Monthly Archives: June 2012

When a Plastic-Free Book is Covered in Plastic

When you write a book called Plastic-Free, and your publisher strives to create the book without any plastic materials, you might expect the book will be offered to the public without plastic.  But expect the unexpected.  Logic does not always prevail.  I’ve received a couple of reports of my book being covered in plastic: one situation is truly unfortunate.  The other situation is more understandable.  Here’s what happened.

Plastic-Free shrink wrapped!

One of my Australian readers emailed me to say that my book had been delivered to the bookstore his mom manages completely shrink-wrapped in plastic. He even sent me a photo:

After a bit of freaking out (on my part) and research (on the part of his mom and my publisher), we learned that the Australian distributor had shrink wrapped all 80 copies after receiving them, in an effort to protect them from… what? Human hands? Obviously, they had not noticed the title of the book when they did this. But also, they didn’t stop to think that allowing customers to open and flip through books is how you market them–especially a book like Plastic-Free, which is full of color photos and beautiful design features. Anyway, the distributor has promised this will not happen again. And I just hope that bookstores that receive shrink-wrapped copies will remove the plastic and send it back to the distributor with a note explaining why before displaying the book for customers.

I also hope that they will not only send back the plastic from my book, but all books they receive shrink-wrapped in plastic.  It’s a matter of values, actually.  Is preventing a few fingerprints worth adding more single-use disposable plastic to the planet?

(And to those who worry about the carbon footprint of sending back packaging: to me, the little carbon generated to return unwanted packaging will be negated by the reduction in plastic packaging when companies get the message and stop producing so much plastic waste in the first place.  But they won’t do it if we don’t let them know.  And I think sending back packaging sends a more powerful statement than simply sending an email or writing a letter.  But what do you think?)

Plastic Library Covers

I’ve also been getting emails from readers letting me know that libraries are covering my book in protective plastic sleeves.

After receiving a couple of these notices, I emailed my local Oakland librarian to find out a) if Oakland would be covering my book in plastic, and b) if there was any way to avoid it — perhaps a different kind of protective material could be used. Here’s her response:

I understand your concern and how ironic this is, but keep in mind that our books are handled by many, many different people. Libraries often even have to wipe down books that are returned with sticky covers – you would be amazed at how badly they are often treated. In the ecological scheme of things, we would be replacing our books much, much more often if they did not have protective mylar covers. I did talk this over with our processing folks, and cellulose simply does not work as well and is prohibitively expensive.

My thoughts? I do wish there were a more sustainable alternative than plastic to use to protect the books, but I also recognize that protecting the book so that it can be read by hundreds, if not thousands, of people will have a much lower ecological footprint than if each of those people were to purchase a book separately. I support libraries. In fact, in Plastic-Free, I champion borrowing, sharing, and renting over buying new stuff. It’s not just a way to reduce plastic consumption, but to reduce consumption in general. So while I’m not thrilled to have my book covered in plastic, and I expect to receive many more emails about it as people check out the book from the library, I can live with it.

What do you think?  Have you heard of an alternative way for libraries to protect books that doesn’t involve plastic?

And if you encounter Plastic-Free wrapped in plastic–outside of a library–please contact me and let me know.   I’ll get right on it!


Herban Crafts: Make Your Own Bath Salts and Empower Homeless Women

I suppose I should be careful when using the term bath salts these days.  I could have said lip balm or sugar scrub or herbal soap, which are all products you can learn to make yourself and at the same time help homeless women learn job skills.  My friend Karen Lee–captain of the Eco-Etsy team and the author of the blog EcoKaren–and her business partner Mary Kearns of Herban Lifestyle have created a brand new for-profit social enterprise called Herban Crafts, which offers DIY personal care craft kits as part of job training program to empower homeless women living in transitional housing.  In addition to putting together the kits, the women will learn skills to help them gain employment in the future.

