The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish
April 18, 2011

Plastic: A Toxic Love Story Book Review

Plastic: A Toxic Love Story book coverIn the beginning of 2009, I sat in an Oakland Cafe with San Francisco journalist Susan Freinkel, explaining my plastic-free life. She was working on a book about the story of plastic and wanted to hear my point of view, which of course I shared enthusiastically, even dragging her off the butcher shop with me and my stainless steel pot to buy plastic-free meat for my cats.

Her book Plastic: A Toxic Love Story has been officially released today, and after spending all weekend with it, I’m happy to give it a hearty recommendation. This is neither a dry environmental text nor alarmist rant. Telling the story of plastic through eight everyday plastic items — a comb, plastic chair, Frisbee, hospital IV bag, disposable lighter, grocery bag, soda bottle, and credit card — the book describes both the hopes and hazards of plastic in a conversational style that’s hard to put down.

The title of the book is appropriate. In the first chapters, Freinkel’s enthusiasm for her subject matches the excitement the inventors of plastics and plastic products must have felt in their quest to devise replacements for natural substances — often from endangered species — that were running out: ivory, tortoise shell, shellac, etc. The problem solvers who created our early synthetic polymers had no idea of the consequences their products would create for the future. They wanted to make life easier and better, and their stories are fascinating.

But of course, love affairs don’t last forever, and one by one, Freinkel lists and elaborates on the problems with plastic. Believe me, she gets them all: made from fossil fuels, full of toxic chemicals (not just the polymers but the mystery additives, about which I am incessantly ranting), poisoning the oceans and harmful to wildlife, seldom actually recycled (mostly downcycled), and on and on. She takes us to China where most plastic products are produced and where most of our plastic recycling is done, noting the working conditions of the employees who labor for a fraction of what an American worker would be paid.

And we visit the Neonatal Unit of a hospital where premature babies are kept alive in plastic boxes with plastic tubing running through their bodies, plastic that saves their lives in the short-term only to have damaging effects from endocrine disrupting chemicals as their systems develop later on.  What I loved? She not only tells us phthalates like DEHP in PVC are harmful, she explains exactly how they operate in the body in a way that any lay person like me can easily understand.  The book is full of gems like that.

Freinkel goes on to explain the history of plastic bags and bottles, how they came to replace paper and glass, the grassroots efforts now being waged to either eliminate them, in the case of bags, or get manufacturers to take responsibility for their recycling, in the case of bottles, and the strategies used by the American Chemistry Council to defeat these efforts, strategies she compares to those employed by the tobacco industry.

But lest you think Susan Freinkel is an activist, keep in mind that she is a journalist reporting a story. In each section of the book she is careful to report various sides to the issues at hand. And she’s not wholly anti-plastic.  As she concluded in her New York Times op-ed last month, “In other words, plastics aren’t necessarily bad for the environment; it’s the way we tend to make and use them that’s the problem.” And while she decries toxic chemicals and the disposable mindset that leads to wasteful single-use disposable packaging and products, she also recognizes the benefits of plastics when used in a responsible manner.

Looking for solutions, Freinkel explains technologies like bio-plastics and oxo-degradable plastics — you know, the ones with the mystery additives that cause them to break down. While she’s more hopeful than I about the promises of bio-plastics like PHA made by bacteria inside plants, she’s also very skeptical of most environmental claims and very aware of the fact that any kind of plastic is only as safe as the chemicals added to it. At the end of the section on “green” plastics she (thankfully) concludes:

But the greening of Plasticville will require more than technological fixes. It also requires us to address the careless, and sometimes ravenous, habits of consumption that were enabled by the arrival of plastic and plastic money — a symbol for which there is surely no better symbol than the maxed-out credit card. It means grappling with what historian Jeffrey Meikle called our “inflationary culture,” one in which we invest more of our psychological well-being in acquiring things while also considering them of such low value “as to encourage their displacement, their disposal, their quick and total consumption.”

And then she asks:

What would it be like to turn your back on that culture — or at least the part of it involving plastic?

And that’s where I come in… showing that it is possible to live with a lot less plastic. Sure, Freinkel portrays me as extreme. But then, I describe myself that way. I have never said I expect everyone else to live as radically as I do, but that I simply want to show what’s possible. And Freinkel writes that taking the challenge to collect and examine her own plastic waste for a week helped her become more conscious of her shopping choices.

Looking at the pile of trash I accumulated in a week — 123 items, which was probably more than Terry generated in a year [it wasn’t!] — a few things became clear. One was how often my purchases were made on the basis of convenience. Do I really need to buy zucchini from Trader Joe’s, where it comes nestled on a plastic tray, covered in plastic wrap, with little plastic stickers adorning every individual squash?

icon Plastic: A Toxic Love Story is a fantastic read, well-researched, interesting, and informative. But it is not prescriptive. While it ends with a general call to action, it provides no recipe for action, either on the personal or collective level. And that’s fine. Freinkel is a journalist, not an activist. That’s where my book (Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too) comes in…in April 2012.

For now, please pick up a copy of this book and several more for your friends. Look for it at your local independent bookstore. If you decide to order online instead, please use the Amazon.com links in this post, which earn me a small commission to support My Plastic-free Life.

This post is part of the February 2012 Green Moms Carnival all about green books and authors, hosted at the Best of Mother Earth blog.

Leave a Reply

72 Comments on "Plastic: A Toxic Love Story Book Review"


Guest
urbanwoodswalker
2 years 8 months ago

I took this book out of our town’s library.  Its so good, I bought a gently used copy on Amazon.  Thank you for diligently reviewing it Beth.    I also took your book out of the library and read it too.

Guest
3 years 6 months ago

You know, it’s so easy to dismiss the plastic concern because we get reassurances on its safety and recyclability at every turn. Then books like this (and your upcoming book) come out – and wham! There’s no way you can ignore how big a problem plastic is. Thanks for sharing your review of this book, and I can’t wait until yours comes out!

Guest
3 years 6 months ago

I first heard Susan speak on NPR and I remember listening and reaching for a pen to write her name down. She was articulate and inspiring. I still haven’t read her book. Thanks to your review it has moved to my short list!

