The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

March 9, 2011

Speaking for the Voiceless

Three years ago, I saw a photo of a dead albatross chick filled with plastic pieces and knew I had to be the voice for those who couldn’t speak for themselves.

Sometimes I forget and think my purpose is plastic. But it’s not.

Yeah, I collect my plastic waste; blog about plastic-free alternatives; write to companies to get them to change their products and packaging; and give speeches and interviews on plastic, plastic, plastic.  I focus on plastic because so few other activists and organizations do. Because “green” companies still package their products in plastic, and organic foods come wrapped in the stuff.

But my purpose, the reason I speak out on plastic, is for my clients:

albatross chick dead from eating plastic
Dead albatross chick on Midway Island. Source:
sea turtle eats plastic
Sea Turtle Eats Plastic. Source:
Seal trapped in plastic pollution
Seal trapped in plastic. Source:
Camels die from ingesting plastic
Plastic kills camels. Source:
Cows eat plastic
Cows eat plastic. Source:
baby with plastic bottle
Plastic baby bottle. Source: Flickr Creative Commons.

When I forget them, I get caught up in the madness of Google Rank, Search Engine Optimization, PR Pitches, Social Media, blog popularity, and the stress gets to me. I focus on checking off items on my “To-Do” list and lose sight of the meaning of the actions themselves.

A few nights ago, flying home from Maryland after my mom’s death, feeling sad and useless and just trying to make sense of it all, I listened to a podcast from The Moth storytelling series that woke me up to my purpose all over again. I post it here in the hopes that it can inspire you too. Especially if you have ever been reluctant to speak up.

Please listen to the story of Alan Rabinowitz, who was born with a stuttering problem so severe he was placed in Special Ed with the slow learners and shunned by adults and children. While he couldn’t talk to people, he could communicate with animals. Every afternoon after school he would sit in a little closet in his New York City apartment with his pets… hamster, gerbil, green turtle, chameleon, garter snake,

and I would talk to them. I would talk fluently to them. I would tell them my hopes and my dreams. I would tell them how people were stupid because they thought I was stupid. And the animals listened. They felt it. And I realized very early that they felt it because they were like me. The animals, they had feelings too. They were trying to transmit things also, but they had no human voice. So people ignored them. Or they misunderstood them. Or they hurt them. Or sometimes they killed them. I swore to the animals when I was young that if I could ever find my voice, I would be their voice.

Later, after years of training to learn to speak fluently and escaping into the jungle to be with the animals, Rabinowitz finds himself faced with a difficult challenge. In order to save the jaguars that he loves from extinction, he will have to keep his promise and give the speech of his life.

(Via The Moth podcast)

When writing or speaking or thinking get hard and I’m tempted to call it quits, I remind myself that “my” work is not about me at all. It’s about a deep and insistent love that requires me to use whatever skill I have to keep the promise I made the night I saw that photo.

That’s the love I received from my mother.  She died two weeks ago, but her love did not.


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8 years ago

oooh so bad

Eric Wilson
12 years ago

Your notion of speaking for the voiceless bring me back to Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax. Keep up the plastic-less-ness.

12 years ago

It can be easy to forget, when I walked along the beach or surfing it’s plastic I find. Plastic, plastic plastic. Thankfully not very often dead animals – but they are the reason. Coming across the video A Tale of Entanglement on the night of doing a beach clean changed my life. I don’t think I would have felt so strongly had I just seen facts & figures. It’s hard to see, but needs to be.

Alan’s story was beautiful. People can really overcome the hardest of things.

I really hope you don’t call it quits. Thinking of you Beth at this hard time.

Charise @ I Thought I Knew Mama
12 years ago

I am soooo glad Cloth Diapering Mama sent me your way! I’m not following you on Twitter and FB. I am really trying to reduce my plastic use and you are an inspiration!

Rebecca Prince
12 years ago

I am inspired by what you do. I have started picking up trash on my daily walks to and from school. I’ve been especially trying to grab loose plastic bags. I’ve also been teaching my three kids how bad plastic is, so you’ve inspired me, and hopefully, I will inspire my three kids, and so on… slowly maybe things will get better.

12 years ago

I’ll be thrilled if I see a post here on the Marine Mammal Center someday! It really is a neat place. In addition to all the animals they help directly, they also publish a lot of research that advances other people’s knowledge.