It’s a cool idea.  And what is even cooler is that Karen is committed to creating kits that are as green as possible.  All the ingredients in Herban Crafts Kits are certified organic, fair trade and/or ethically wildharvested.  And nearly all of the packaging materials in the kits is plastic-free.  With the exception of the tiny plastic caps on some glass bottles, the packaging is either 100% post-consumer recycled cardboard, certified home compostable cellulose baggies (from renewable wood pulp sustainably harvested from FSC managed forests), and metal or glass containers.

Help Give Herban Crafts a Kickstart

To get started, Herban Crafts has created a funding campaign on to raise money to help to cover costs for the initial production of kits and the first month’s salary for their job counselors.  They only have 5 more days to go to reach their goal!  Please check out the details and consider helping out or passing the word along to your social media contacts.

 Who Is Karen Lee?

For those who don’t know her, Karen Lee is a force to be reckoned with.  I first met her in person at the BlogHer conference in New York City a couple of years ago, and since then have come to realize how passionate she is about reducing waste and living responsibly.  I loved her article “Green Crafting: A Justifiable Means to an End?” so much, I excerpted it in my book.  Karen worries that some craft projects can actually encourage consumption if people rationalize buying bottled drinks or juice pouches because they might make some funky planters or purses out of them some day.  She’s a woman after my own heart, and she has her heart in the right place.

Will a NYC Ban on Large Sugary Sodas Decrease Obesity or Increase Plastic Waste?

When I first heard about New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal to ban the sales of sugary drinks over 16oz from restaurants, delis, movie theaters, street carts and sports venues, I wasn’t sure how to feel about it.  The issue was interesting, but I don’t drink sugary soda and I don’t live in New York, so I kind of didn’t pay attention, until one of my blogger friends brought up the issue in a green chat group.

Are Sugary Beverages the Same as Plastic Bags?

Blogger Karen Lee wondered how banning large sugary drinks was any different from banning plastic bags. We all seemed to agree that plastic bags cause environmental harm that affects us all–especially animals that have no say in the matter–and that people should not be free to pollute. But aren’t diseases related to obesity also an environmental issue that ultimately raises healthcare costs for all of us? Maybe so. But who says sugary beverages are the main culprit? Will banning large sodas lead to bans of other types of foods whose health impacts are more debatable? And would this ban even reduce the amounts of sugary beverages consumed in the first place?

Karen published a great piece on why she feels the ban is a bad idea. She writes that while her family generally doesn’t drink soda and eats a very wholesome diet overall,

When my family goes to the movie theater, maybe once a year, we do buy a humongous sized soda and four of us share it because it’s cheaper to buy the large size – you know, the good ole, ‘for extra 25 cents, you can get the next large size…’ trick that they play on us? Well, we gladly fall for that because it’s so much cheaper AND we can’t finish 2 medium sizes! But now we’d be forced to buy 2 mediums?

And that is what got me thinking about another possible unintended side effect of this proposed regulation: Will people who want to drink more soda simply buy two smaller ones, increasing the packaging to product ratio and generating more plastic waste?

More Plastic Waste or Less Plastic Waste?

I don’t know the answer to this question. If the super-size ban caused people to drink less soda, then perhaps the amount of waste from cups and bottles would decrease. But if people simply choose to buy more than one, then the packaging waste will increase. What are people more likely to do? In an article in The Atlantic last week, researchers Brian Wansink and David Just, who conducted the studies showing that giving people unlimited portions causes them to consume more, argue that Mayor Bloomberg misread their work in his appeal to science. In fact, they believe that when people are overtly denied portions they are used to getting, they will compensate by choosing to consume more. And they worry that if this type of ban fails to achieve its goal of reducing obesity (which they believe it will) then it could “poison the water for ideas that may have more potential.”

One idea they favor, and which research editor Maddie Oatman promotes in an article in Mother Jones, is a “soda tax”–a per ounce tax on beverages with added sugar. A tax like that would give people an incentive to drink less.

