My name is Beth Terry, and I live in Oakland, CA. In June of 2007, while recovering from surgery, I read the article and saw the photo that changed my life. The article was entitled, “Our Oceans Are Turning Into Plastic… Are We?“ and the photo showed the carcass of a dead sea bird, its belly full of plastic pieces: bottle caps, cigarette lighters, even a toothbrush. I looked at my own life and realized that through my unconscious overconsumption, I was personally contributing the the suffering of creatures I hadn’t even known existed.
That week, I committed to stop buying new plastic, and a passion and blog were born: My Plastic-free Life (known originally as Fake Plastic Fish.)
I’ve been blogging away here ever since, collecting and tallying my own plastic waste (in 2011, my plastic waste was 2% of the U.S. average) and researching plastic-free alternatives (see my ongoing Plastic-Free Guide). I enjoy reviewing alternative products from ethical companies. Please see my Advertising/Review/PR policy for more information.
Personal responsibility is crucial, and I don’t believe we can solve our plastic problem without it. But even greater results are achieved when consumers come together to demand change from the corporations that produce the stuff. From the beginning, I took the time to write and call companies asking for less plastic packaging. And in 2008, I spearheaded a massive campaign, Take Back The Filter, to ask Clorox to take back its plastic Brita water filter cartridges for recycling, as was already being done by the Brita company in Europe. The campaign was a success for all involved, and Brita filters can now be recycled in the U.S. and Canada.
Living with less plastic is really not as hard as it seems, but our awareness of disposable plastic in our lives can be transformative. To that end, I threw down the gauntlet last May and invited Fake Plastic Fish readers to collect and tally their own plastic waste for a week and upload the results to a new Show Your Plastic Trash web site. How can we know where we need to go if we don’t know where we are to begin with? Solving the plastic pollution problem will require more than individual personal actions. But individual actions and personal awareness are essential for creating the kind of world in which we want to live and the impetus to spark bigger actions.
I enjoy giving presentations on living with less plastic and why, despite what critics sometimes say, our personal actions do make a difference.
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I just finished reading "Plastic: A Toxic Love Story" by Susan Freinkel, and she referenced your story and website in her book. I think what you're doing is wonderful, and you have my full support. Over the last few years, being unemployed, I have resorted to reading (from the library of course), anything I can get my hands on related to ecology, simplicity, recycling, politics, and living lightly on the earth. Over 200 books later, I've learned one major thing...our country runs on greed; not on the good of the people or of the planet. God won't have to intervene. We will destroy this planet on our own if something isn't done to stop the mass destruction of our planet. It isn't an easy road to start on, but a road we must take, and I am personally doing everything I can to live lightly and conscientiously on our beautiful planet. Good luck to you in getting the "word out". My prayers are with you.
I became aware of the ocean pollution problem when viewing videos on youtube of Capt. Moore. Another one who had my mellow harshed. I have been uncomfortable for years by the prevalent amount of packaging in stores but didn't quite make the connection to the ocean. I always thought plastc bags were a bad idea as well as plastic bottles for drinks. We are so awashed with it it's almost unavoidable. Recently I began shopping at Whole Foods where I can buy milk in glass returnable bottles and meat packaged in butcher paper. These are the small but steady changes we need to make. We need to urge manufacturers that we buy from to make all possible changes to packaging. Bottled water needs to fade into history, a highly profiting & polluting idea that should be killed off. So many people are ignorant of what is happening. I am starting to write articles on sustainability and wildlife conservation.
The picture you show is quite unbelievable. It shows a bird skeleton packed full of plastic, so full in fact that there would no longer be any place for the other internal organs. The only plausible explanation is that the plastic were placed there by somebody before taking the picture. The cause to eliminate plastic is good but to make fraudulent photos to prove it is very evil indeed.
Hi! I just had a quick question-- in the short guide to plastic living on your home page, you mentioned using a bin for your compost that was made of RECYCLED plastic. Do recycled plastics still contain Bisphenol A? I use bags made from recycled plastic bottles to carry groceries; should I start avoiding those too? Thanks!
