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Eleven years ago, I learned that plastic does not biodegrade. That our plastic trash was traveling along the currents, collecting in “gyres” or whirlpool-like systems in the oceans. I ventured out to the Great Pacific Trash to collect samples and see for myself. The sight of my playground, my temple, and the defining ecological system of our planet defiled by the oblivious usage of disposable plastics stopped me in my tracks. I’ve lived as plastic-free mermaid ever since.

Of all the issues impacting our planet, I decided it was possible to eliminate my personal contribution to plastic pollution. So, I quit single-use plastics. I quit straws, bags, bottles, and cups. I quickly learned to bring my own bottle of water. I carried a cup if I thought I may want a coffee or a drink at a party. I packed my food in advance in repurposed glass jars with metal lids. I brought cloth bags to fill at the markets. I had stackable, packable, refillable, reusable vessels, wrapped in a cloth napkin so they wouldn’t rattle. Helpful little eco accessories helped me live my plastic-free mermaid life.

Kate refills a shampoo bottle at the Source Byron Bay in Australia © KateNelson / Greenpeace

And now I’m excited that thousands of people around the world will be doing the same thing tomorrow (November 6) for Global Refill Day! The plan is simple: let’s all take a reusable container to a supermarket, cafe, or restaurant. Ask that they fill your reusable with whatever you are buying rather than using a throwaway container. Take a photo before and after you asked to show if your container was filled or not. Share the photos on social media using #ReuseRevolution and #BreakFreeFromPlastic and be sure to tag the company praising or shaming (and also tag @greenpeace so they can share)! 

Bringing your own reusable container shows that you care for the planet. It inspires those around you to make more ecological choices, helps normalize “reuse” culture, and pushes companies toward offering refillable and reusable ways to deliver their products. You are part of the #ReuseRevolution, and you should be proud!

My adventure away from plastics taught me to plan ahead and sparked creativity and resourcefulness. I have mermaided my way around thousands of plastics: spying an empty jar to use for a smoothie or borrowing a ceramic plate from a neighboring cafe. No matter how quick the interaction with whoever found themselves within my reusable social experiment, I always explained WHY I quit plastics. I brought a big cheeky smile and humor along as I did this, to create a positive association for this person around the #ReuseRevolution even in its earliest days!

As I navigated my new ethical and ecological boundaries, I was pushed beyond the supermarkets and malls—where I had been conditioned to shop—into farmers markets, independent health shops, and out to roadside stalls of makers and growers. Instead of filling a cart with products made in factories by machines, I supported interesting, creative humans. And I ate fresh produce and whole grains. I began eating healthier, connecting with community, and reclaiming my sovereignty as a being of Earth, not just a consumer of stuff.

Kate packs her lunch in a reusable container. © KateNelson / Greenpeace

This is a key moment for change. Please join #ReuseRevolution and get all your people to join Global Refill Day tomorrow to stop your personal contribution to plastic pollution, help build new social norms, and push companies toward refillable solutions to the plastic pollution crisis. Show off your cup, glass jar, bento box, and cutlery that help you avoid single-use plastics and humbly explain to others without shaming or blaming. The more that people see reusable items, the more normal they will be, the easier it will be to push companies to manufacture less plastic crap and more refillable, reusables. The more normal we make reusables, the faster we can pass large-scale systemic change that will turn off the fast-flowing tap of plastics currently dumping all over our one, majestic planet.

Kate Nelson has been living disposable plastic free for more than 10 years. You can follow her on Instagram at @PlasticFreeMermaid.