From a plastic point of view, I would like to see a tax on all plastic-bottled drinks, whether they are full of sugar or not. After all, there is debate about what kinds of beverages cause the most harm… some people say those with high fructose corn syrup are the worst. Others say all fructose is harmful in large amounts, so we shouldn’t be drinking tons of juice either.  There are those who believe that artificial sweeteners are even worse than sugar. And then there’s bottled water… well, it may be the healthiest of all the plastic-bottled beverages, but as far as I’m concerned, nothing bottled in plastic is a healthy choice.

But what do you think? Is New York City right to ban sugary drinks over 16 ounces from restaurants and other public spaces (grocery stores are not included), or is there a better way to get people to consume less sugar and less plastic?

Plastic-Free Book Officially Launched. Help Spread the Word!

Yesterday was the official worldwide launch date of Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too.   Lloyd Alter from Treehugger posted a beautiful review.  So many of you have ordered signed copies from me to benefit the Plastic Pollution Coalition, that I keep selling out and having to order more!

That’s fantastic.  But there are many more people who don’t get their information from blogs or the Internet and who don’t know there are steps they can take to get plastic out of their lives.  I want them to know that, in the immortal words of candidate Obama, “We are the ones we are waiting for!”  We have the power to change the world through our personal and community actions, and my mission is to give people tools to do just that!

Please help me spread the message of this book far and wide.  There are lots of things you can do to help.  Just as I have Action Items Checklists in the book, here is a long list of possible things you can do to help, ranging in levels of effort.  Please do as many as feel manageable for you.  Leave a comment below letting me know what steps you have taken.

07/18/2012 Update:  The drawing is over.  The winner is Riane.  Congratulations!

Steps You Can Take to Promote Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too

1) Purchase the book, of course.  If you already have it, consider giving some as gifts.  For legal reasons, buying the book is not a condition to enter the drawing, nor does it give you an extra chance to win. But of course it’s the most direct way to get more books out to the world!

2)  Give a 5-star rating and post a review on The more positive reviews and high ratings, the higher the book will rank on the site and the more visible it will be. Also? Let’s counteract any backlash we might get from the plastics industry when they get wind of this book. :-)

3) Request your local bookstore or library carry the book. By the way, the book received a great recommendation from Library Journal. You might want to mention that.

4) Promote the book on Facebook.  “Like” the new Plastic-Free Book Facebook page.  Post the book to your own page or profile. Here’s the best link to use:

5) Promote the book via Twitter. Here is a sample tweet I came up with, but you can probably think of something more creative:

Kick your plastic habit. The new book “Plastic-Free” by Beth Terry @PlasticfreeBeth can show you how!

6) Promote the Plastic-Free video on Youtube.  Give it a thumbs up and share with your friends.  Embed it on your website.  And don’t miss the 8-second BLOOPER.

7) Post a badge for the book on your blog or website and link it back to

8) If you participate in affiliate programs, add the book to your Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound, or BuyGreen widgets.

9) Join the BuyGreen affiliate program to make some commission from book sales. Contact me to learn how.

10) Review the book on your blog or website. Or contact me for an interview.

11) Do you have connections to members of the media? Please let them know about Plastic-Free and and give them my contact information.  Let me know if there’s someone you think I should approach or have my publisher approach.  (Please don’t say Oprah or Ellen or Martha unless you know them personally or have a direct connection to their people.)

12) Sell the book directly.  Do you have a retail shop (either online or offline)? You don’t have to own a bookstore to add the book to your shop. Contact me to learn how.

13) Do you know of a store, either online or offline, that would be a perfect venue for this book? Please contact me and let me know about it.

14) Suggest Plastic-Free to your book reading group.  I have created a free, downloadable Readers Guide to spark conversation.

15) Arrange a presentation/book signing for your organization.  Contact me to discuss.

16) Share this post to let other people know all the things they can do to help spread the word.

Thank you all!  The truth is, there is no other book on this topic in the world.  Sure, there are books that discuss the environmental problems with plastic, but this is the first of its kind to give step-by-step solutions and real world examples of people who are making a difference.  Please don’t allow this book to be stuck in the green ghetto.  Let’s take plastic-free mainstream!