I used to think that all plastic could be recycled so I put it all in the recycle box, but, then I found out they only accept some things and the rest is to be put in the garbage, it makes me feel sick, it's wrong, so I have been trying to come up with ideas to reuse the plastic and find ways to use less. I have been reusing plastic boxs and other things for about 20 years, I buy lot's of second hand things for my home and business, I reuse as much as possible to create my jewellery, but I need to do more and Im always looking for new ideas. Your website is great and now I have so many new ideas to change the way I live. Thank you so much for doing this! God bless you!
Only thing that comes to mind bout your site is to paraphrase the song and say "I been waiting for a site like this"
While in the past couple of years I have made strides in my lifestyle by reducing my direct and indirect carbon and plastic footprint, i sure needed a site like yours, motivate me to fine-tune some plastic aspects of my life.
I sure will make sure to send you site info to as many ppl in my circle as they would listen.
Here is the response I recieved from Highwood Crossing.
Thank you very much for your email and for your on-going support of our organic products. We appreciate hearing about how our customers use the items we make and how we can improve our products and service to you.
The packaging issue that you raise, is something that we also struggle with on a regular basis...
The challenge that we face is trying to find an environmentally friendly container that is reasonably priced, will keep our products fresh, transports well and looks good on the store shelf. While plain paper bags are environmentally friendly and inexpensive, they offer a poor barrier to oxygen and moisture and as a result, the quality and shelf-life of our products is greatly reduced. Plain paper bags also tend to look very "shop worn" after shipping and being handled a few times on the store shelf.
Our decision to use the deli tubs is based on the fact that the product can be easily seen, the container can be opened and re-sealed many times, it provides an excellent oxygen and moisture barrier to keep product fresh, reasonable cost, and they can be easily re-used and/or recycled.
Because of the same concerns that you raise, we do offer both the Power Grains and Steel Cut Oats in a 1kg kraft paper bag with an OPP film liner. While this is technically not a "plain" paper bag, it does offer an excellent barrier to oxygen and moisture and keeps our products fresh for much longer than just plain paper. (The downside to this bag is that because it has a laminated liner, it is not accepted at all recycling programs.) Not all stores carry our products in this type of packaging, but it is available and might be something that you would like to bring to the attention of your local grocer.
We are also looking at a kraft cardboard tube container with a metallic-foil liner to replace the deli tubs. Unfortunately, with this type of package you cannot see the product, they are a lot most expensive and like the laminated paper bags, they are not able to be recycled at all locations.
Again, I really appreciate you taking the time to write us about our products. As a small company with limited resources, this type of feed-back helps us when we are making decisions concerning packaging and other factors. If you have any other observations or suggestions, I would certainly welcome your comments.
Before I read your book, it always annoyed me that a company selling organic products would have the nerve to use plastic packaging. After reading your book, I e-mailed Highwood Crossing, www.highwoodcrossing.com and using your example, complemented them on their great cereals and then said I wonder why a company who makes a fantastic organic product would even think about packaging in plastic and that my experience with their product would be even better if the plastic packaging was replaced with plain paper packaging.
This is so easy to do. I don't know why I never thought of it before. Hopefully I am not the only one who has contacted Highwood Crossing about it.
I really enjoyed your book--totally inspirational. I was at a grocery store cafe for lunch today and later at an outdoor restaurant for dinner. This evening I emailed both about their use of disposable plastic cups. For the cafe I used your section on bioplastics to discuss how the "compostable" label is misleading, and for the restaurant I requested in a nice way that they consider nondisposable cups for their very yummy drinks. And I mentioned your book to both. Thank you, now I am obsessed. ;)
Wow. I have just found your blog today. What an amazing journey you are on. I have found this very inspirational. I am always striving to use less myself. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. I will be reading your blog and book from now on.
Just listened to your "Living On Earth" interview, and I'd say you are right on target. What an insightful and meaningful action to take in reducing your plastic consumption. And by making the additional effort to go public through talks and your book, I believe you display considerable courage in our wasteful society. You are certainly swimming upstream, against the current, so to speak. Brava! Let's hope that many others take notice of your example and decide to follow suit.
I am glad to have found your site. I have spent years thinking and thinking and worrying and worrying more about the environment and EPR and Individual SR and CSR. But have not done anything concrete about spreading the awareness, other than practicing reduced consumption and recycling.
