Charlie Gill is a youth champion for Raleigh International’s Action Not Excuses campaign, where she advocates for a zero-waste lifestyle. She was inspired to adopt a plastic-free lifestyle while volunteering in Nepal with Raleigh in 2018. Charlie and her sister have set their own zero-waste online shop, Life Before Plastik, to help people who would like to start living this way.
“The benefits of cutting waste are enormous – not only do you help out the environment and the human race, but you will improve your health, reducing the amount of chemicals on your skin, in your hair, in your body.”
Passionate about our planet
Until I was 28 years old, I’ve had a varied career… After taking an undergraduate degree in law with German at the University of Sheffield, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so I spent some time working random jobs and travelling, before ending up in finance for two years. Needless to say, it didn’t suit me.
When I realised others didn’t care about the environment as much as me, I left to pursue a masters in environment & development at the University of Leeds, set up my own plastic-free business, and start a career in ocean conservation.
Discovering zero-waste living
I went with Raleigh international, a youth-driven organisation supporting a global movement of young people to take action, on a volunteer project to Nepal in Spring 2020 and I took a shampoo bar with me. This was one of my first conscious swaps – and was quite a difficult one to start with because of the transitioning period. It was definitely worth it though; my hair has changed dramatically as a result of using natural products on it.
My time in Nepal really encouraged me to completely remove plastic from my life. In the village where I was living, we rebuilt their water system and constructed toilets. The village, Sanutar, was near a river and locals would go down there to wash themselves and their clothes. As they couldn’t afford big bottles of shampoo, it was quite commonplace to buy small plastic sachets of shampoo and conditioner.
These sachets were all around in the vegetation and in the river – which of course led to the sea. It really raised my awareness of the plastic issue and how I wanted to make a change in my community.
It was such a turning part in my life, and I wanted to be able to share my story and encourage other young people to do the same. Our strength is in numbers, by millions of people reducing their plastic consumption, that’s when we see the change.
Action Not Excuses
After my trip to Nepal, Raleigh International asked me to front Action Not Excuses, which is a youth-led global campaign to mobilise a global movement of 100,00 young people to take positive action towards the climate crisis. They asked me to concentrate in particular on the zero-waste strand of the campaign, to encourage others to make plastic-free choices, take small actions, share their experiences, and together build a better future.
I’m working alongside three other youth champions in different areas. While I’m covering zero waste, Yorleny (Yorle) Bermúdez from Costa Rica is looking at creating green jobs, and Elibarick Simon from Tanzania is working on reversing deforestation.
The campaign is still in the early stages, but we have lots planned for the coming year. I hope that we’ll open up the conversation, encourage youth to make zero waste choices, and use their voice to push companies and governments to change.
Action Not Excuses aims to bring together and help fund youth-led campaigns, environment projects, and initiatives all around the world.
The birth of Life Before Plastik
Whilst I was away in Nepal, my sister Trina came up with the idea for us to open an online plastic-free shop, Life Before Plastik.
On my return, she pitched it to me, and it seemed like the obvious thing to do. We sell alternatives to plastic, throwaway products, with 90% of our products being vegan. We support small local independent businesses by stocking their products, and allow our customers to shop by their ethics whether that’s plastic-free, natural, vegan or made in the UK, or indeed all of these things.
At the time, it was really difficult to go plastic-free – you had to do a lot of research and would still not be sure if the plastic-free items you ordered from an online shop would arrive wrapped in plastic! We had done all the research, so we decided why not share our knowledge with everyone else, to save them time and encourage more and more to cut down on waste?
There weren’t any shops out there that had everything you needed at home to cut down on waste and that also shared advice on what to choose. We encourage our customers by providing one-to-one advice, always being at the end of an email, and providing honest product reviews and tips on how to use products.
Building our community on Instagram
Instagram and social media, on the whole, have been pivotal in getting our word out there. You can meet so many like-minded individuals, learn from them and use your platforms to share information far and wide.
For example, every Monday we post positive environmental news on our social media to raise awareness of good things happening too. We make sure we spent time sharing tips and information on all our products through video guides and product information – we want our customers to make the right choices.
My top tips for building an Instagram following are to be yourself on your stories, post content you really care about, and engage with your audience. Just being your authentic self in the most important part!
Fighting the ongoing pandemic of plastic
I encourage everyone to cut their waste as much as possible. Plastic is an ongoing pandemic. It’s damaging our wildlife, oceans, our environment. It’s got into our food so we’re damaging our environment and also potentially our own health.
The benefits of cutting waste are enormous – not only do you help out the environment and the human race, but you will improve your health, reducing the amount of chemicals on your skin, in your hair, in your body.
By going plastic-free, you support small brands, improving local economies. Often people say that it can be expensive but in fact, it’s cheaper! If you look at a razor, one reusable razor costs £25 but I will have this for my lifetime if I look after it – an initial investment and hundreds saved on plastic disposable razors.
The plastic pollution problem is real. I recently read a report that said 90% of all ocean litter is in the water column and not on the surface. (A water column is a conceptual column of water from the surface of a sea, river or lake to the bottom sediment.) That means that all the plastic we see on beaches and in the oceans only accounts for 10% of what is actually there.
There’s no way of cleaning that up – for the sake of our oceans, our planet, and ourselves we really need to turn off the tap.
There are lots of exciting things to come this year from my work with Raleigh and we have so many different things in the pipeline at Life Before Plastik.
My sister is expecting her first child, so we’d like to develop our shop in the direction of more baby products as we learn first-hand how to be plastic-free with a baby.
We’ve recently introduced a rewards scheme and are continuing to grow by spreading the message far and wide. Long-term, we’d love the whole world to be plastic-free. We’ll always be here to provide support and advice, as I’d love zero waste to be the way of life for all.