We were there in January, but I think from now into summer, there will be more activity there. They said that spring is the busiest time for them because the young animals are so vulnerable – they find more animals that need help then.

Be sure to take the guided tour – mine was given by a staff person named Barbara, and it was absolutely great. Link for the Google-averse:

Beach Mama
12 years ago

. . . and I am so sorry for your loss Beth . . .

Beach Mama
12 years ago

Beautifully said Beth. In my decade plus of work on behalf of animals and the environment there were days I could hardly sit at the computer. Researching the horrors perpetuated on animals had a real impact on how I viewed human beings. There were many times I felt whatever I did was not enough, I felt hopeless . . . the animals and the Earth were doomed. But my members cheered me on, they reminded me of all that we’d accomplished. This is common in the type of work that we do, it’s to be expected from time to time. That we are able to communicate our sadness and frustration so freely and get the feedback and encouragement to go on is such a blessing!

To extend Katie’s comments about the Marine Mammal Center . . . I recently shared a story of my direct impact in the life of a seal suffering from leptospirosis, a bacterial infection. The Marine Mammal Center and the caring volunteers on the coast that work tirelessly to care for our marine life deserve our gratitude.

Thanks for all you do Beth, you are an inspiration and an angel . . .

12 years ago

Beth, thank you for what you do, and thank you for this reminder of one of the things that’s really important to me, too.

Have you been to the Marine Mammal Center up near Sausalito? It’s great to see the commitment and expertise they bring to helping animals – it made me feel recharged to visit there. When I was there, they had a display on the dangers of plastic to marine animals and I thought of you.

Peace to you, your mom, and your family.

12 years ago

Beth, thank you for sharing. The photos are heartbreaking and you’re doing very important work. Yesterday I told a woman at a store not to give me a plastic bag because I hate plastic bags. She asked me why. I tried to explain it to her and she just shook her head and essentially said, it doesn’t matter because no one else cares. But it does matter when people like you are influencing one life at a time, and saving one creature at a time. Like the starfish story, you can’t save them all, but it matters tremendously to the ones you do save. Again, thanks for all you do.

Jessica @ Clothdiaperingmama
12 years ago

Your mission inspires me so much. I follow you on FB and I’m trying so hard to reduce my waste in this world that we are merely inhabiting.

I’m so sorry for the great loss that you have suffered. Hope you can find comfort in the amazing things you are doing for this planet and for families all over.

I too, am disgusted by packaging…I feel at a loss when I’m in the grocery store…why does toilet paper have to be wrapped in plastic? Why does baby spinach have to be in a plastic bag? Why are grocers putting 10 apples in plastic bag for convinience..can we not pick out our own apples in the produce section?

I support you…I will continue to share you words and try my hardest to share in your plite.


12 years ago

I have to second the comments of so many people here. This blog post touched me and brought tears to my eyes. If only I had found my passion like you.

Still doing the best I can with plastic despite the two jobs and multiple food allergies.


12 years ago

I’m so sorry about your mom. And I’m sorry about those animals. It’s so terrible. Thank you for the work you do…you are making a difference, even if the goals get lost in the day-to-day.

knutty knitter
12 years ago

Inspiration plus with this one although I may have nightmares for a week after looking at the images. They are exactly why I am trying to kill my plastic use.

viv in nz

12 years ago

Beth, one of your best post’s yet. It was from the heart. You are an inspiration to all of us. I am sure your Mom was very proud. All the best and thank you for all you do. greg

Amy Korst
12 years ago

Thank you for a lovely post. I often feel the same – that sometimes I need a reminder to jolt me out of my habits. I’m not avoiding garbage for garbage’s sake. Animals, too, motivated me to become a vegetarian, which led to my greater, holistic environmentalism and my little niche of waste reduction. Take care, and I hope you find peace.

12 years ago

Really very beautiful. This shows what strength of conviction and purpose is about. This made me cry.

12 years ago

Thank you, Beth. It’s posts like this that have made me one of your biggest fans. I am so glad you’re willing to speak for those who cannot. I am also sorry you had to say goodbye to your Mom. :'(

LInda Anderson
12 years ago

What a lovely post. I’m so sorry about the loss of your mother and I hope you are dealing with the grief. I saw my first real albatross chick at Ka’ena Point on Oahu 3 weeks ago. I was so thrilled to see both the chicks and the adults. They are truly beautiful creatures. What we are doing to earth’s creatures with our trash and over consuming is a travesty. I blogged about these albatrosses and the plastic issue.

