Frequently Asked Questions

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(Last Updated 11.13.2009)

I have set up this FAQ so that most answers link to one or more relevant blog posts. I hope you find this list helpful. And if you can’t find what you need here, please leave a comment. I hope to continue updating this list as the need arises.

  1. So who are you and why did you create My Plastic-free Life anyway?I’m Beth Terry from Oakland, CA. Please read my post, Tales of an On-again Off-again Activist, which pretty much explains who I am and how I became conscious of all the plastic in my life.
  2. What are the goals of My Plastic-free Life?There are basically 4 goals:
    • To reduce the need for new plastic to be produced since petroleum is a non-renewable, polluting resource, and the production of plastic wreaks havoc on our eco-system.
    • To keep existing plastic out of our waterways and landfills where it can cause further harm.
    • To limit my exposure to toxins that can leach from certain types of plastic.
    • To educate others about these issues so that my actions can have a farther-reaching impact than those of a single individual acting alone.
  3. Those are pretty big goals. How do you plan to accomplish them?By following my 4 R’s:
    • REDUCE: If at all possible, do not buy any new plastic items.
    • REUSE: Safely reuse existing plastic as many times as possible before throwing it away or recycling it. (Some plastic, like PVC, is not safe to reuse.)
    • RECYCLE: Recycle whatever plastic I can that cannot be reused. Recycling is the last resort and not the best solution to the plastic pollution problem.
    • REPORT: Report my successes and failures as honestly as possible on this blog.
  4. What’s wrong with plastic anyway?Good question. Here are some answers:
  5. Can’t we just recycle all of our plastic?We should recycle whatever plastic we can before throwing it away. But recycling plastic is actually downcycling. It degrades as it’s recycled so we still keep needing to create new virgin plastic.Here is a series of posts on recycling, based on my trips to local recycling and transfer centers. I plan to visit several more facilities this year and post whatever I learn.
  6. What’s the weekly plastic tally, why are you graphing your plastic waste, and what happens to all the plastic after it’s tallied?I think it’s educational for me and others to see just how much plastic we actually consume even when we’re trying hard not to. It’s a visual representation of one individual’s plastic impact on the world. Even after two years, I’m still using up products packaged and bottled in plastic that I purchased before this project began.None of the plastic I collect is thrown into the garbage. At the beginning of the project, I recycled anything that was allowed by the City of Oakland. But after learning about conditions in China where much of our recycling ends up, I decided to hold onto all of my plastic waste, whether theoretically recyclable or not. Everything goes into a box (there are now 3 boxes, actually, under my dining room table) for later exhibition. What will I do with it? Well, some of it has gone into my plastic sea monster costume which won the costume contest at the 2009 SF Bay to Breakers. Much of it can also be seen in this humorous YouTube video: Fake Plastic Fish’s Big Plastic Hangover
  7. Some projects, like those of Colin Beavan of the No Impact Man project and Vanessa Farquharson of Green As A Thistle, have an end. Does My Plastic-free Life have any kind of timeline and will you return to using plastic at the end of it? My Plastic-free Life does not have a timeline because the changes that I’m making are permanent lifestyle changes. Some bloggers take on an extreme challenge for a finite period of time and at the end of the project, re-incorporate some previous ways of living. These kinds of projects can be very useful and instructive, helping us learn just how far we are willing to go.But from the beginning, My Plastic-free Life has taken a more pragmatic approach. I hope to keep learning and blogging for a long time and making practical changes that I can sustain without too much deprivation and distress. And I’m hoping that these are the kinds of things that other people can try for themselves too without feeling overwhelmed by the idea of giving up plastic entirely forever, eating completely locally, never buying anything new ever again. This fish tank is filled with moderation.
  8. Still, it can’t be easy. What’s been the most difficult lifestyle change you’ve made so far?I’d say giving up certain kinds of breads that only come in plastic bags. Pita bread. Tortillas. I tried making my own pitas, with less than stellar results and haven’t tried again for quite a while. I’m planning on trying my own tortillas, but I just haven’t been motivated to bake. Fortunately, we do have great fresh artisanal bread here in the Bay Area that is sold in paper, so it’s only certain flat breads I’m missing out on.Oh, and Haig’s Spicy Hummus continues to taunt me when Michael (my husband) brings it home in plastic tubs. Yes, I can make my hummus. Yes, I know it’s easy. And yes, I do sometimes make it. But it’s not like Haig’s. It’s just not.
  9. You mentioned your husband, Michael. He is not doing the plastic project with you?Michael is his own man and follows the dictates of his own conscience. In fact, here’s the man in his own words: I Think We All Do That Sometimes. In my weekly tally, I don’t include plastic that he’s bought for himself unless I have gained some benefit from it myself.
  10. What’s the best way for me to start using less plastic?Great question! Why not start by collecting and tallying your own plastic waste for a week to see where you might want to start. If you’re really brave, you could take the Show Us Your (Plastic) Trash Challenge and answer the questions on the site to analyze what kind of plastic waste you’re generating.Next, check out the Plastic-Free Guide, my ongoing list of the changes I’ve made in order to live as plastic-free as possible. I’ve tried to organize it in order from simple changes that make a huge impact to smaller, more subtle or difficult changes. Of course, we don’t all have the same feelings about what’s easy or difficult, so read the list and choose the things you yourself can tackle right away. Add a few more once you’ve mastered the basics.
  11. So is there any plastic you still haven’t given up?Yes. Much of it related to our cats. Check out the items that are included at the bottom of the Plastic-Free Guide. This list will change as I find plastic-free alternatives or encounter new challenges.
  12. What’s the best way to look up specific information on your web site without having to scroll through all your many blog posts?That’s another good question and let’s just say I’m working on it. I do try to label my posts into categories, and those categories are listed on the right sidebar. Another good way is to use the Google Search Bar on the blue menu bar to find references to topics you are interested in. In the future, I hope to have the posts organized into an alphabetical index which can be easily browsed.
  13. Speaking of your menu bar, I notice some links go to a “This page is coming…” page. Are you ever going to complete those pages? That’s the plan. And it’s related to the above question of site organization. I add and update pages as time permits. Having the links in the menu bar in advance serves as motivation for me.
  14. I notice there are some ads on this site. What’s your advertising policy? Please refer to my Advertising/Review Policy page.
  15. Do you have a plan in case of zombie attack? Not as yet, although we are working on it.  Suggestions?


