Plastic, Plastic, Plastic. Oy.

Beth Terry of My Plastic Free Life has just written a book about, well, plastic free living, and she offered me the opportunity to read a review copy.

Interestingly enough, in light of our discussion on Monday about Kindles, I read it by borrowing her copy on my Kindle.

(She did send me a PDF version, but I vastly prefer reading longer ebooks on the Kindle instead of on the computer screen.)

I’m not exactly sure about the mechanics of loaning someone a book on Kindle, but on the receiving end, it was easy. I got an email from Amazon letting me know that my book was available, and I logged on and downloaded it.

The loan was just for two weeks, but I had no trouble finishing the book in that amount of time…it’s a well-written, informative, and practical book.

In the first chapter, Beth outlines the main problems with plastic. Among other things, it takes oil to produce, it’s not biodegradable, the production of plastic produces pollutants (look at me alliterating there!), and plastic contains chemicals that aren’t healthy for us.

And she also talks about why recycling isn’t a magic bullet, which is so important. I think all too often we blithely throw things into the recycling bin, thinking that the impact of our plastic is somehow reduced to zero.

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The first two plastic enemies Beth addresses are plastic grocery bags and bottled water. I’m already an avid cloth-bag shopper, and I am so not a fan of bottled water.

So, I was feeling pretty good up to that point.

And she talked about waste-free lunch packing, and I felt pretty good there too (Mr. FG’s lunch is full of stainless steel and glass food containers with an occasional plastic one.)

But the next topic was grocery shopping, and I didn’t skate through that chapter nearly so well.

If we graded plastic use on a curve, my groceries would probably get a pretty good grade. I don’t buy individually wrapped items, I cook a lot of our food from scratch, I don’t buy prepared meals, I don’t buy single-serving items, I use reusable produce bags or leave my produce bare when possible, and I bring a glass container to buy my chicken.

But my shopping is nowhere near zero-waste or even zero-plastic.

The problem is, I’ve already done most of the easy-ish things to reduce the plastic in my groceries. The steps I’d have to take to further reduce my plastic usage are either hard or expensive. For example, I’d have to drive to a store that had a great bulk bin selection and which would let me bring my own containers, or I’d have to find a dairy source that used returnable glass jars, and so on.

I don’t really care that you can’t find individually-portioned foods in plastic-free containers, but I do hate that it’s so hard to buy bare ingredients without plastic.

I make my own yogurt in mason jars, but my milk comes in a plastic jug.

I make my pancakes from scratch, but the buttermilk comes in a wax (or plastic?) coated container. And even if I made my own buttermilk, I’d still be starting with milk from a plastic jug.

It’s enough to make you feel pretty discouraged.

Which brings me to something I appreciated about this book…Beth understands very well the frustration comes with trying to live with less plastic. In fact, she devoted a whole chapter to fighting discouragement and keeping your motivation up.

And there’s another chapter about why our personal choices matter. Sometimes when I’m thinking about ways to reduce my trash output, I feel discouraged because it seems like what I do doesn’t make a difference. So what if I compost my produce scraps and drink tap water when our streets are lined with full trash cans and recycling bins every week?

But Beth’s book reminded me that individual choices do matter, because great change can come about when many individuals make the right choice. My choices alone won’t clean up the ocean, but my choices along with other people’s choices can indeed.

If you’re already striving to limit the amount of plastic in your life, that’s great! I think Beth’s book will inspire you to keep on trucking.

If you’re a person who hasn’t really thought much about this before or who feels completely overwhelmed at the thought of trying to live without plastic, I think this book is perfect for you. Beth has a very not-preachy tone, and she does NOT expect everyone to live entirely without plastic. She’s happy to encourage even a little bit of change, and this book offers a lot of baby steps that you can take.

You can buy your copy of Plastic-Free on Amazon (just $11 for the Kindle version), or of course, you could check to see if your library has a copy. If they don’t, ask them to order one!

Although I’ve already made strides to reduce plastic in our lives, Beth’s book has inspired me to take a few more, and I’ll be sure to share about those changes in the next few weeks.

I might even scout out some bulk bins. ;)

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How do you feel about the pervasiveness of plastic in our culture?

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Today’s 365 post: Sometimes, things are more beautiful before they bloom. Do you agree?

Comments

  1. says

    Thanks for the recommendation. I have to check this book out. I’ve often thought how to live without plastic, but it’s hard! I like that this book seems to offer practical baby steps.

  2. says

    I can’t wait to read this! You’ve brought me over to the Aldi side, but the packaging of their produce is an area I think can be improved upon vastly!

  3. says

    Plastics have been on my mind a lot, too. I do have access to a fabulous bulk section at my local grocery store so I’ve cut a lot of plastic that way. However, for our house, it’s the body products that use a ton of plastic! I just started making my own face wash in hopes to not need to use plastic bottles anymore. The supplies come in plastic bags so I feel that I can at least reuse those a lot until they die.

    Side Note: Have you heard of TapIt for refilling your water canteens in cities? I meant to send you an e-mail about my post last week, and I forgot! http://www.feedingourlives.com/2012/07/have-you-heard-of-tapit.html

    Happy Plastic Reducing!

    • Elaine in Ark says

      You could try Kirk’s Castile Soap for bathing or even washing your hair. It’s bar soap, very gentle, cleans well, gets nice and sudsy, and rinses quickly. I take “army” showers quite often, so the quick rinsing part really appeals to me. Plus, the soap doesn’t come in plastic.

  4. Lindsey says

    Milk in glass bottles is delicious! I think the 3 major grocery chains in my town all carry milk from a local dairy in glass bottles, but I’m not sure if that extends to the rural parts of the state. At $5 a half gallon, the first purchase is a sticker shock, but that includes a $2 bottle refund as an incentive to return the bottle for reuse.

    I’d google for local creameries in your area and you may even be able to buy directly from the farmer. It is definitely worth the higher cost!

    • Virginia Dare says

      that milk does taste good! it is definitely more expensive, but it is more sustainable and that glass-bottled milk is commonly produced by local operations, too. it is a good example of what I call “putting your money where your green is.”

      (Arguably, all milk is “local” because milk can’t be transported very far. The large dairy bottlers buy regionally, package the milk, and send it to your store. But the glass-bottled milk is often coming in a more direct route from smaller dairies or cooperatives rather than large dairy bottlers, so you can consider that when making your consumer choice.)

  5. Virginia Dare says

    Kristin, I am glad you noted that it can feel discouraging and cause you wonder if your little part is making a difference. I work in the trash industry, and there’s hardly anything people are asked/recommended/coerced to do that is less “rewarding” than waste reduction and recycling. When people conserve energy or don’t litter or properly manage water or trim their trees, etc., they see the results in smaller utility bills, cleaner streets, healthier streams, fewer/less severe power outages, etc. But when you recycle and reduce waste you see…what? Your house isn’t much different. Your neighborhood doesn’t look much different. Your household bills likely aren’t different. So how do you know it’s making a difference?
    On average every man, woman, child, and baby in the U.S. generates about 6 lbs of trash and recycling every day. Some people generate less (likely example: the FG family members) while some generate more (babies in diapers, people who eat out often, etc.). 6 lbs. a day is over a TON of trash and recycling EACH YEAR. So an imaginary family of 4 is generating 4 tons of waste. In communities with basic recycling opportunities, a household can easily recycle more than half of their waste in the form of paper, cardboard, bottles and cans, and yard waste. That means you just reduced your waste generation from 4 tons to 2 tons. Food waste is about 14% of your total waste, although some food waste can’t be composted, so let’s say compostable food waste is 10% of your waste generation. So, you can compost another 800 lbs., bringing the family’s waste disposal needs down to 1.6 tons–recycling and composting managed 3.4 tons! Now that’s a difference!
    And, as Kristin knows, if you start in on waste reduction at that point, you will probably start to see some financial benefits as waste-intensive products tend to be cost-intensive, too.

  6. Sheila says

    All I’ve done so far are the easier ways to avoid plastics, so I’m eager to read the book and see what I can do now that I’m ready to make some additional steps.

    And on another note, depending on what generation kindle you have, you can use it to read pdfs. Just email them to your kindle email address (check under the manage your kindle area on your amazon account to find it). I think this only works with actual kindles, not the kindle apps for phones, but it works really well. As far as I know it works with every kindle except maybe the very first one.

  7. says

    Hubby and I were just talking about the effects of plastic, and all of the packaging waste our household goes through.
    We were very regular about recycling before the boys were born. The problem was that our town did not offer curbside recycling. It seemed counterproductive to save recycling, load it into our gas guzzling SUV; along with two infants and two older children, and drive 20 miles one way to drop off our recycling.
    Talk about discouraging! (The neighbors and I pressured the town for a curbside program, and its finally here!) The problem is all the packaging. I know I cannot transform our household overnight, so we are taking baby steps. Hopefully, someday we will be an almost wasteless household.
    Thank you for the book review. Its going on my to-read list.

  8. Maddie says

    I have read this book and can’t recommend it enough. It is very well-written, informative and very interesting.

  9. says

    Thanks for the heads up on this book. It looks great!

    To help out with plastic-free lunches, check out the Hudson Valley Green blog (www.hvgreen.blogspot.com) to enter to win a set of Againbags (reusable sandwich and snack bags). They are great and perfect for work, school or play!

    Check out the Againbag website (www.againbags.com)!

    Thanks,
    Lizzie

  10. says

    I was thinking about this earlier in the week. We purchased a new grill and a new entertainment center. The grill had a ton of Styrofoam and plastic packaging and there was a ton of trash left after I went through looking for everything I could recycle. The entertainment center was from Ikea. They are really careful about the impact their products have on the environment. All the packaging was cardboard. Even the pieces designed to prevent damage were cardboard! When I was finished, the only thing that went into the trash was a small plastic bag that held the hardware. I really wish more companies thought about the impact their products have on the environment and looked for better, more responsible ways to package their products.

    • Kristen says

      Yes. If I have to buy something new, I at least prefer for it to come in packaging that can be composted or recycled. I hate it when things come with styrofoam.

  11. says

    I’ve been following Beth’s blog for a while. One thing I’ve started doing that’s made a big difference in my plastic trash output is bringing plastic bags that aren’t grocery bags to the local plastic bag recycling bin. I’ve been using reusable totes for a long time, so I thought that the plastic bag recycling containers didn’t pertain to me, but I read somewhere (probably on Beth’s blog or the comments) the idea of recycling bread bags, apple bags, plastic bags that come as packing material with clothing, household, or hardware items, etc. Check with a store manager or municipality to see which plastic bags are recyclable in your area. This has made a huge difference in the volume of our garbage.

  12. says

    Hey Kristen,
    Thanks for the awareness about what Beth is doing and your perspective on what she teaches. I just put a request into my local library system to reserve a copy of the book.
    I aspire to reduce the amount of plastic in my life and the lives of others but…that’s all it is right now. An aspiration.
    I could use some practical help to get my mind in the right mode and someone to lay out specific steps I can take to limit my plastic use. Looks like Beth is going to fill that role!

  13. Elaine in Ark says

    I have arthritis in my hands and wrists, so I love my plastic ware. There’s just no way I can handle pyrex-type containers without dropping them. However, I have cut down on the amount of plastic I use/have, and I’ve been encouraging others to do so, too. I’ve even gone so far as to give people canvas tote bags to use when shopping.

    If we all do what we can, it will help.

  14. Jill says

    I save my plastic bags for the food pantry that I volunteer at. We double bag the canned goods, so we go through a lot of bags.

  15. Elizabeth says

    I was just thinking about this. I’ve gone more into making even condiments from scratch to avoid a fridge full of plastic bottles. I reuse plastic jars to store other food items in. I would say our biggest culprit in our house is toiletries- shampoo, moisturizer and the like. I’m currently trying to figure out how to reduce this. Like many, we are a work in progress family. Thank you for the book recommendation.

  16. Kelsey says

    Hey Kristin,
    Do you use reusable produce bags as well? An if so, do you have a brand/source you’d recommend? My co-op has an amazing bulk section, and we can bring our own containers, but I have yet to get reusable produce or bulk bags. It does make me feel kind of silly filling my cloth grocery bag full of smaller plastic bags!

    • Elizabeth says

      I sewed my own produce bags from natural tulle. I found the design online and my daughter and I made them. My husband feels the need to put everything in a bag so I figured I’d help him out by making some bags. I know if you do a search, there are a bunch of places online that sell them. I’m not sure which brand is better though.

