and the best way to get started reducing plastic in our own lives.
Our Key Takeaways
Bettina shared that the early days of Plastic Free Hackney were a bit of a slow burn as she didn’t come from a campaigning background. At first she was hesitant to talk to people about how they could better manage their plastic disposal. She started with her children’s centre and said they were so happy to have someone interested to take it on as as project. ‘I found my voice with that,’ she said and now they have over 1,000 people taking part in talks, workshops and activities.
Some people hesitate about going plastic free because they think it will cost more. But Bettina said that over the long run, you’ll likely find you save money. And there’s no need to change your entire life in one go. ‘It’s a slow process and you can’t do it overnight. Do it incrementally and at a level that’s sustainable for you. It’s about one switch at a time.
‘Fundamentally it’s about consuming less. It started out as no plastic and now it’s an anti-consumerist movement. It’s not about an aesthetic and having lovely matching kilner jars and minimalist homes. It’s about fundamentally buying less. By buying less, you’re spending less money. By buying reusable products, you’re spending less in the long run.’
One of the ways Bettina has managed her children’s toys is with preloved and secondhand options. The lego collection came from older nieces and nephews for example.
‘I have this rule where if I am buying something plastic, it’s no new plastic. They’re obsessed with Playmobil, which is all plastic, but I just buy it all on Ebay. You can literally buy anything secondhand.’ And she’s found there is so much stuff out there that is barely used. We can tap into what’s already in existence and prevent it from going into landfill or being incinerated.
‘Challenge yourself for a month. Anything you want to buy, say to yourself, I’m not going to buy it new. And you will be able to buy a version of it at a fraction of the cost barely used.’
Bettina reiterated that we all have a role to play in calling for system change. ‘As individuals it may seem like it’s just a very small change. But it’s the small changes – if we all made that change – we’re quite strong as a collective. We have a lot of power as consumers…corporations are ruled by their bottom line. If we all said, we’re not happy about this and we’re not going to buy your product, then they’re going to quickly shift.
‘It’s about doing things individually, but if we all do it on a community level it’s amplified. That’s the only way we can make change – from the grassroots level.’
Bettina finds inspiration through fellow activists, like Ella Daish who started with an online petition to remove plastic from menstrual products and has gone on to get supermarkets and manufacturers to stop production of plastic tampon applicators and provide plastic-free alternatives. She also looks to young people for hope.
‘Fundamentally I have hope. I have to believe that we can change for the better, otherwise this whole Plastic Free Hackney stuff would be futile…There are good people out there. And good people can win.’
For people starting out on the journey, Bettina says, ‘Don’t give up! It can seem really overwhelming at first; plastic is massively ingrained in our lives. To go cold-turkey can seem impossible. I’d say you will slip up, but don’t let that make you think it’s impossible. The next day is a brand new day. And if you make one change during Plastic Free July, that’s fine. It’s a journey going forward.’
To learn more about Plastic Free Hackney and what Bettina and Daisy are up to, check out https://plasticfreehackney.com/