Best wishes in your work.
I was recently challenged by a good friend to stop using new plastic. I knew it was bad for me and everyone else, but it was difficult to imagine life without it. So I dug in. I did some research. And I have to say that you are my new plastic-free hero. Your commitment and your journey are inspiring. Now, instead of dreading a life without frozen berries, I’m looking forward to the challenge of living more sustainably.
Thank you for sharing your story, for your activism, and for the significant resource your experience is for others. I can’t tell you how much I admire your “adventurer spirit” the ability to go (among the) first and to report your experiences to the rest of us travelers. I look forward to continuing to read your insights and do keep perusing your previously posted articles.
I don´t really have any intelligent comments right now, just wanted to tell you that your blog is a huge inspiration to me right now... I come back to it all the time and browse for more posts I haven't read yet - feels much more satisfying than aimlessly browsing YouTube or other things I usually do when I'm too tired or uninspired to do anything else.
Thanks for this great resource. We have started our own project on this issue, and so much of the information here is relevant and useful. We are really working hard on de-plasticizing our personal/family/household lives, but at the same time are very keen on various forms of action--for instance, a locally-directed petition on plastic packaging that we're working on now.
I like your comment on your "own unconscious overconsumption." I have considered myself to be "environmentally conscious" for a long time, but since beginning this project on plastic, have become increasingly and often painfully aware of the myriad dimensions of our consumeristic dysfunction. It's interesting how plastics and overconsumption are so closely intertwined, and dealing with the one inevitably leads to questioning the other. For me, it has really started to bring into even clearer focus issues that I was already aware of, but had not--and still have not fully--grappled with, such as how our definitions of success and work are so often at odds with the needs of sustainability and sanity, at personal, family, and community levels.
Anyway! Thanks for the inspiratioN!
I agree we need to stop all the use of plastics and not just toss things in the trash. Thanks to Oprah's show where I first learned about this on youtube, I have changed my ways of living with plastic.
I do want to note that that picture is totally staged. What bird has food in its lungs/ribcage? Its so dramatic that it doesn't look even possibly real.
Hi. I appreciate your job and I post on my blog about
PS I need to read “Plastic Ocean” but the connection dont' go. Can you help me to find a good link?
Andrea Mameli (Cagliari, Sardinia Island, Mediterranean Sea)
Why not consider moving away from disposable water filters all together. I purchased one of these water filters over two years ago and love it. Just pour water in the top and get from the built-in tank when needed. It looks like a tea container at a restaurant. They make small to large sizes. A little history below:
As early as 1827, Henry Doulton developed ceramic filters for removing bacteria from drinking water. "Offensive to the sight, disgusting to the imagination and destructive to the health." This was how London drinking water, which was drawn from the Thames, was described in a pamphlet published in 1827. The Thames was heavily contaminated with raw sewage; cholera and typhoid epidemics were rampant. The first ceramic water filters were made using various earth and clay materials. By the time Queen Victoria came to the throne, Doulton was established as a manufacturer of domestic and industrial products in a fine stoneware body that bore comparison with any in Europe.
Google "Big Berkey" to find out more.
Hi Beth, I was at your presentation "Hooked on Plastic" a few weeks ago and took away life-changing knowledge. I would like my readers to receive the same knowledge. Looking on your site, I cannot easily find a clear definition on "single-use plastics." Do you have something that I can refer my readers to? Also, please feel free to read my take on the challenge on my blog. Thanks Nimisha
What a wonderful blog you write! i have only just found it today, but I am enthralled by it! I am a fairly recent eco convert but in case I was in any doubt, this has well and truly sealed the deal. I've taken the liberty of sharing your blog on a forum I frequent (http://forums.overclockers.co.uk/showthread.php?t=18149730) and, although the initial reaction has attracted the normal frostiness, I hope to convince at least a few people to think twice before they get that straw in their soda!
Keep up the great work!
As I was reading through your plastic-free guide, I noticed that you mentioned Berkeley often...and so I had to see where you reside! YAY! You live in the Bay Area, I like in SF. Just yesterday I started a blog, recording all the plastic I use everyday, hope to cut it down to almost none I realized I kept talking about how our society need to cut back, but never told myself to do it. Its quite shocking how many materials are plastic that I just don't even think of. yuck.