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Comments

A Note about leaving comments: I switched to the LifeFyre comment system because it weeds out the hundreds of spam comments I was getting each day and also allows us to respond to individual comments, to "Like" comments, and to link them to social media if we so desire. But if you do not wish to login via social media, you don't have to. You can comment without logging in! Here's how:

  1. Type your comment in the box.
  2. Click "Post Comment As" button.
  3. When the LiveFyre box pops up, type a name, email address, and optional website address in the fields provided.
  4. Click Next.
  5. LiveFyre will ask you for a user name and password. But if you don't want to register or use a password, you don't have to. Just click "Post as Guest" which is to the left of the black "Finish" button. Your comment will be saved.
  6. Please email me if you have questions or problems. This new system is supposed to make it easier for all of us to converse, not harder.
26 comments
Kaptain
Kaptain

I read your book and it really opened my eyes. I've always been pretty conscientious about recycling but thanks to you -- I understand now why it's not the best solution. I switched to all-natural paraben and sulfate-free toiletries a few yrs ago but didnt think too hard about the containers they came in. You inspired me and I called 1 company (ALAFFIA) to ask them to     repackage their body wash in a bigger plastic bottle. I dont like glass in the shower but at least a bigger bottle uses less plastic per volume.  The rep said:

"You can recycle the current bottles" and I replied "Yes but I read they're recycled into polar fleece which sheds plastic lint into the ocean" Thanks Beth!!! I love the refill company you profiled -- Green 11. Thanks for all your hard work :)

One of the reasons I'm reducing the plastic I use is to protect children. September = pediatric cancer awareness month. I'm not a parent but I believe all adults should protect children's health and limiting plastic is 1 small way I can help stop the rising childhood cancer rates.



Emerald
Emerald

I *just* came across this blog the other day.  While I don't actively avoid all plastic, I do reduce consumption of it (bringing my own grocery bags, very little processed food, reusing veggie bags instead of using plastic wrap, etc.), and it still scares me how much I end up using, which is probably 1/2 of the average person.  Have you ever had success writing to a company to get them to stop using plastic and/or reduce the amount that is used?

mychocolatepeaces
mychocolatepeaces

I have thought about this for a long time! We recently went all organic and I try to at least keep all of my little boys food in BPA free containers at least. I have 2 questions though that I did not see answers to here:

- What about medical plastic? I am not sure there is a way to avoid that, is there? I assume that medical plastic items are made out of the same or simiar material?

- Many times I will make soup and then freeze single servings for a quick meal. Do you have a recommendation of what to freezr it in?

