The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

April 17, 2009

Oakland Earth Expo – Went to Teach and Learned a Few Hard Lessons

I would love to show you the photo of a plastic-bedecked Beth flanked by a class of enthusiastic middle schoolers during Oakland’s Earth Expo on Wednesday. I’d also love to show you the photos I captured of an ironic stray plastic bag in flight over the Expo grounds. Unfortunately, I can’t show you these images because I carelessly left my camera unattended on the display table for a few minutes, and it got bored and ran away.

If you are the person who helped liberate my camera, can you please at least send back the memory card? It’s not worth much, but I’d sure like to have those photos. I’ve already replaced the camera with a much smaller model, one which I’ll keep securely in my pocket next time. (More plastic waste for the tally this week. Another of my less than mindful moments. *Sigh*)

I’m very grateful to the helpful folk who took pictures and sent them to me: Oakland Zero Waste Initiative Team Leader, Mark Gagliardi; Oakland Environmental Services Assistant, David Finacom; and Oakland Tribune photographer, Laura Oda. I gave them my sob story, and they came through for Fake Plastic Fish! So, here are a few views of the day. Click images to see larger versions.

The costume was effective, but I wish I’d had a mirror to put it on. I didn’t realize most of the plastic hanging from my belt was twisted around to the back until I saw these photos. I plan to add more plastic pieces and make sure they are better distributed next time. (The base is made from two black plastic garbage bags.)

I had fun hunting for fake plastic fish to put on the hat. Thrift stores… Freecycle… nothing new here! Notice the plastic in the mouth of the poor sea turtle.

The display was divided into two sections: one illustrating the problems with plastic and the other reusable less-plastic alternatives. The Fake Plastic Fish banner is a piece of old sheet and Magic Marker. I’m kind of proud of myself because I wrote it freehand at about 3am the night before the event. Um… not proud that I stayed up until 3am. Just that I didn’t screw it up!

On the problem side, I included photos and info about litter, harm to wildlife, non-biodegradability, chemicals, and the fact that plastic is made from non-renewable fossil sources. I also had my sample of water from the Pacific Garbage Patch to share.

The right side was a revelation. I had originally planned to either post pictures of disposable plastic items and their reusable alternatives or figure out a way to attach the actual items to the board. But honestly, I ran out of time.

As I walked home from BART Tuesday night after work, fretting about how I was going to be able to get all this work done in a few hours, I had a eureka moment. I already planned to ask attendees to fill out pledge cards committing to give up some plastic from their lives. Instead of my ideas, I’d fill up the board with theirs! The green pieces of paper are all ideas from attendees on how to live with less plastic.

My own ideas were represented by actual reusable items (bags, containers, utensils, etc.) on the table and in the give-away basket. (Items in the basket were generously donated by Whole Foods Oakland, Green Sangha, LunchBots, GlassDharma, LaundryTree, & the Ecology Center.)

Here’s Fake Plastic Fish chatting with Oakland Recycling Program Specialist Peter Slote and a festival attendee, examining the Garbage Patch sample.

I also met one of my heros, Councilwoman Jean Quan, who co-authored Oakland’s Plastic Bag Ban ordinance. Unfortunately, I didn’t recognize her at first in her summery dress and big straw hat, and since she was taking pictures with a huge, professional-looking camera, I asked what media organization she was with. Oops. I hope that if by some remote chance she reads this, she’ll know how grateful I am for what she’s trying to do for our city.

And I finally got to meet Eli Saddler of who wants to join me at the Bay to Breakers in a sea turtle costume.

This photo is the artistic creation of David Finacom, expo organizer and apparently great photographer. It was a beautiful day.

I had information on the table for attendees to take with them as well. Green Sangha flyers, Meditation on Plastic, & Don’t Think of a Plastic Bag flyer, and IATP’s Smart Plastics Guide. I completely ran out of my own Fake Plastic Fish business cards. Maybe next time I should bring the whole box.

