Our December book for the Talk Green to Me book club was Beth Terry’s Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too. In part this is the story of how one woman saw a picture of a bird whose stomach was filled with plastic and was driven to learn more about the dangers of plastic in the environment and to take action against it. In part it’s a handbook on how to live your own life healthier and to reduce the amount of plastic in your life.
What’s so bad about Plastic?
For one day, try writing down every plastic item that you see around you. Unless you’re a hermit living a totally secluded life (and reading this blog through the collective unconscious or something), I bet your hand will fall off by the end of the day.
Yes, plastic can be wonderful. It can be incredibly strong given how lightweight it is. It’s an alternative material to cutting down trees. It has made possible many advances in technology and medicine. Unfortunately, it’s also everywhere else–especially in the single use disposables that are often discarded incorrectly and wind up in the ocean or in the stomachs of birds, fish, turtles, and other creatures. If you’ve ever accidentally swallowed chewing gum, yup, that’s plastic in your stomach too.
While many people think of plastic as an inert material that just exists, it’s actually derived from petroleum and may contain additives for coloring, antimicrobial properties, flexibility, and more. And for the consumer there’s generally no way to know exactly what went into making the plastic. Many products these days are labeled “BPA-free”, but there’s no telling what may have replaced it.
For me personally, I got into the less plastic lifestyle while starting my adventures in zero waste. Some plastic containers could be reused but not as long as other materials before they wear out. And they can’t be composted when used up. Plastics stick around forever. Recycling is a necessity for plastic, but knowing the amount of energy and additional chemicals that go into recycling, the best answer for me is to reduce as much as possible.
There are several other issues with plastics, but you’ll discover all that from the book or from Beth Terry’s website myplasticfreelife.com.
A bit of hipster irony
The first time I checked this book out from the library, I thought to myself “this must be the most hipster book ever”. The publisher’s note states:
… most books are full of plastic! So we’ve stripped things down. The jacket is uncoated, the thread is made of cotton, and the boards and spine are exposed. Our printer even managed to find a plastic-free glue to use. With all that in mind, we assure you that if the book’s not 100% free of plastic, it’s as close as can be!
Yet in typical library fashion, here it was completely wrapped in plastic. Yes, I realize this offers a lot of protection for the flimsy paper cover and exposed spine, but it’s irony at its best. Even better, since I had reserved this book via the library hold system, there was a sticker on the side with my name on it ready to be binned as soon as I picked it up. I’m not sure what material that is, but it’s definitely part plastic.
My less plastic lifestyle
The first time I read this book was about a year ago and it has inspired many changes in my lifestyle already. Here are just a few that come to mind.
- Always use reusable shopping and produce bags
- Buy groceries from the bulk bins in reusable containers
- Never microwave plastic containers
- Switch to plastic-free toiletries — deodorant, shampoo & rinse
- No microbeads ever
- Avoid plastic utensils and straws
- Preparing my own food when possible (no more tv dinners or boxed cookies)
- Goodbye, gum!
- Drink only tap water, either out of a glass or a reusable bottle
- Phase out clothes made from non-natural fabrics
- Switch to cloth menstrual pads
- TP without the plastic wrap
- Always rinse and recycle my used plastic bottles
- Pick up the occasional plastic bottle by the sidewalk and help it into the recycle bin
- Found a drop-off for recycling plastic bags instead of trashing them
- Order smaller meals at restaurants so I don’t need to take a to-go tray
(Of course, I have some freegan-style exceptions. If I discover anything plastic or plastic-wrapped that would otherwise go to waste, it’s fair game for my consumption.)
Some of these were simple changes and some more difficult. And there’s still the occasional failure like when I accidentally got a water with a straw in it at a restaurant last week. But overall, I feel these changes have enriched my life. They gave me the final tipping reason to quit soda, which I’d struggled with for years. My grocery loads are a little lighter now. I’ve learned to cook new foods. These changes have helped me escape a bit from the consumerist lifecycle for a breath of fresh air.
What’s right for you?
Only you know what changes are right for you. Maybe you’re interested in changes that will protect your health, changes that will protect animals in the environment, or changes that will preserve our natural resources. Whatever your reason, this book will show you some of the steps you can take both personally and on a larger scale to work towards your goals.
Or if you’re not ready to make any changes yet, just read it to explore your options. And maybe by July, you’ll be wanting to try a bit of Plastic Free: