by guest blogger Beth Terry, author and green-living pioneer
Before June of 2007, I lived the plastic lifestyle. It’s no great surprise—most of us do. It’s pretty standard in the United States. It’s a lifestyle of consumption, enabled by convenience. Fast-forward to today. For the past five years, I’ve been living with almost no new plastic. How could a convenience addict like me go from generating huge trash bags of the stuff each week to just one small grocery bagful in all of 2011? It’s a long story, but lets just say that it started when I read an article in Men’s Health about the plastic in our oceans and I got mad, real mad. And I committed to looking at my own plastic consumption and plastic waste and figuring out what changes I could make.
I wanted to try to live without buying any new plastic, but at that point, I wasn’t interested in getting rid of the plastic I already had. And I knew I couldn’t possibly give up all plastic all at once. I had to decide which plastics were essential and what I could let go of. So I created some rules. Here are my 4 rules to start living a plastic-free life (your rules might be different):
- I will collect all my plastic trash (both recyclable and non-) each week, photograph and tally it up on a spreadsheet, and post the list to my blog. I will only include plastic waste that I generate or contribute to. If Michael brings home food packaged in plastic and I consume some of it, the packaging will go into my tally. But anything he buys for his exclusive use (such as cottage cheese in plastic tubs!) will not count.
- I will continue to use up the plastic-packaged products I already have, but will try to avoid buying any new plastic. Using up what I have will buy me the time I need o research alternatives.
- If there is a plastic item I really need, I can borrow or rent or acquire it secondhand. I just can’t buy it new. And I can’t cheat by accepting new plastic gifts from friends.
- I will avoid storing or eating food in plastic containers because of chemicals that might leach from them.
You might assume I would have been afraid to look at my first few weeks’ plastic collections—afraid of how much plastic trash I had generated. But I wasn’t. In fact, I was excited to finally have some idea of my personal plastic footprint. In all, I collected roughly 3.5 pounds of plastic trash in the first month. That’s more than the amount of plastic waste I generated in all of 2011! (Pictured above. The picture below is me surrounded by the plastic trash I collected during the first 6 months of 2007).
Here are just a few of the hundreds of tips I outline in my book that will help you be part of the solution:
- Collect a stash of reusable bags. Make a plan to carry/remember them. If you’re feeling really ambitious, speak to a store manager about eliminating plastic bags. Use Green Sangha’s half-page flyer, “Why I Don’t Use Plastic Bags” for help.
- Ditch plastic water bottles and use glass or stainless steel bottles instead.
- Contact your recycling center and make sure you know exactly what items are accepted in its bins.
- Bring your own reusable foodware, such as bamboo plates and utensils, stainless steel containers, and glass or stainless straws for takeout food or restaurant leftovers.
- Bring reusable produce/bulk bags and containers to the grocery store and buy from the bulk bins.
- Gather up toys, dishes, and other children’s items made with PVC, a particularly toxic plastic, and dispose of them at a hazardous waste facility.
For more on how to live plastic free, check out my book: Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too, from which this blog was excerpted.
Beth Terry is the author of the blog MyPlasticFreeLife.com and the new book Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too (Skyhorse, June 2012). A founding member of the Plastic Pollution Coalition, Terry gives presentations on living plastic-free and why our personal changes do make a difference. She spearheaded the successful Take Back the Filter Brita recycling campaign, and has been profiled in Susan Freinkel’s book, Plastic: A Toxic Love Story, Captain Charles Moore’s Plastic Ocean, and the award-winning film Bag It. She lives in Oakland, CA, with her husband and two rascally kitties.