 

Thanks, you have a great site! Gina

Joe
Joe

You are my hero. I've always hated wastefulness and pollution, but 2010 was when I resolved to do something about it. I started looking around my house and realized how much plastic junk is lying around. Plastic Happy Meal toys that never get played with, plastic battery covers for long-lost electronic devices, hundreds of plastic pens... It's maddening. It also frustrates me that almost all of the food my family buys comes in plastic containers that immediately get thrown away. My parents are very wasteful, and it kills me to see how much we consume. So even though I'll be moving out soon, I've taken it upon myself to try and rid our house of plastic and excess junk. As soon as I get my own place, I'm going to do as many of the things on your list as I can. No joke, I really found it that inspirational. :)

Rebecca
Rebecca

Hi Beth, I was looking through your FAQ for ammunition in an arguement I'm having with a guy on Huffington Post regarding Oregon's proposed plastic bag ban (thanks for the info on recycling and why it's not a panacea BTW) Anyhow, I noticed your comment about tortillas and thought I'd share. I can't eat regular bread because of a yeast allergy, so tortillas are one of my primary bread sources. But I hate the store bought variety for reasons of both taste and plastic. Anyhow... here is a wonderful recipe that I use (well, I use whole wheat flour instead of white). http://homesicktexan.blogspot.com/2007/03/and-end-to-my-quest-flour-tortillas.html They're really easy especially if you have a stand mixer to do all of the mixing. Well... I suppose I should qualify that statement. You do have to do some kneading and rolling... but they are SOOOOO good that I don't mind. I usually make a double batch and freeze half - that is if I don't scarf them all down immediately! Wishing you much tortilla love! Rebecca

Imelda
Imelda

Hi, I found you site very interesting and informative, thank you. I am writing a school paper for my Environmental class and I want to say that I agree with you, we need to stop using plastic.

Andrew Poe Maxwell
Andrew Poe Maxwell

Well, I don't think that people will completely eliminate the use of plastic, that is the sad part of it. Even though I know that we have to start it out as individual and will end up as a group up to the whole, it will take a long time. There are just people who does not care on the effects of such actions such as using plastic to the environment. Anyhow, I guess that it's just the way it is but if its technology that will bring this planet down to a very polluted state, I hope that it is the same thing that it can save it from the wreckage that it brings.

Jody Anetsberger
Jody Anetsberger

Hello! Great site - great 'cause!!! We have a "like" mission! We are a 100% woman owned company and have just launched a new stainless steel drinking bottle. We have a unique ergonomic design and two bottle types, a "single wall" for cold liquids and a "double wall' for HOT & COLD liquids. We hope to turn people from using plastic and styrofoam products. We would LOVE to become listed on your Product Suppliers. Can you please tell me how? Thank you and keep up the GREAT work! Jody Anetsberger President - ActiveStart, LLC janets@hydrasip.com www.hydrasip.com

Beth Terry
Beth Terry

Hi Eleanor. Actually, you can freeze glass. We put Mason jars in the freezer and use them a lot. You just have to make sure not to fill them up all the way. We also put Anchor glass refrigerator containers in the freezer, like these: http://www.containerstore.com/shop/kitchen/foodStorage/leftoversGlass?productId=10015932 And I use stainless steel in the freezer too. Containers like this work well: http://myplasticfreelife.com/2008/09/plastic-free-in-freezer-airtight/ Do these suggestions help?

Eleanor Sommer
Eleanor Sommer

Your site and your experiences continue to be important to me. I cried over the little cow. Luckily, I get my eggs from my neighbor, whose chickens I see nearly every day, and my raw milk from a friend who has happy cows on open land. I have researched plastics extensively, too, and I want plastics out of my life. We're working on it. Your experiment is mind-boggling --as in where do you find the time? Anyway, I have a specific question. What do you use to keep food in the freezer? For instance, left over broccoli? Vegetables from the garden? Fruit for cooking or smoothies? Reusable plastic containers (which unfortunately, eventually after persistent use in the freezer these break down) and which some people think leach BPA even in the frozen state? Glass is dangerous when it is frozen. Old-fashioned freezer paper is fine for meats, leftover meals, etc. but not so good for beverages, fruits, and vegetables. Any suggestions? P.S. I want to invent a hybrid between glass and cellulose, but not being a scientist, I haven't the foggiest how to proceed. And it would probably need a polymer to hold it all together anyway.

Coccinelle
Coccinelle

Thank you!I will let you know if I find a solution!

Fake Plastic Fish
Fake Plastic Fish

Hi Coccinelle. Actually, I'm still using up the plastic bandaids that I already had before I started this project, and then I add them to my tally. Fortunately, I don't need to use them very often, and we had so many to start out with, I doubt I'll ever need to buy more.I haven't seen a plastic-free version yet. Even the "cloth" ones are made from synthetic.

Coccinelle
Coccinelle

Hi!I've got a question for you!What do you use as adhesive bandages?I mean, I don't exactly overuse them, but they are still made of plastic.Thank you!