Guest
3 years 6 months ago

can’t think of anyone more perfect to be included in her book…and i really love the idea of a day by day look at the plastics around us…thank you also for sharing her view was journalistic vs a call to action – a good distinction.

Guest
Riley
4 years 4 months ago

Hi Bill–you’re not the only guy around, although I’ve only noticed the two of us, so far.

I’m new here, and probably in another minority, too: I think there are appropriate uses for plastic, and inappropriate. For instance, non-compostable, throw-away plastic bags are inappropriate. Depending on the impact and source, compostable ones _may_ not be. Not sure on that.

I think _appropriate_ types of plastic, made in an environmentally sound manner, are an appropriate use of petroleum. Burning a non-renewable resource that adds to global warming, and local pollution, is ridiculous! But plastic doesn’t have to contribute to pollution if used and manufactured properly. It’s not, though, to a large extent. That’s the issue.

Regarding your second question, in my opinion, permanent, food grade polyethylene containers are appropriate. They have low environmental impact, they recycle well, they are not (or should not) be discarded after one use. I store dry food goods in them. There is _no_ contamination.

That’s my 2¢ worth!

Riley

Guest
Bill Kennedy
4 years 4 months ago

Thank you for this gem of a site. I am brand new to it today, but plan to come back again and again. My family sort of hates my “green” ideas. They are very much the products of convenience and I’m constantly trying to change that, though I’m not great at it myself. I’ll keep trying though. And I’m suprised that I think I’m one of very few men responding here. I didn’t read every reply to this post, but I didn’t see a single male voice as I scrolled through. We need to spread the mentality to both sexes (and no, I’m not gay).

1) Anyway, I have learned many things so far and many more things will be learned. I was shocked to read that plastic was in chewing gum. Glad I’m not a regular chewer and obviously will not be chewing anymore gum from here out.

2) My question: How do you go to the store and buy bulk items like sunflower seeds, spices, pastas, etc? Is there a non-plastic container that isn’t like dragging 40 lbs of metal around?

Keep up the great work. Final thought: How “green” is it for a cleaning chemical company to sell their “green” products in plastic bottles?

Guest
Alyssa Lee
4 years 4 months ago

Of course! http://tinychoices.com/2011/01/13/tiny-choices-qa-chemical-laden-cleaning-supplies/ The overall consensus was to give away or use up except for the really toxic stuff like drain cleaners.

Guest
Alyssa Lee
4 years 4 months ago

Like so many other people on have said, I have learned SO much from you in these past months I have been on my (never-ending) green kick. You are the premiere site that I turn to when I have a question. I guess the biggest thing that I have learned is the importance of not “buying” green and “consuming” green. The question to ask is not “What do I buy to be environmentally friendly?” It’s about reusing what you have. I love how you always encourage people to reuse what they have before moving on to a better product. I also love all your information about how to store produce without plastic and especially the kitty information because I have a kitty myself. :)

My remaining question is one that has been somewhat resolved on Tiny Choices but not really. I still have some Windex and Tile cleaners and other chemical-laden cleaning products that I don’t want to toss but I don’t want to use either. Is it better to hand them over to the Municipal Hazardous Waste Disposal? Is their disposal process environmentally friendly at all? Is it better to just use them up and then stop? In the meantime, they’re just rotting away in a cupboard where they’ll probably expire anyway. What’s a girl to do? :(

Thank you for all your help and for all your work! You are the best, Beth! :D

Guest
Genna
4 years 4 months ago

I’ve learned a lot about plastic from this blog. The most important is that “recycling” plastic – which, for years, I thought I was doing – is actually, in most cases, an illusion. This really has pushed me to reduce my consumption and reuse whatever plastic bags/ containers that I inevitably accumulate, even when that comes at the expense of convenience.

One question I have is: if you wear contact lenses, how can you limit or reduce your plastic consumption? I’m seriously considering getting Lasiks done because I’ve realized that it’s near impossible to take care of my eyes (and I am seriously BLIND) without going through at least a few ounces of plastic each month.

Guest
4 years 4 months ago

Well now, let me see. You know what I didn’t expect to learn? That you could have a full belly of plastic and starve at the same time. That never clicked for me. (By the way, lesson hammered home today when I was picking up styrofoam at the beach and kept reaching for seashells instead. Plastic blends in.)

And I’m not sure if this counts as a question about plastic, but how is it possible that we haven’t come up with a way to turn plastic back into oil? Or have we, and I just don’t know about it?

Guest
Lis Nygaard
4 years 4 months ago

Hi Beth,

1) Most importantly, I’ve now learned that your blog exists, thanks to Jay and Chantal at Life Without Plastic! Their website http://lifewithoutplastic.com is both a source for great information and a resource for fabulous alternatives to plastic.

1a) I also see that you allow other than US residents, i.e. Canadians to enter your prize draw for Susan Freinkel’s book – the publisher doesn’t. Thank you!

2) Along with increasing awareness of plastic alternatives, I wish there was also an increasing awareness of over consumption in general. Alternatives alone won’t make the shift that we all so desperately need in order to be sustainable ourselves. Geneen Roth addresses some of the underlying issues very well in her latest book, Lost & Found, if anyone is interested.

2a) There are an unending number of unanswered questions and I thank you for inviting them into you blog and look forward to reading your answers!

Best wishes,
Lis

Guest
chcknlil
4 years 4 months ago

The most important thing that I receive from this page is the encouragement to keep going. I’m fourth generation, sustainable, family farmer and in our very conservative community, I’m considered hippy fringe (: This is a very rural community and it seems that anyone who questions the “green/chemical” revolution is spreading blasphemy. It helps tremendously to know that all of my washing, reusing, and repurposing is both vitally important and that I’m not alone. I am leaving our land clean and productive for the next generation.

My most pressing question is, how do I gently encourage folks not to give me things I don’t want/need. Most of it is plastic or tacky kick-knacks that while expresses their caring, also clutters my life. Recent examples enclude Jesus paraphanalia, plastic potted plants, and sugar ladened homemade treats (in butter tubs). It is impossible to turn down Jesus and cookies and not hurt people’s feelings! (But I don’t want the stuff!) I am fortunate to have my family so close but sometimes they don’t understand.

If I were to recieve the book, I would donate it to our local library after I share it with my family.

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Ruth
4 years 4 months ago

I have really appreciated your blog as we have moved toward less and less plastic in our house. One thing I’ve learned that I didn’t know was that the lining of cans for beans could have BPA. Hello dried beans! We recently started recycling everything plastic – taking what isn’t taken at the curb to a recycling center. My question is how we can advocate for more local recycling options.
Thanks for your work!

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Melody
4 years 4 months ago

What I’ve learned: that plastics ingredient lists are secret, how easy it is to make homemade mustard, and so many other things.

My question: What do I do about kids art supplies? particularly tape and glue. We won’t buy any more glue sticks since they more package than glue, but the white glue is made from plastic and so is scotch tape. Is masking tape plastic?

In response to the question about floss holders: we have plastic but reusable floss holders to wind the kids floss on. It makes a huge difference. The dentist gave them to us, because the stores seem to only sell the single use ones. I’m sorry I don’t know of a plastic free one.

About freezing: my mom always wrapped meat in foil to freeze. We freeze berries on a cookie sheet them move to glass jars after freezing.

Guest
4 years 4 months ago

Oh my…so much I’ve learned from you – and so much effect you’ve had on my life, from working to refuse plastics (I’d not heard the “refuse” part of the 3 R’s till I found you) to providing interesting alternatives to single or multi-use plastics (I have aluminum or stainless bottles and mugs now when before, I used a PLASTIC reusable – yes, I learned). Just today, I saw your Easter Egg post, and found the pattern for knitted eggs – believe me, they’ll be making an appearance next year in my home with twigs brought down in the summer storms!

The book sounds wonderful and I’d love to win. What’s my question for you? It going to take far more numbers of us to be converted to this cause than we currently have, and with the economy being the No.1 issue for folks, I’m not sure how we can affect the sort of change that’s needed en masse. How on earth will we do it?

Guest
Billie
4 years 4 months ago

I learned that you can ask for meat to be put into your container at Whole Foods and no… the world doesn’t end if you put yourself out there.

For my question… Is this a frustration or a question? How can you deal with food allergies in a non-plastic free way without totally inconveniencing yourself?

For example, I bought milk in a glass container. I found out I can’t drink milk any more. Must I really grind my own almonds to make almond milk or can I forgive myself for just buying it in a tetra pak?

Guest
4 years 4 months ago

I learned that the old saying is true – one person can make a difference.

Guest
Laura
4 years 4 months ago

Lynn asked about paintballs and I believe I can answer that one (Beth correct me if you know differently of course) – my husband plays paintball so I have grilled him about this quite a bit :-) He assured me that the paint most commonly used is water-soluble and non-toxic, and the shells are made from the same paint. This way, they “go away” once it rains. I can’t tell you if the paint and shells are truly biodegradable and harmless to wildlife and the environment, but water soluble is something at least.

Guest
Laura
4 years 4 months ago

That sounds like a book I will definitely be reading – thanks for sharing about it. I would love to be entered. I have learned many things reading this blog, but what sticks in my mind now is that synthetic clothing is plastic and therefore dryer lint is also plastic – it makes sense, but it never occurred to me before I read one of your posts. It is also great to learn about all the companies making and stocking plastic-free products. Which is where my question comes in – not really a question, but I often find myself looking at products and asking myself “what would Beth do/buy” One example is first aid gear. Are there plastic-free alternatives to antibiotic ointment tubes, bandages, pill blister-packs, etc. that are suitable for first aid kits?

Guest
Karin
4 years 4 months ago

The other comments detail so many of the areas in which I’ve experienced an awakening (plastic-lined milk cartons, BPA-lined cans, the false hope of plastics recycling, etc.). What I’ve learned the most, however, goes beyond some specific fact. Now I’m having more expansive discussions with my 10-year old about plastics, purchasing, and our own ethical vs. convenience conundrums. Like our “car-free” days, these discussions and the actions that emerge, are part of a little collaborative learning experience we call “life.” I am bolstered knowing that the future is touched by every little exchange.

I freeze fruit (and can some) when in season but am a plastic bag junkie for this effort. Quarts and quarts of berries, sliced apples, cherries, rhubarb. And that’s just the fruit. We so prefer the taste (and nutrition) to canned. It would take a lot of jars to meet my needs and a whole new method of organizing my chest freezer. (Forgive the excuses.) The used canning jars I find in my area (Seattle) cost nearly as much as new. Since I can’t afford all new jars, what are the best sources for safe, used jars? Are there any glass jars that are used for retail products that aren’t canning jars but are safe for the freezer?

Guest
Riley
4 years 4 months ago

Came here from a FB post on Susan Freinkel’s wall and found the plastic trash challenge intriguing enough to try. I’ve tried to minimize my plastic use for some time, and want to see how it compares to others. Maybe not minimize our use, as is the goal here, but to optimize it in terms of health and environment.

I found the mention of PHA new, and interesting enough to google.

In my effort to minimize BPA and phthalate exposure I’ve stopped using throw away plastic wrap where possible, and started to use “wax paper” in its place. Problem is, I don’t think it’s wax impregnated paper, anymore. What is it? (Paraffin wax is a petroleum product, but has a lower energy footprint due it being processed less than plastics, in addition to purportedly having no additives.)

Best,

Riley

Guest
Barb
4 years 4 months ago

Thanks everyone for your help with the mosquito issue. I also heard on my public radio about the upcoming alternative that smells like grapefruit.

I will check out the oils. I am a very active rock climber, so alas the mosquito net would not help me out.

Thanks again everyone!

Guest
4 years 4 months ago

I was fascinated by the information about hormonal changes correlated with plastic medical equipment, especially for babies. I hadn’t considered that before. (though, in all, I consider it “worth it” for saving their lives!)

I’m keenly interested in non-plastic food preservation ideas. The only two I know of are wrapping frozen goods, especially meat, in butcher paper rather than plastic wrap, and the Tattler line of canning jar lids. Though, to be precise, I’m not sure it’s plastic that’s in/on regular canning jar lids….

Anywho, I heard Susan interviewed last night on American Public Media’s “Marketplace,” and tonight on Public Radio’s “Fresh Air.” I’m thrilled that she and her book are being covered so well, though I can’t necessarily say “widely” since Public Radio is, perhaps, a select audience.

Guest
Martina
4 years 4 months ago

1) I have learned so much from your blog, but if I had to pick something, I’d have to say that something I love most are all the practical alternative suggestions for plastic products. For example, I don’t think I was aware of reusable straws before starting to read your blog.

2) Not sure whether that’s feasible for you to do, but I’d love a roundup of plastic-free baby products, and advice on smart choices for those where plastic can’t be avoided (think car seats). I’m just researching purchases for my first baby, and have found some non-plastic things, but overall I think I will still end up with plenty of new plastic products. Does that count as a question?

Guest
stellans
4 years 4 months ago

1) I learned that cans were lined with plastic! I can’t believe I never realized that before.

2) Plastic really is so very pervasive! All the medications we take are in plastic bottles, etc. How can we get online pharmacies to forgo plastic?

And: I recently donated all my Rubbermaid plastic storage items to Goodwill, replacing them with glass storage bowls instead.

Guest
Lynn DeBuhr Johnson
4 years 4 months ago

Whether or not I win the book, I thought this was a great opportunity to thank you for opening up my eyes. I always thought I was pretty aware of things, but after reading your blog, I looked again. “Look, the emperor has no clothes!” I became aware of how invasive plastic things were in our lives.

I have always been a person who cooks at home and shops the food co-op. I never thought about the bags from the frozen food aisle. We don’t eat dairy so I wasn’t concerned with the milk or yogurt containers. Now, when I go to the co-op, I bring my own containers. It used to be that my containers were empty ice cream buckets from friends, but now I use glass containers, such as pickle jars from the restaurants. That is getting harder to find now, though, since they usually are plastic. I also use canning jars.

My question would be about paint balls. My family likes to go paint balling, and the paint is contained in plastic balls that break upon impact. Any suggestions? I know this may seem lame, but as I looked around, I just suddenly realized this. Oh my!

Guest
Anne
4 years 4 months ago

I have learned so much through your blog, Beth, and have made a lot of changes in my home for my family through your inspiration. I also love your kitty stories :) We have always used Swheat Scoop for our cat and thankfully he seems to love it. No kitty oopsies on the floor! Anyway, most recently I learned that all plastics have the potential to leach chemicals, even if they are “BPA free.”

My question is really more of a huge issue that I don’t know how to address. My 7 yr. old son is a kidney transplant recipient and has had lots of medical problems over the years, starting as a NICU baby saved by plastic. He currently takes several medications every single day, and his immuno-suppression meds are capsules. What are medicine capsules made of? They look like plastic! I hate that he needs to take them daily, but of course I love him and I want him to survive! What’s a mom to do?

I would love to read the book. Thanks for the opportunity!

Guest
Leona Sturgill
4 years 4 months ago

i’m a new reader, but the big thing that i learned (and feared) was that bpa-free products many times had MORE estrogenic effects! i’ve been really wanting to reduce/eliminate the plastic in my house… but my husband, who works in an industry that requires him to investigate plastic research, fights me a bit. he looks into the TINY details of the research as rationalization as well as it’s just “hard” to eliminate it all. (and expensive when looking for replacements). i’m hoping this site will help me get more effort and cooperation from him. now my question, while more of a personal one, is “what am i going to do about all of the kids’ toys?!”

Guest
annie
4 years 4 months ago

1) That tetrapaks and ice cream containers were lined with plastic. Yuck!

2) How to freezing all the produce I grow in my garden to save for winter without plastic.

Guest
Sharon
4 years 4 months ago

1) Reading your blog has made me more informed about the chemicals in plastics and the prevalence and pervasiveness of plastic everywhere. Now I also more conscious when shopping so that I avoid items with plastic packaging as much as I can. Your blog also helps me question my values and unexamined assumptions. I ask myself where my allegiances lie, to the land base I live on with responsibility to all living things including future generations or to mindless consumer culture.
I feel stronger and more connected to the land. What I do or not do matters and has consequences. Your blog shows me that I need to do much more to look after country.
2) I need a concise manual with photo examples of all the solutions to living a plastic free life, with a good index. Like an encyclopedia (The ultimate guide to plastic free living) but not to big and in color, easy to open with pages that do not fall out (notch bound or better). Gloss color cover (hopefully not plastic but if that’s not possible just a color card cover) with simple striking design. The book “Paper Flow” by MaryAnne Bennie & Bridgitte Hinneberg has a really nice design approach that would suit the ultimate plastic free life guide book.
Th plastic free book functions as a mental prompter to help people develop new habits for plastic free living because it can be a struggle to break old habits and go against the flow. I can see this book translated into many other languages as this is a world wide problem.

Guest
Eve Stavros
4 years 4 months ago

1)I learned that plastic is EVERYWHERE and that recycling is really downcycling. And how easy it really is to refuse to let plastic into you life.

2) I too need alternatives for freezer containers. I’ve had two glass jars w/ soup crack in the freezer despite plenty of room left for expansion.

Guest
4 years 4 months ago

I learned everything from you, Beth. Sounds amazing.

Guest
4 years 4 months ago

There are actually two things I learned from your blog that stand out, and have changed how I shop/eat/live – about chemicals in detergents and shampoos, and about plastic lining in tin cans. That launched us into canning a lot of our own food, which is cheaper and healthier, as well as better for the environment.

A question I still have about plastic…hmm…how to manage some things, like freezing our own food, without plastic. There is a lot of plastic in a freezer. I’m sure the benefit of a low-draw freezer keeping local backyard organic food (vs. growing with tractors and chemicals and trucking it in from a zillion miles away) outweighs the plastic in it, but can it be eliminated?