Thoughts About Recycling Styrofoam After Japanese Dock Washes Up On Oregon Coast

You’ve probably already heard about the Japanese tsunami debris making its way across the ocean and the 66-foot long dock that washed ashore on the Oregon coast last week.  (According to NOAA, the debris is unlikely to be radioactive, by the way.)

The dock is a story in and of itself, but what made me realize it was also a story about plastic was the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department’s June 8 press release requesting bids for removal of the dock:

Salem, OR — The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department has reviewed options for removing the tsunami debris dock at Agate Beach. The department originally intended to pursue either of two options — demolition in place, or towing it off the beach to the nearby Port of Newport — but has since discovered the range of costs for these options overlaps. The reinforced concrete dock contains a large amount of styrofoam, making clean demolition a challenge and increasing the costs for that option.

Can you imagine the mess from demolition of that much Styrofoam? Lots of tiny pieces of polystyrene let loose into the environment. I can imagine it because, in fact, I see it at the Green Festival every year.

Is Eco-Struction Building Material Really Eco?

Eco-Struction is a company that designs and builds structures using Reclaimed Polystyrene ICF-Insulated Concrete Form Block. They show the product at the Green Festival every year.

You might think this is a great way to recycle Styrofoam, but check this out. Every single year, I can’t help noticing the bits of flaked off polystyrene foam on the floor surrounding the demo. And every year, I feel compelled to take pictures of it.

These plastic particles are getting into the environment even before construction is completed. I assume that the finished structure will be coated so that the foam will not continue to flake off. But what happens to all that polystyrene when the building reaches the end of its life? Nothing lasts forever. Not a house or a building or even a 66-foot dock.

A Problem With Recycling Plastic

I’ve discussed many of the drawbacks to plastic recycling on this blog and in my book. One thing to keep in mind is that plastic recycling is always downcycling. Plastic cannot be recycled an unlimited number of times because each time, the molecules lose strength. That same thing happens with a material like paper, but paper will finally biodegrade and return to the earth when it reaches the point where it can no longer be recycled. But those molecules of plastic will remain in the environment for a very long time, possibly releasing toxic chemicals and accumulating in the soil and water.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t recycle plastic or that we shouldn’t find uses for the plastic that’s already here.  But what I am saying is that the only real, sustainable solution to the plastic pollution problem is to stop creating so much of it in the first place.  And to really consider what’s going to happen to all those recycled styrofoam buildings or recycled bottle carpets and polar fleece (which also sheds miscroplastics into the environment) or recycled bag decking material.  Most of these things do not get further recycled and yet will linger on the planet for a very long time.


Growing food and herbs to avoid plastic

Adding to the continuing series of posts on gardening without plastic, here is another guest post from Ro Kumar, who gave a few tips for avoiding plastic in the garden back in April.

It’s been said by environmental leaders like Michael Pollan that one of the best and easiest things we can do to reduce carbon emissions is to start a garden. Starting a garden can also help to dramatically reduce our use of plastics and improve our health. Here are two great benefits of growing your own food and herbs:

The supermarket in your backyard has no plastic packaging

Everything we buy at stores tends to involve plastic packaging. By growing your own food, you effectively step outside of this plastic supply chain, and enter into your own plastic-free one! I currently have a bounty of sugar snap peas growing on a trellis in my front yard. I use a stainless steel bowl to collect the peas – there is ZERO plastic involved in this process.

Grow your own herbs to avoid artificial additives in medicine

Modern supermarket medicines are often packaged in copious amounts of plastic, and use unnatural additives for shelf-life preservation. Most people don’t realize that most herbs are quite easy to grow. The photo below shows a cilantro plant that popped in a corner of my garden on its own. I’m also growing white sage, fenugreek, and holy basil. Be aware of your climate and sunlight conditions, and plant herbs that grow well in your region. You’ll be pleasantly surprised about how easy they are to take care of. They can be used in food or as medicine.

Check out other cool gardening and health tips at!

Ro Kumar is a writer at, a blog about urban farming and sustainability. Based in the Bay Area at UC Berkeley and Stanford, he is a passionate advocate for a cleaner planet with healthier people.