Next time, also, I will try harder to get at least one volunteer to help me. I would have liked to have visited other tables at the event, but without help, I was pretty much confined to my station.

Two more things about the day… one fantastic and one not so…

A Fake Plastic Fish reader who works for the City of Oakland approached me. We’d never met. I don’t think she’s ever commented here. But she told me her daughter had forwarded my blog to her after reading about it on and that Fake Plastic Fish had become her daily read. I really almost cried. Just the idea that something positive had emerged from that stupid Fark incident.

And then, at the end of the day, another one of my friends came to lend support and offered to take pictures with her cell phone after hearing about the camera incident. She set her purse down on the ground for a few minutes to take the photo, and while she wasn’t looking, it got up and followed my camera! Holy crap! Cameras are easily replaceable. Wallet and car and condo keys, much more of a hassle. Sheesh.

No, we were not in a “bad” neighborhood. We were right in the shadow of City Hall. And these things happen anywhere there is a big crowd of people and enough inattention for quick, practiced hands to do their work. My friend got her purse and keys back eventually. They were found in some bushes. She’ll simply have to deal with replacing credit cards.

All in all, it was a wonderful day. I bring up the two thefts not to bum you out and not merely as cautionary tales for your benefit (Be Aware!) but to leave you with this question:

What is the connection plastic pollution and petty larceny? Who is the victim and who is the thief? The answer might be more complicated than it seems.

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13 years ago

It sometimes takes drastic presentations to get people to take notice. This is a good example of that ;o).

14 years ago

Oh. My. GAWD! Hilarious! Absolutely love the costume… every single photo just made me burst into a fit of giggles. Big kudos for walking the talk, Beth…

14 years ago

Good for you out there with your costume on! I read about the fark incident and I’m sorry to see that kind of reaction. If it makes you feel any better – I have made some big changes in my life based upon your blog.
Basically, the first time I read your blog and saw you state that only #1 and 2 are recycled and that it’s basically downcycling – I was like “NO – that’s not true – why in the world would they be collecting it then…” One hour of research later, I was a transformed woman. Further, learning about the plastic ocean through your site made me even more determined.
So, I guess there will always be the people that will toss the used styrofoam coffee cup out of the car window… you might never reach them.
However, there are many people out there that just need a little info. You are definitely doing the right thing and I am interested in trying the mustard recipe (o;
Cheers, Em

Green Fundraising
14 years ago

Sheesh is right! Sorry to hear about your bad luck when you were trying to do some good out there in that AWESOME costume of plastics! Very brave and thanks for the pics! I was looking forward to seeing them!

John Costigane
14 years ago

Beth, well done for a great presentation of ideas and support. There is safety in numbers so three participants should be the target.

Finding reuse for plastic waste is a lot of work. Better to avoid and opt for sustainable choices.

14 years ago

Beth – I’m so glad you got these great pictures. Like everyone else here, I’m totally inspired by your energy, enthusiasm and kindness.
By the way – for all who read – I’m the person who got her purse taken – so now I’ve gotten my purse back and my wallet back (someone stuck it in the mail) So all is well!

14 years ago

So glad you did this! I love the costume! Would you like a plastic bag monster to join you two at Bay to Breakers?

Ive been a long time reader but never commented. I first met you at East Bay Green Drinks when you publicized the Brita Take Back. I work for and have recently developed a lesson all about plastics that I do with 4th/5th graders. Maybe you’d like to see it sometime….

14 years ago

WOW!! You really are an inspiration!!

I especially like the heading:
Problem: Plastic, Solution: You!!

Very creative & I hope it got people thinking!!

Would LOVE to hear about the pledges on the post-it notes!! :)

Anarres Natural Health
14 years ago

Beth, you are AWESOME.

For your reader who wrote:
"However, I receive so many things with packing tape – I'm in awe of how you can get away from that. "

I converted to paper tape and started wholesaling it thanks to FPF's invitation to peek into the darkest corners of my anti consumption to finds bits of plastic.