Anyhow, so glad I found your site! I would love to get more involved in the community as well, so let me know if there is anything I can do to help rather then just my own duties to rid my life of plastic.
Thank you so much! I was so happy to find this site. I've realized the importance of recycling after my kids were born. During the first week of recycling paper and plastic the amount of our trash per 2 week period changed from 3 large cans to 1/2!!! It seems like one person can't make a difference, but if compare 3 cans per two weeks over one year versus 1/2 I think it helps A LOT. If we all do a little it adds up to a lot. The problem is not only plastic. We are obsessed with quantity. I've started a business of remaking and reusing old clothes (read unwanted in PERFECT condition) to make new garments. We overstuff our closets with things we never wear (hey, it was on sale!), get bored with it and then replace it with more stuff we don't need. Think about all the energy and resources that goes into making it! I agree, a lot needs to change in our society, but I think it all starts with each and every one of us.
I hope you dont mind me mentioning your blog in one of my posts under - Co-green blogs segement... :)..take care and hope to interact with you soon!!!! It would be wonderful to have a friend who thinks on the same lines as I do :)...for that matter is a lot advanced in her quest for a greener life than I am :)....
Good for you! Me too. Doing what I can, and "badmouthing" the plastics industry. I agree with you about the bottled water thing. Suggest you read "Bottlemania" by Elizabeth Royte (author of Garbage Land...also another good book.) Lots of eye-opening information to share with others.
@KLIZF Unfortunately, this is absolutely true and has been documented by many different researchers. Midway Island is strewn with similar carcasses. The stomachs are full of plastic. You can watch an actual dissection of one of these birds here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_bRZm9AYSuU Where are the internal organs? They have decomposed. All that is left is the plastic.
Hi Kristen. I just depends on what kind of plastic it's made out of. Polypropylene doesn't contain BPA, whether it's recycled or not. I wouldn't avoid recycled reusable bags either. PET #1 plastic, which disposable water bottles are made out of, doesn't contain PET. That said, I'm not encouraging you to go out and buy new bags made from plastic, but using what you already have is fine.
If you want all the information you can possibly absorb on this subject, get on your local library's website, do a search (which is very easy to do), have your library card ready, and start reading and learning. I have read hundreds of books on this subject. As they say, "knowledge is power". You will find many similarities between books, which in my opinion, means the facts are true and the research is solid. Good luck on the road to sustainability!
@lepage1 I'm definitely obsessed and don't expect others to be as extreme as I am, but I use myself as an example to see what's possible and hope others will be inspired to start making changes. I hope that comes across!
Hi Preya. Sadly, that photo is not staged at all. It is a Laysan albatross on Midway Island. The island is covered with albatross carcasses filled with plastic just like that. Learn more at http://midwayjourney.com.
Hi Nishima. I just posted your October challenge to the Fake Plastic Fish facebook wall.
Single use disposable plastics are exactly what you would imagine -- product packaging that is used once and discarded. Bags, wrappers, containers, utensils, cups, bottles, etc. If they are meant to be discarded -- either in the trash or the recycling -- after use, then they are single use. Mostly, we think of take-out food packaging, but it also includes non-food product packaging (clamshells, blister packs, shipping tape and packing materials, etc.) And it also includes the plastic tubs, jars, and other containers that you buy in the grocery store.
I also recycle my clothing by re-fashioning, as I call it. Followed Marissa Lynch's New Dress a Day website years ago and started doing the very same thing shortly thereafter. Not being a very good seamstress, I can still alter my own clothing to make it wearable, and have found some great finds at garage sales and thrift stores. About 70% of my wardrobe is "reused". I get bored with things easily, so this is a way to feed my addiction without breaking the bank, or the planet.
@BethTerry The manager of the outdoor restaurant was great. At first she said their team was discussing compostable cups; I mentioned the challenges, citing the pages in your book. In the meantime, her boss emailed her that they had tried compostable but they literally melted in the sun. He told her that given the unique setup of this place, with no dishwasher, it would not work, but that in the future (next summer) they should consider a dish station.
This manager was excited about your book on a personal level as well and is going to buy it. :)
I haven't heard back from the grocery store people. :0