Thursday 30 April 2020

Charlie Gill - Providing sustainable alternatives to plastic products

Charlie Gill - Co-Founder of Life Before Plastik

Charlie Gill (MSc Environment & Development 2019) is helping people to reduce their plastic consumption through her company Life Before Plastik, an online shop which provides plastic-free alternatives for everyday products.

Her work has strong links to several of the UN Sustainable Development Goals but aligns most closely with Goal 12: to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns. She told us more about why creating a sustainable future is important to her.

How is your role linked to sustainability?

In 2018 I co-founded an online plastic-free shop, Life Before Plastik. Through this platform I help to inspire others to reduce their plastic footprint by selling plastic-free products, recommending alternatives, and producing how-to guides and product videos. Life Before Plastik was developed through a passion to protect our environment from the impacts of plastic pollution, with the hope of encouraging larger-scale change.

The inspiration for Life Before Plastik arose from a voluntary trip to Nepal, which I took before starting my master’s in Environment and Development at Leeds. It was there that I learnt about the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and saw first-hand the negative impact plastic can have on the earth and environment. While combating plastic pollution is not recognised as its own SDG, it can be linked to many of them. My work most closely links into responsible consumption and production, but considering the impact plastic pollution is having on our oceans, also ties in very closely to Goal 14: life below water.

With the world’s oceans now boasting more pieces of plastic than fish, and with great ocean garbage patches the size of Texas State floating in the water, it is clear that the plastic problem won’t solve itself. That’s why reducing single-use plastic is at the very core of what I do.

Charlie Gill with products from her online shop Life Before Plastik

How did Leeds help prepare you for where you are today?

My masters gave me the tools to understand the sustainability landscape and appreciate policy issues, as well as the balance between social, economic and environmental factors. It’s vital to consider all of this when making day-to-day decisions for my business, alongside developing future plans and aspirations.

Leeds didn’t only provide me with a formal education, it expanded my horizons, my networks, and my understanding of sustainability through the diverse experiences of others around me. I personally believe that the most important lessons I learnt from Leeds weren’t from formal lectures or seminars, but from my course mates, who all came from different backgrounds around the world.

“I look forward to a future where less is more: less plastic, less consumption and less man-made waste in our oceans”

Charlie Gill (MSc Environment & Development 2019)
Co-Founder, Life Before Plastik

What does sustainability mean to you?

I remember writing an essay in one of my first weeks titled ‘What is sustainability?’ - I could give you definitions from all sorts of academics, but to me, sustainability is the balance of social, economic and environmental factors. I’m environmentally minded, yet it’s vital to understand that as part of nature ourselves, the only way to protect the environment is to ensure that we are supported both socially and economically. It’s a difficult balance, but not impossible.

What sort of actions do you think individuals need to take in the next five years to create a sustainable future?

My focus is on the reduction of single-use, unnecessary plastic. We need to dramatically cut down on our plastic consumption in order to clear our oceans, and bodies, of plastic - you may be both surprised and horrified to learn that we’ve all got about a credit card's worth of plastic inside our bodies! This plastic reduction shouldn’t be difficult. I’ve now been plastic free for almost 2 years, but even small and simple changes to your plastic habits can make a difference., For example you could ensure you buy all your fruit and vegetables loose, try using a bamboo toothbrush, or switch to a shampoo bar or bar of soap instead of using bottled products. Any of these options will considerably cut your personal plastic use.

Charlie Gill with products from her online shop Life Before Plastik

By reducing single-use plastic consumption, companies can be encouraged to change how they package their goods. It’s all about supply and demand - if you remove the demand for plastic, alternatives such as potato starch, aluminium and glass can be used instead. I look forward to a future where less is more: less plastic, less consumption and less man-made waste in our oceans.

In 2019, UN updates outlined that the worldwide expansion of material consumption was jeopardizing the achievement of goal 12. They advocate urgent action to improve resource efficiency and reduce waste. Charlie’s work to reduce plastic consumption and encourage others to make more sustainable choices is the kind of initiative which will help towards creating more sustainable production and consumption patterns for the future.