Guest
4 years 4 months ago

It’s hard to mention just one thing I’ve learned from you Beth – so many things. I think one that sticks with me is the term single-use plastics – things like drinking straws to be exact …and how MANY items we have like that in our life that are throw away. I’d like to know why we can’t return our plastic bottles from shampoo for re-use directly to the manufacturer.

Guest
4 years 4 months ago

I’ve mostly learned awareness. I was already a stainless-steel-carrying, reusable-bag-using, anti-canned-food kind of woman … but I had never thought about drinking straws. I’ve stopped using them.

I have been reading here for only a few months, so I don’t know if this had been addressed … but when I was telling my mom about this site (and how fascinating and awesome I thought it was), her first question was, “How does she buy batteries?” Um. I don’t know. Things like spray bottles — which come in metal, but the spray mechanisms are always plastic.

Guest
Elizabeth B
4 years 4 months ago

The book sounds wonderful!

One thing I’ve learned from you, Beth, is that BioBags shouldn’t go in the landfill because they release methane in an anaerobic environment.

One question that I still have is about alternatives. I have moderate-to-severe RSI in both arms, and sometimes I just plain cannot cook. Physically can’t. It makes me feel really helpless sometimes because it’s so hard to avoid plastic when you can’t just buy fresh ingredients and cook with them. I’ve been gritting my teeth and flushing my eco-street cred down the drain as I scatter nonrecyclable waste behind me, but I hate it. I really, really hate it. So my question is: What the hell can I do to avoid plastic while I can’t cook?

Thanks for all you do, Beth.

Guest
Valerie
4 years 4 months ago

Beth,

I was shocked like many, about chewing gum, and specifically from this blog post…I never thought about the long-term damage of the “life-saving” plastics to babies in the Neonatal Units. I look forward to reading more about it in the book.

Anytime I have questions about plastics and non-plastic replacements, I scroll through your blog for answers. One questions I have (really a gripe) is about the crazy amount of plastic used in packaging. Why do companies spend so much money on packaging? Why would a person buy a pair of scissors that were packaged in so much plastic that they would need scissors to open the packaging? It is just silly.

Thanks for all you do Beth.

Guest
4 years 4 months ago

I didn’t know about glass and steel straws until I read this blog! Lots more significant things too (like the secret additives in plastics), but that’s the first thing that comes to mind.

My question, what do you think are the best policy strategies for dealing with the plastics problem?

Guest
Leanne
4 years 4 months ago

Hi, I am a new reader of the blog, but even so I have already made myself more aware of all the plastic we consume. I already did the cloth bags and recycle our plastic so I felt ok about that; however reading the blog has made me actually try to avoid buying things in plastic whenever possible to try to avoid consuming it in the first place.
My question is, is there anyone in politics at this point who has any ambition to try to change laws on plastic use, manufacture etc?

Keep up the good work, you are truly inspirational!

Guest
Traci
4 years 4 months ago

Thank you so much for this blog. It has made me aware of how much single-use plastic I use and how to eliminate it – no more plastic bags, I am making my own hair, skin care and cleaning products, no more disposable razors, etc. It has also helped me to stay away from cheap plastic toys for my kids. I have to think about where the toy will eventually end up (I just need to get the grandparents on board…)

My question: what do you do about dental floss? This may sound gross, but we re use ours until we just can’t anymore. Is that gross? Did I just admit that in “public”? What do you do?

Guest
4 years 4 months ago

Oh … oops. A question I still have about plastics use: I’m still stumped on what to freeze my food in if not plastic. I know you’ve talked about it some, but I still haven’t managed to change that one habit.

Guest
4 years 4 months ago

Ah Beth,

You’ve taught us all so much. I’ve learned so many things from you, from your site, and from links attached to this site that it’s really hard to narrow things down. But the inspiration I got from you to make my own travel utensil set has made me very happy and helped me make a physical statement to people about plastic usage.

I also have stopped using straws when out and purchased Dharma Glass straws instead. Not that we need straws, but they are nice to have on occassion.

Thanks, again, Beth. For everything you do.

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Natalie
4 years 4 months ago

Tracey in #6:
I used an extra bedsheet for my shower curtain by folding it over and sewing about 4 inches below the fold all the way across to create a pocket for the curtain rod to go through. If it gets grungy it goes in the wash.

I was on a definite budget though… you can also buy shower curtains made of hemp, which apparently dries very fast. They are pricey, though.

Okay, back to reading these amazing comments…

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Vanessa
4 years 4 months ago

I have learned so much from reading this blog!! Here are just a few changes I’ve made in my household:
1. I use shampoo and conditioner bars.
2. I buy glass-bottled milk, buttermilk and half-n-half.
3. I recently found yogurt sold in a glass bottle (very exciting!).
4. I buy everything I possibly can from the bulk bin section (unfortunately, the selection is still very limited).
5. I use cloth bulk bin bags, produce bags, and grocery bags.
6. I’ve stopped buying fruit (for example, strawberries, raspberries and blackberries) in plastic containers.
7. I use a Glass Dharma drinking straw.
8. I bring my own takeout containers to a restaurant.

One issue I wrestle with is prioritizing plastic-free against other worthy environmental goals. For example, if an item is locally sold (for instance, local honey) but comes in plastic, do I choose that one over one that is sold in glass, but is not local (creating carbon emissions due to long-distance transport)? I face this dilemma all the time and usually err on the side of plastic-free, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Thank you! I can’t wait to read this book and your new book!

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Sharon
4 years 4 months ago

I have another question, if that’s allowed! :) Does anyone know where I can get a plastic free floss holder (i.e. a substitute for those horribly wasteful individual flossers)? I can’t believe someone hasn’t already made one out of stainless steel or something that I can use with my box of floss.

I want to get my kids to floss, but they’re too little to do it on their own and there’s no way they’d stand for having my hands in their mouth.

Thanks!
Sharon

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Puck
4 years 4 months ago

Beth, thank you so much for this review!

