Tuesday, March 22, 2016

What I've Been Reading: "Plastic-Free" by Beth Terry

A couple months ago, I saw a mention online of a book called Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too by Beth Terry. Intrigued, I put it on the reserve at the library. I knew that plastic was a bad substance and had already started toting around my own silverware to avoid using disposables, but I was interested to learn more. I had no idea what a big impact this book would have one me. 

Despite my interest in the book, I went into it with a somewhat cynical attitude. I had read books about zero waste before, and found them to be mostly infuriating. The authors desperately tried to convince me that life without waste was so much simpler, all while explaining the ridiculous (and, in the Midwest, impossible) hijinks that come with the lifestyle. (“See, if you bring a bunch of glass jars to the bulk store with the tare written on the side and have the hapless cashier minus the tare from everything you buy, it’s so much easier than just buying green beans in shrink wrap and throwing the wrapper away because... uhm... because taking out the trash is such a huge chore!”) 

Ahem! That is just to say, this book was not like that at all. It was accessible, encouraging, practical and realistic— but it was also much more hard-hitting than other “green” books I’d read, challenging her readers to question choices that all of us take for granted.

Plastic-Free begins with some well-researched chapters about the harmful effects of plastic— to the consumers, to the people who live near plastic factories, to the environment, and to the ocean ecosystem. Then she targets several different areas of life (bags, bottled water, groceries, etc.) and discusses the why and how of reducing plastic in each of these areas. Terry freely admits that almost no one can live truly plastic-free, but encourages her readers to attempt to live with as little plastic as possible, because every bit makes a difference. Along the way she offers practical checklists, humor, encouragement, profiles of plastic-free champions, discussions about burn-out, and lists of dozens of books, websites, organizations, and videos to learn more.

I blazed through the book in about a week, but would like to go back through it more slowly— there is a ton of information here, a lot to absorb. Some big takeaways from this book:

Plastic doesn’t go away, ever. 

Most plastic is used for a few minutes, then discarded, where it will sit in the landfill forever.

Most plastic can only be recycled once, and it all eventually ends up in a form that can’t be recycled. Like I said, it doesn’t go away.

Plastic is easily lost, dropped, or blown away, meaning that even if you properly dispose of plastic, that doesn’t guarantee it won’t end up in a waterway or ocean, where it wreaks havoc on the ecosystem. (For instance, birds and sea creatures eat it, assuming that it’s food, and die with their bellies full of plastic.)

"Look at all the plastic that will never cease to exist!"
Despite all the depressing information in the book, Terry manages to keep a positive outlook, showing how individual actions can be the basis for change. But we can’t just be content with full recycling bins— in order to effect change, we have to step outside our comfort zones.

This book affected me in three major ways:

1. It made me remember how much I care about environmental causes. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved nature and deeply cared for the environment. My “greenie” side had gotten pushed to the back burner for a while, and Plastic-Free inspired me to refocus my attention on the issues that matter to me. In fact, this book led me on a trail of ideas that helped me discover my new story.

2. It encouraged me to become more plugged into my local community. The book had a lot to say about local food, shared resources, and community activism, all of which gave me a greater desire to find my niche in my community. I’m still trying to figure out what that looks like (although I’m attending a neighborhood meeting on Thursday), but I’m pointed in the right direction.

3. It made me more aware of my buying choices. For the past eight weeks I’ve taken part in the “Show Your Plastic Challenge,” which I’ll blog about tomorrow. Saving, counting, and weighing my plastic every week has made me rethink a lot of my decisions, and encouraged me toward different options, such as growing a bigger garden. (Again, more on this later.)

Thought-provoking, encouraging, and practical, Plastic-Free is a must-read for anyone wanting to live as a responsible steward of the earth. Grab your library card and go check it out!


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