Anonymous
Anonymous

If you buy cheese at specialty cheese stores - they wrap it in paper for you. Not to mention the amazing quality of those cheeses - mmm!

Anonymous
Anonymous

Go you! I've been reading your blog for a bit now. I am wondering if you have any online or book resources about minimizing waste, period. Whether it's plastic or not? I am definitely starting with my plastics as it seems to be the easiest and most abundant problem to deal with.Thanks!

chasmyn
chasmyn

Tortillas: if you have a dehydrator, you can make raw tortillas (yes, dehydrators are made of plastic, I know). They're delicious!

Alex Fayle
Alex Fayle

As a writer I cringed when you said not to buy books - yes I know that printing books is pretty bad environmentally, but when I get published, my bank account will only be interested in the number of books I've actually sold. ;)But as a non-consumerist and a professional organizer, I also tell people to go to the library or borrow from friends, so as you can see I'm a bit conflicted.Great site, BTW - it was recommended when I blogged about my plastic use yesterday.Cheers,Alex

Beautiful Each Day
Beautiful Each Day

On the subject of cheese (near to my heart)- have you considered making your own? This might seem crazy, but it doesn't really take that long. Mozzarella, Feta and Ricotta are easy as pie and ready immediately. A book called Home Cheese Making by Ricki Carroll has a recipe for mozzarella that really only takes half an hour. Yum!

Mona
Mona

I just returned a few days ago from living abroad for 6 months and it's very overwhelming how immediately after getting back to the US I've been inundated with plastic. In my attempts to recycle the insane amounts of the paper junk mail we get, I've had to buy Chicago's Blue Bags (plastic). Then, when we went to the grocery store, we came back with about a dozen plastic bags. Your blog reminded me of how throughout my six months abroad I promised myself I would buy reusable cloth bags, and I'm going to do so ASAP. In Germany and in a few other countries, all grocery stores expected you to come in with your own bags and charged you for their plastic bags if you needed any. In India, they use paper bags made out of newspapers (they're doubled or tripled and then made into bags... good reading material for when you get home too)! Japan's plastic usage probably surpasses ours but they conserve so much on everything else such as energy, water, paper, etc. People in EVERY country I went to (11 altogether) had a much higher consciousness about recycling/conservation/preservation of the environment than people in the US do. Ordinary people just take it upon themselves to be green (and there are great laws too), and also (a big ALSO) energy prices are so much higher there than they are here. Here in the US we complain when gas prices go up to $3 a gallon but that's HALF what it is in other countries! And most of those countries have lower income levels and much lower disposable income than we do. Unfortunately we just haven't felt the pinch the way people in the rest of the world have. Anyway, thank you for the reminder that I need to nip all this plastic usage in the bud right now while my memories of life in other places is still fresh.

Irene Grumman
Irene Grumman

Great project, greener and simpler living. I hope technology can come up with some substitutes that are still lightweight.

Misdynamite
Misdynamite

what company do you use to make cornstarch fake plastic fish

Anonymous
Anonymous

Thank you for the observations on Costco plastic packaging. It makes me so damn mad to see what they do: They FORCE their vendors to make special packaging, just for COSTCO. What a waste. I am going to be trying to pursuade our city officials to make Costco responsible for all their packaging:1) Make the accept recycleable COSTCO packaging2) BAN certain oversized packaging3) Inspect their garbage and see how they are/are not recycling their own garbage.Anyway, if I have anything to report, I'll post back here.Thanks again for trhe site :-)

BethTerry
BethTerry moderator

Thanks for writing that letter. What a great response. I'm going to use that myself. And thank you for your feedback.

BethTerry
BethTerry moderator

 @mychocolatepeaces Hi Gina.  There is a ton of medical plastic.  Some of it is actually toxic.  I wrote a post about PVC blood and IV bags a while back, as a matter of fact,  http://myplasticfreelife.com/2008/05/when-giving-literally-hurts/  But there are doctors working to get some of the plastic out of medicine.  For example, my dentist founded the Eco Dentistry Association and has done a lot to get the plastic out of his practice.  http://myplasticfreelife.com/2009/03/does-your-new-eco-dentist-offer-foot/  Prescription bottles are one form of plastic I always end up with because they cannot be refilled in the State of California.

 

I have lots of suggestions for freezing.  Mason jars are great, actually.  You just have to make sure to leave room at the top for expansion and don't subject them to sudden extremes -- for example, don't run a frozen jar under hot water and wait until hot food has cooled before putting on the lid and freezing it.

 

If you check out my Plastic -Free Guide (there's a link on the menu bar above) you'll find other solutions.  And my book is full of even more solutions!

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