The primary thing I learned from this blog is to always be conscious of my behaviour. When I see a bottle of Naked juice (which I know from experience is delicious) I know stop and think about whether I truly need to buy something that is not only contained in plastic but (another fact I learned from your blog!) often poured into the bottle hot causing who knows what kind of chemicals to leach into it.

A question I still have is what non-plastic reusable water bottle do you recommend? I have a water bottle that I got for my birthday that is metal, but has a plastic sippy cap which recently broke and so I can’t drink from it without spilling water all over myself. I want to buy a new one–are there any that are made out of metal and also don’t have a plastic cap?

Again, thank you so much for keeping this blog and being an inspiration to us all!

Best,
Puck

Guest
4 years 4 months ago

Beth,

Could you pass this info on to Barb? :

There was a great piece on Oregon Public Broadcasting today about natural alternatives to DEET that should become available to us over the next few years:

In the meantime, so many of the aromatic oils you could find in glass bottles work well. Natural foods stores will likely carry non-toxic repellents that use essential oils as their main ingredients. Look to these to make your own or try theirs. I think you’ll find great success!

For the contest:

1) I’ve learned so many things from the Blog and not just about plastic! One thing meaningful that I’ve taken is that to truly become plastic-free we have to become less consumeristic and take back our home economies. We can’t buy ourselves out of this mess, we have to be willing to slow down, grow food, raise animals, harvest herbs for medicine and use human transport. By doing so, it gives us great perspective on the quality of life that starts to support our lives vs. distract and destruct. Small steps can make huge differences!

2) What I can’t wrap my head around now is whether it’s more sustainable to recycle plastics, so that they can be shipped back to countries with low environmental standards to be remelted into more plastics (further harming these places) or whether it’s better to send them to local landfills (away from oceans and waterways, but still near groundwater!) so that they might begin their process of decomposition.

Thanks for all of your great work Beth!

Your blog sparked my efforts to start a free cloth loaner bag program last year at our community farmers market that I manage. Check it out here: http://www.montavillamarket.org/market-programs/loaner-bags/

Also see details about the third year of our durable dish program where we’ve singlehandedly eliminated tens of thousands of plastics from entering the waste stream by providing durable dishes for our lunch vendors:
http://www.montavillamarket.org/market-programs/durable-dish/

-Gretchan J.
Portland, Oregon

Guest
4 years 4 months ago

Wow this book sounds truly informative and helpful. I love reading on things that affect us so much, and in ways we don’t even realize sometimes. I think my first question is: Is it actually possible to live a plastic free life? I see plastic everywhere! I avoid it whenever I can but it seems to keep creeping in. They are so prevalent, and it seems so many things sneakily come packaged in them in some way. I am trying to hard to rid my own home of them, but some days it seems like they are everywhere! My computer is plastic, the speakers are plastic, the printer is plastic, my stereo is part plastic, my vacuum is plastic, and on and on. It feels like we will never have plastic out of our lives, which is scary considering how toxic is can be. What I’ve learned from this blog is that we definitely can cut down on our plastic, and just how harmful plastic can be. I’ve learned about things like glass straws, something I had never thought of, that can save so much plastic waste. I’ve found a place with people who see plastics as problematic such as I do, which is a great thing to have in a world full of people who don’t care! I enjoy coming here for tips and information that I can share and put to act in my own life. I think the less plastic each of us has the better, and hopefully we can all take what we learn to motivate and enlighten those around us who don’t see it as harmful as it is! :) Thanks for having this giveaway!

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connie curtis
4 years 4 months ago

I have learned that you can make a difference in everything you buy and do . i am stand for alternatives to plastic. I have also learned that just because plastic says BPA free doesnt mean its safe.

I am looking forward to the book and it would be great to win it. I am gluten free so some things that I can eat come in plastic its like a double edge sword in the food world.. The other thing is storage containers. Stainless steel is great but out of my budget and I was going to buy a glass container with a BPA free lid.. its afforable and getting my food out of plastic.. now I am wondering about that product but I dont know what I could buy that would seal as well for storage that is still in my budget.. any suggestions?

Guest
4 years 4 months ago

I learned about going poo-free on this blog and took the plunge at the beginning of the year. It’s been awesome — my hair feels so much better!

I still have quite a few questions about getting the plastic out of my life, and as I look around me and see objects that I can’t imagine living without — my smart phone, my computer, the glasses on my face! — I wonder how many scientists, business people and bureaucrats are actively working on ideas for for building these things without plastic. Anyone?

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Kim
4 years 4 months ago

I’m looking forward to reading the book – maybe eve a free copy!

I started reading your blog a few years ago when my cousing started her own blog with a friend – “Plastic is Forever.” I’ve learned so much, especially about all the hidden plastic lining cans, soy milk paks, etc.

I am an RN and the amount of not only waste, but plastic waste we produce int he hospital is mind boggling. I’ve joined several green medicine groups and am aware of some of the alternatives available to plastic products. My question is how do we move this more mainstream in the hospital setting and make these products more affordable and used?

Guest

You’re doing such important work with your blog – thank you!

I would love to read this book.

I’ve learned that BPA is not the only thing we have to worry about in plastic.

A question I have is the best way to store and wrap food in the freezer.

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Jill
4 years 4 months ago

Love this blog. Learn something new everyday!

In response to Sharron (8:54am) I have used 100% Pure eye and face moisturizer that comes in a small glass bottle (although the pump is plastic on top) Love the bottle and have reused for other products I just want a squirt of! Hope that helps. I agree though, makeup in notorious!

OK, what I have learned…the gum thing. Had no idea, it make sense though. Note to self to stop that habit!

My question…Tupperware! WHAT IS IT? I assume it is proprietary, but really. The old tupperware I received from my grandmother and mother is now getting sticky-tossed it, sorry. All my new Tupperware (circa ’90’s) is still good but appears to be made differently. Although I now use my old spaghetti sauce and peanut butter jars to freeze in, I wonder what to do with all this Tupperware???
I have tried to look back on your previous posts on Tupperware, but have not gotten an answer on what it really is. Is it at all recycleable?

Second question…I also want to know about all the plastic that has no triangle with number in it. What do we do there?

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LB
4 years 4 months ago

What I learnt: how the marketing mavens brainwashed us into thinking that disposable razors were ‘the’ solution as opposed to stainless steel safety razors. I made the switch and have appreciated it so much!

What I would like to learn: what efforts are being made (or could be made) for reducing plastic in health appliances / accessories / necessities / whatever term? For instance, hearing aids are made – largely – out of plastic. Is this absolutely necessary? Are there alternatives? What are they? Is anyone leading the way to figure out how to address this issue in the future?

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Theresa
4 years 4 months ago

I recently discovered your blog and am inspired by it! I’ve got my husband thinking about a plastic-free life too. Thank you!

One thing I’ve re-learned (somehow I’d forgotten) is that stressed plastic leaches more toxic chemicals (a good metaphor for human stress too). So I’m on the bandwagon to educate my niece who has a two-year-old son and is due with her second child in June. Both for their health and the health of the planet they will inherit, finding alternatives to our current obsession with cheap plastic objects is must.

A remaining question, do you believe there will be significant strides in our lifetime to reclaim and recycle the tons and tons (and tons and tons) of plastic already burried in our landfills or circulating in our oceans?

I’d love to donate Plastic: A Toxic Love Story to my local library after reading it if I am fortunate enough to receive the complimentary copy.

Thanks for all the wonderful education and information you provide to inspire us to come closer to leading a plastic-free life.

Thanks,
Theresa

Guest
4 years 4 months ago

Not only have I learned to make small steps towards reducing my plastic consumption/waste (my purse is loaded up with my bamboo utensils, glass water bottle, large cloth shopping bag, etc.) but as a result I’ve learned that I love the idea of feeling so self-sufficient and prepared. I don’t have to rely on someone else to give me stuff I don’t want or need and then expect someone else to be responsible for its disposal moments later. I really hate the depenancy that disposable products have created in us. The unsolicited receiving of straws being prime example.
This brings me to my question: if plastic is a by-product of fuel, isn’t plastic just a way to use that up and keep toxic waste from contaminating our water/ground? And if that’s true then isn’t the real problem then, that we are using too much oil? I ask because you are the plastic guru IMHO and when trying to decide between a non plastic item from thousands of miles away and a plastic-packaged item made locally I can never follow through to the right answer. And it drives me crazy because I really want what’s healthiest for all us earthlings:)

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Jessica Silva
4 years 4 months ago

1) one fact about plastic or plastic-free living you have learned by reading this blog:

was learning that plastic was such a massive problem on the planet ( the plastic soup in the ocean) and reading about the part plastic plays in my everyday life and what the creative alternatives are. This blog is where “plastics awareness” began for me and my family.

2) one question about plastic you still have; my question is why is plastic still being created despite all the negative outcomes of its creation, use and its disposal. Its nonsensical, especially on the manufactures part; they made the stuff they should know better.

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Sarati
4 years 4 months ago

Hi Beth,

I came across your blog a couple of months ago and it was perfect timing. I have been slowly changing my lifestyle to match my values of living as softly on the earth as possible. So when I came across your blog, I thought ” That’s what I’ve been missing!” — more awareness on the impact of plastic in our lives.

I’ve learned from reading this blog that following a plastic-free life gives me a sense of freedom and of responsibility that I haven’t experienced before. I am more aware of what it means to be a steward of the land. I have the freedom of not participating in an extremely consumerist culture and I have the responsibility to do my part.

My question about plastic that I haven’t found the answer to is: what do you use for garbage bags?

To give a suggestion to Barb: my partner uses carbolic soap starting in the spring. Mosquitos adore her! She’ll get 10 bites while I might get one. She found the most succes with carbolic soap. And there is no plastic involved because we buy it in bulk. Hope that helps because it is awful to be bitten all the time.

Beth, thanks for all the time and energy you give!

sarati

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Sharon
4 years 4 months ago

I’m going to request this book for purchase by our local library. That way, even if I don’t win, I’ll be able to read it and so will a lot of others too!

One of the many things I learned from your blog that really surprised me was that the grains included in many exfoliating scrubs are actually little pieces of plastic. Ugh! At that point, I started making my own scrubs using olive oil and sugar from the bulk bin.

As for my question, is there a resource somewhere for plastic free beauty products? I’m having such a hard time finding moisturizer that is plastic free, and I spend a lot of time squinting at pictures and using “contact us” links to send email to try to determine if the packaging is plastic or not. Even when I am able to convince a small manufacturer to package their product for me in glass, it usually comes with a plastic lid.

Thanks for all you do! :)

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Michelle
4 years 4 months ago

I´ve learnt alot from your blog. But the one amazing thing I´ve learnt it; I´m not alone & this often keeps me going.

Question: How does so much plastic make it from landfill to Ocean? Surfrider estimate that 80% comes from the land, but how? Yes people throw rubbish from cars, but most goes in the bin….

Tracey – Plastics break down the sun, nothing happens to it, it just becomes smaller & smaller until naked by the human eye. But yes, still just as toxic…

I´d love this book!

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Sharyn Dimmick
4 years 4 months ago

What I’ve learned: I keep old posts of Plastic-Free Life that mention plastic-free versions of products that I might someday want to purchase: the blog is a good resource for green product information, I also learned that ice cream containers had a plastic layer — who knew.

What I’d still like to know is what plastic-free alternatives can artists use to protect individual paintings, drawings, etc. from finger smudges, water damage, stains? The artists I know buy thin transparent plastic envelopes to keep their work clean and safe for sales and in shipping. What else could you use? Rice paper, maybe? Does anyone make large paper sleeves?

I look forward to reading Susan’s book.

Guest
4 years 4 months ago

One thing I’ve learned? Just how much it IS possible to do without plastic – and I recently rid my house of all small plastic storage containers (for leftovers, etc.). Thanks! (No worries, I gave them away, I didn’t throw them in a landfill).