Here's the link so you know what I'm talking about.
Look for it near you and insist that people who send you things send them with paper tape!
"Want to pack parcels without horrifying amounts of smelly killer plastic tape?

Go old school with me! "

Love & RRRevolution, Tracey

14 years ago

Love your costume! Did you have any disposable diapers on it? I have to admit that my baby has that plastic fish teether on your head!! Unfortunately he never took to it. I wish I knew you wanted something like that, I would have sent it to you – recycle the fish! If you still want it I can send it. Sorry about your camera and the helpful person’s purse! Keep up your inspiring work!

14 years ago

It was great to meet a fellow anti-plastics crusader in person! Glad that I needed to stop by for costumes for the offshore oil drilling hearing that happened yesterday.

Sorry about the thefts: a bummer and also a sign of these hard economic times.

I can’t wait to work on the Bay to Breakers project with you. I think we’re going to win the green costume contest for sure!

14 years ago

Hi, I’m the daughter of the City of Oakland employee who told her about the site after seeing it on Fark. I’m sorry to hear that you found being featured in an article that made it to Fark a bad experience, but I’m very glad that my mom got the chance to meet you and that you were able to see that good did come of it. I have nothing to say in defense of the people who make negative comments on Fark, I simply feel sorry for them and continuing reading because every so often I come across a great site like yours that I feel makes a difference. Yours actions speak so much louder than their thoughtless words ever can.

mother earth aka karen hanrahan
14 years ago

what gumption and tenacity you have beth – the costume, an original just like you and what a total drag about the thievery.

14 years ago

The connection plastic pollution and petty larceny? Now your friend needs to get her credit cards replaced – MORE PLASTIC! And you had to replace your camera – MORE PLASTIC! It must have been a conspirator from some plastic lobby [or from Brita!! You know they’re mad cause you made them recycle].

Your plastic outfit? Message: WIN!
Dignity: FAIL!

LOL – Beth – you know I love you. Thanks for all your hard work and sacrifices. See you Saturday for brunches!

14 years ago

Your costume looks great! Although not very comfortable or breathable. Hopefully it wasn’t too hot.

And I’m so sorry to hear about the ‘liberated’ items. :(

Eco Yogini
14 years ago

Although I haven’t come to this blog from ‘fark’, I just read through the ‘incident’ post and your responses.
I LOVE your blog and feel so much more inspired after reading. I live in Canada, or I would have come visit your display as well :)

Because of your blog and such inspirational life changes, I discovered that recycling isn’t enough. Honestly, I had no idea, thought I was being very ‘eco’. Because of you, we switched to bar soap (hand made by moi!), I bought a recycled glass soap pump dispenser and will be making liquid soap, I’m SO much more aware of packaging and just because it’s recyclable isn’t enough anymore.

You have changed the way I think about my role with plastic. Thank you so much- BLESSINGS! :)

14 years ago

I started reading after the fark incident, too, and I’m a daily reader, too. (Sadly, I’m not local so couldn’t come see your display, though.)

I know it’s not much but since reading your blog, I’ve switched from cereal to bulk bin granola, and started buying all of my grains and spices from bulk bins. Since I don’t eat meat, and already didn’t use any kind of packaging for my veggies, I try to think that this is a step.

This summer, I hope to visit the local farmer’s market and figure out if there are alternatives around here for my milk, yogurt and tofu. That would pretty much sum up my food plastic.

However, I receive so many things with packing tape – I’m in awe of how you can get away from that.

kale for sale
14 years ago

You are an inspiration – your work and your smile! I thought the plastic was fitted on you perfectly, in the front or the back it was visible and got the message across.

14 years ago

Great work, Beth. You are tireless. Forget fusion power, let’s just connect you directly to the power grid and our energy problems would be solved!

Seeing you in that get-up reminds me of another reason I don’t like plastic – for clothing it is hot! I always make sure whatever I buy is cotton…all the synthetics make me uncomfortable because they don’t breathe.