Jun 9, 2016

The 5 Stages of Quitting Plastic

plastic free zero waste no plastic

There is a theory that there are 5 stages of quitting. I first learned about these stages for people trying to quit smoking, however I recently realized that they apply quite well to people who are trying to quit plastic or reduce their waste in general.

The 5 stages are:

1. Pre-contemplation. 

The person has no desire to quit. The thought has not even crossed their mind. A person will hold very tightly to their actions and will often defend them. This is where the majority of people are regarding plastic use and abuse. They live their lives not realizing the impact of their decisions. 

2. Contemplation

The person has begun to think about quitting, but not ready to make any action yet. They understand the dangers of their actions, and are considering making a change, but have not done it yet. If you are reading this, likely are at least at this level. Education about the dangers and repercussions of plastic use is important for moving people into this stage. 

3. Preparation. 

They are getting ready to quit. They understand that the negative effects outweigh the positives of their habit. This is where people will research possible alternatives and seek out others who have gone through the same process. 

4. Action. 

They actually quit. Using short term rewards and recognition and receiving support helps get through this phase which can last up to 6 months. In this stage people will finally take the step that they have been working up to. 

5. Maintenance. 

Keeping up with their new habit. Having it become a new part of their identity. They may slip up, but learn from their mistakes.

Let's see how this might look for someone who goes from using single use plastic bags to someone who will #skipthebag.

First they are like everyone else who uses 3, 5, 10 bags a week to carry their groceries home (pre-contemplation). They maybe they attend a fair where people are educated on how many bags are used annually, or they see an article about sea turtles eating plastic bags, or they read about the bag fee being established in New York or Washington D.C (contemplation). They start to look at how many bags they are using during a week (contemplation). To start minimizing their impact they find some reusable bags (preparation). Finally when they go grocery shopping that week they resolve to #SkipTheBag and use their reusable bag or get paper bags (action). Eventually after doing this week after week it becomes second nature (maintenance).

Going through these steps can happen very quickly: You are at the store, see the rack of reusable bags and decide to buy it and use it without a second thought. Other times a person will move through the stages very slowly or even move backward through the stages. A person who has been carrying their reusable bag some, keeps leaving it in their car more and more and falls back to the contemplation stage. They have to move back through the preparation and action stages, but it will be easier this time!

It's also possible to be at different stages for different parts of a journey. For example I am in the maintenance phase for using single use plastic bags. In many ways my identity has changed: I am not a person who uses plastic bags. I have changed my habits so that I carry a reusable bag in my purse and frequently refuses plastic bags at stores. There have been instances where I get them, but I don't let that phase me and just try to brainstorm ways to set myself up better in the future such as making sure we've got bags in both cars, or asking if they have paper bags. 

However, I am in the preparation phase of shaving with a safety razor. I have been on the fence for nearly a month about trying to figure out which razor to get, but now that I am faced with a choice of buying another pack of disposables or getting a safety razor. I have been doing research on different options and I am *this close* to jumping into the action phase. 

And to be totally honest, I'm still in the contemplation stage for most other areas of my life. I am recognizing the amount of waste that we are generating, but I haven't come up with great plans or alternatives to move me into the action phase.

Which stage are you with regards to #skipthebag or going zero waste?

Update: I've moved into the action phase of safety razors! I love it and wonder what was taking so long. You can read my all about safety razor article that discusses the different kinds of razors and my article on how to use a safety razor and not get cut for some great tips. 

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  1. I would like to quit plastic but it is not possible right now. I do reuse all the plastic bags I have instead of buying garbage bags and such I use the ones I get from the stores. It is so hard.

    1. Quitting plastic is very hard! It is everywhere. But I've found that as I learn more I am able to find more plastic-free or plastic-less alternatives. Many times it's just habit to use the plastic version so now I have to make the non-plastic version habit. Every little bit helps though, so keep at it!

  2. Plastic bags not too hard for me, inspired by how easy the eldest child finds it! Husband, not so much! Forgets bag for top up shops but the big shop gets chucked straight in the boot of the car with no bags so he's forgiven! The big thing for us is MILK BOTTLES we tried the milk man (for glass reusables) but 80p per pint made it unrealistic for us. Easiest change? Squirty soap to bars of soap. Changes in progress? Solid shampoo. Most difficult? Mooncup, am on the verge of ceremonially burning it and dancing on the ashes.