One thing I want to know? How I can rid my freezer of plastic bags. I both preserve a LOT of fruit and vegetables by freezing for off-season use (and as I live in Canada, only eating in season really isn’t possible without food storage), and how to keep frozen meats with out plastic. I feed my dogs meat (will NOT feed kibble), and I tend to stock up when it’s on sale, then portion out and freeze. And I’m talking of a couple of hundred pounds, not one or two. I don’t know that butcher paper would keep the meat for as long as I need to? Or that it would be cost effective :(

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Martha
4 years 4 months ago

Among so many things, I have learned I can make plastic free choices in the toiletries I use every day. I now use non-synthetic floss and hand soap instead of plastic pump bottles and bar shampoo from Just Soap instead of bottled shampoo. I have learned practical ways to live out a favorite quote: “Every choice we make can be a celebration of the world we want.” (Francis Moore Lappé)

Question: What exactly is meant by “down-cycled”?

The book sounds great and something I would suggest our book group read!

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Denise Yribarren
4 years 4 months ago

Good morning Beth!

From your post I have learned:

1. I really was shocked to learn of the nature of chewing gum!

2. Perhaps this is not precisely a “fact” but I have learned to slow down the day a bit and to respectfully consider each decision I make regarding what materials I might use as I take care of my family and home.

3.I have learned to be more self-confident as I carry out my choices. I am now not apologetic about bring my home sewn produce bags into the market. Rather the grocery checkers have complimented me and actually asked me to make them some bags. (Obviously they did not look closely as these were sewn by hand and the seams were not too good!)

Question: I recognize that if a #1 and #2 plastic item can be recycled, why are other plastics marked 3,4,5,6,7 identified in the recycle triangle if they are really not truly recyclable?

I do look forward to combing your book carefully for inspiration when released next year!

Gratefully,

Denise

Guest
4 years 4 months ago

Looks like I definitely need to make sure our library has a copy. Thanks so much for this review…well done!

Guest
4 years 4 months ago

1) one fact about plastic or plastic-free living you have learned by reading this blog,

One! Soymilk cartons lined with plastic instead of wax floored me. So many “I should have knowns! I don’t chew gum, but the mixed plastic and chicle content bummed me out. And the plastic in paper label adhesives – still can’t get ahead of that problem. Mostly you give me new problems to solve in my life and work.

and 2) one question about plastic you still have

One! The plastics that supposedly break down… what do they break down into? By what mechanism? Do they break down into invisible toxic bits? What chemicals do they off gas or leave behind? I recently engaged in an infuriating query about degradable shower curtains (haven’t solved that problem) in which I gave up because I felt like a total idiot. I think that the sales people don’t know, and the people who DO know aren’t prepared to tell the truth.

Love & RRRevolution, Tracey

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B
4 years 4 months ago

Lovely! I can’t wait to read it (and am hopeful about my chances of winning).

And am glad about the entry requirements, because this post left me with a question I have indeed been wondering for some time.

But first, the thing I learned from this blog that most surprised and disappointed me was that most beverage cartons, like Tetrapaks, are made with plastic (I had always assumed they were cardboard covered in wax!)

The question I still have is about the medical uses of plastic. It’s the one area I have a very hard time imagining plastic-free. I know some things could most likely be replaced with glass (IV bags with bottles, for example,), and some with cloth (hospital gowns can be sterilized by washing in hot water, after all). But some things must be both flexible and water-tight. Like IV tubes. What could replace those? Rubber? Silicone? Or must hospitals always use some plastic to provide the care we in America have become accustomed to receiving from them?

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Steve
4 years 4 months ago

As a manufacturer for the natural products industry, plastic and the reduction of is a constant struggle. Laundry detergents in 250oz “bottles” makes no sense to me, most people cannot even carry the weight and then the custom color the bottle for appeal which renders it useless as a recycled item.

I look forward to reading the book to further reinforce the message and hopefully gain the insights to make some really compelling arguments for change.

Steve

Guest
4 years 4 months ago

what I learned from your site a while ago was that cardboard containers- like icecream and juice are lined with plastic! So frustrating! I’ve learned so much since then and have made so many changes.

I still can’t get around plastic packaging in London. Every catalog (not signed up for, btw) that comes through my door is sealed in plastic – all the rain here. Still can’t figure out how to get around my seafood wrapped in plastic. The only place I can get sustainable fish is from an organic grocery delivery company. I can’t walk into a shop.

I can’t wait to read this book – and then yours!

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Becky
4 years 4 months ago

The most recent things I learned from this blog were (a) BPA-free plastic isn’t necessarily better than other plastics and (b) baking soda in an old nylon makes for a great diaper pail deodorizer (that one was while looking through your archives!).

A question I have (and you may have already addressed this, I’m a new subscriber) is: How do I know if a plastic item that doesn’t have a recycling number on it is recyclable? How do I know what “number” it is?

Also, a note to Barb. When hiking, mosquito head nets work great. They look ridiculous, but it’s so much better than the constant buzzing around your ears. I know they wouldn’t work in a more social environment, but they do work great on hikes! They are probably made out of plastic, but they’ll last forever (my little brother even took ours on a missions trip to Africa with him) and they cost less than $2.

Guest
Barb
4 years 4 months ago

Beth,
I have learned so much from this blog, it is hard to pinpoint just one fact. Out of all of them there is one clear winner. It is chewing gum. Mostly plastic?!?! gross! I had to give it up. I now brush my teeth or grab a mint when I need fresh breath.
The other thing I have learned is to not be embarrassed when I get a dirty look from the cashier because I am bringing my own bag. I also don’t think twice for handing the plastic bag back for my one or two items that I planned on carrying (but they bagged anyway).

The one question I still have about plastic is more of a quest of for a plastic alternative. Mosquito’s love me. And I mean I will spray myself with bug spray and they will find the 1 area of my body I missed. However, not only am I potentially hurting myself and the environment with DEET. I also go through a few cans bottles a summer. The cans have plastic tops and I even have aquired some plastic bottles of bug spray. Do you have any alternatives to these packaging or bug spray alternatives in general?

Thanks again and keep up the great work!
Barb