  17. says

    Thanks so much for the link to Beth’s blog, I will definitely be checking it out. I have started making a lot of our food and toiletries from scratch to reduce our plastic waste, but I’m sure we could cut it down further. I have recently gone back to buying yogurt instead of making it myself and every time I throw a container away I feel guilty. Maybe it’s time to break out the Easiyo maker again…

  18. says

    I watched a bit on the news where they studied he stomach contents of (deceased) seabirds and counted the bits of plastic. Plastic Never. Goes. Away. The bits were tiny, sure, but they don’t digest and end up killing the birds. It’s scary to think of all the “stuff” that goes in plastic and I am motivated to reduce my blithe over-use and be more conscious of what I buy.

  19. Virginia says

    I totally agree with your post. I don’t know how it is in the USA but in Spain it is getting worst. It seems like everything has to be packed individually. I’m so sad and angry every time I make my weekly shopping: there seems to be more plastic and paper in my bag than actual groceries. When I go to the local market and ask the people to keep their plastic bags they look at me with a funny face. Here the stores get charged taxes for every plastic bag they give with your shopping but the government doesn’t do anything with individual packaging. Still a long way to go…

    Thank you so much for your blog that I follow every day since I discovered it. Big hugs from Spain!

  20. Elizabeth in CA says

    Thank you so much for posting about this book. I had never heard of Beth Terry or those poor birds! It makes me so angry to see how we’ve killed God’s creatures just by being thoughtless, short-sighted and convenience-minded.
    I’ve always been waste-conscious even from a very young age (read as “has hoarding tendencies!) but reading through Beth’s blog gave me some great ideas for reducing waste even more.
    Currently I reduce waste in the following ways:
    1. Buy produce at the farmer’s market and use cloth bags.
    2. Buy body soap, shampoo bars, and conditioner bars also from farmer’s market. They use sustainably sourced organic oils and use pthalate-free fragrance oils and essential oils. Bars are packaged with recycled paper and a clear pony tail holder and I remove everything at the stall and they re-use it for new customers. Plus they are nice ladies and their stuff smells great! :-)
    http://www.squidbalm.com/index.html
    3. Always use cloth bags for everything.
    4. Use cloth personal hygiene items. Just tried this last month, and I was a little nervous about it, but it worked great. I made my own, did a terrible sewing job because I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, but they work just fine!
    5. Don’t shop at groceries where everything is pre-portioned/pre-packaged, i.e. Trader Joe’s. This is more to do with my authority-figure issues – no one can tell me how many green peppers I need! Silly I know, but I can’t stand it when I need 2 bell peppers and they are packaged in threes.
    6. Buy bulk teas and bring my own jar to the tea shop, instead of buying tea at the grocery.

  21. says

    hi kristen, I understand your worry about plastic. 95 % of my kitchen equipment including utensils, jars, cookware are made of stainless stell or aluminium. I guess that’s the way Indian kitchen’s are. So the steel utensils and storage containers last you literally a lifetime and when you buy it you can get your name engraved on it for free. I do have a couple of glass or plastic jars but then when they are no longer useful , I use it for things like storing laundry detergent, or storing extra grains etc. I reuse the plastic bags which I get after shopping to throw away trash. We get milk in plastic bags of half litre, so I wash it and use it for throwing out waste from kitchen. I basically prefer steel to plastic.
    Recently our government has declared that plastic bags should not be given to customers while shopping they should switch to cloth bags or jute bags. But I guess it is not followed that strictly but almost 60% of people usually carry their own cloth bags for shopping.

  22. says

    I was excited to see this post by you today. A few weeks ago Beth asked us green bloggers if we had favorite bloggers and I suggested you to her. I am a huge fan of yours and each time I see you doing something earth friendly it makes me smile. So glad you loved the book. I also ordered the book on Kindle but loved it so much that I actually bought the hard copy from Beth Terry personally and she signed it. Love love love that book.
    Anyways Im so happy for you and excited to see things in your life inspired by Beth. I know I am inspired by her and have for a few years now. Keep up the good work and have a wonderful day.

  23. says

    Just finished a great book: “Overdressed: The shockingly high cost of cheap fashion” by Elizabeth Cline. It’s a fascinating book, and she also makes the point that polyester IS plastic! Polyester, which is so pervasive in clothes, is non-recyclable and not bio-degradable, takes lots of oil to produce, and requires lots of toxins to make it! So if you want to go plastic-free, remember to cut out the polyester – a tough thing to do with our clothing options today.

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