12 years ago

loved your post – love your website – unfortunately i live in northern ireland – plastic free is unheard of – and a real struggle – i have a mountain of plastic packaging in my garage – what am i to do with it? i live in hope – my children 8 and 6 always remind the grocer “no plastic bag please”

Karen Hanrahan
12 years ago

sometimes I wish we could bottle love, passion and purpose. you express these things so beautifully Beth.

12 years ago

What’s most bothersome to me is that every living thing is our relative. If we suddenly disappeared and time was allowed to do its magic, another species would rise above the rest to claim dominance.

When we mistreat animals, we abuse our family. If there is anything that science is teaching us in recent years, it is that we are far less distinct from other animals that we thought we were. So much is coming out about personalities in animals – and not just dogs and cats.

To kill an animal in order to eat it I can understand, but to make an animal suffer all of its life before we do so?

I may have mentioned before – we should NOT be trying to find other intelligence in the universe because if it is more “advanced” than we are, why should we expect to be treated differently by it than we treat our own humble earthly relatives?

GOOD NEWS ON PLASTIC – I use little plastic earplugs because my Bunny snores. I was feeling very guilty about tossing them out after one use, but they don’t conform to the ear canal a second time due to the earwax they pick up. The re-usable type don’t cut the sound as much.

A light bulb with the face of Beth Terry went on above my head (though I know she prefers the shape of an hourglass) – why not put the earplugs through the laundry? So using one of those little zip-up bags for “intimates” (which earplugs certainly are!) I gave it a try and it works. I can re-use my earplugs!

Juli MacDonald
12 years ago

Dear Beth,
I’m so glad to have found you.
I’m so sorry for your loss, but am heartened that you find inspiration in your mother’s lessons. I look forward to digging deeper into your posts and benefitting from your research!
Thank you for your great work.

Alyssa Lee
12 years ago

Beth, thank you for this post. I actually subscribe to The Moth podcast and was incredibly moved by this story. I have recently felt so much closer to animals and I feel strongly devoted to their suffering, their lives, and their deaths. This brings me that much closer to the people in my life in addition to my own moral values. Becoming more conscious of th environment and becoming vegan have been the two single most life-changing experiences and I am so much better for it. I am so truly sorry for your loss, but I trust that you are dealing with it in a healthy and progressive way. As much as we love you, make sure everything you do is for yourself and for the animals and for the planet. I give you all my best!

12 years ago

What a touching article. Thanks for putting everything in perspective for me.

Kate E.
12 years ago

This is so beautifully written, it brought me to tears.
Thank you for all that you do!

Heather Clisby
12 years ago

Thanks for the reminder that our everyday decisions relate directly to the planet and its inhabitants. Every time I see a plastic bottle cap, I see it in the belly of those albatross.

Alan’s story is a brave one. I understand that connection to animals very well. Honestly, it is the only time I feel a sense of “god”, which to me means that life force energy that is behind everything that lives and dies.

Plastic is not part of this. It has no place in the circle of life. Thanks for fighting the good fight and again, I’m so sorry about your mom.

12 years ago


Reading your post choked me up- while at work!
I heard that Moth piece awhile back- thanks for bringing it to light here. You’re right, we should keep our fellow creatures- animals and plants- in mind as we strive for environmental awareness and justice. Thank you~

Sorry for your loss, take care.

12 years ago

beth, it is so not easy touching in with the inhumaneness that motivates each of us. i vowed to read every book on ethical veganism i can find this year. already it’s been a dismal undertaking, but i know i need to know these horrors, speak of them with the grace i learn from you, and find compassion for those who cannot hear. your words always keep me sane and moving forward through it all.
love, autumn

12 years ago

Beth, you have been such an inspiration to me and changed my way of life. Yep. Even an old greenie like me. We need your voice. Your mom would have wanted you to continue being you.

I agree with you on the SEO, etc part. I hate it because it prevents me from doing what I like to do best. Giving people the tools to green their own lives and giving them that you can do it since I can.

I always believe it you do what you are passionate about, the universe provides. Kind of corny but passion feeds our souls.

12 years ago

Great post, so touching. Amazing the places we find inspiration and where inspiration finds us. You are doing amazing work, but its ok to take a break and re-evaluate things. If you are constantly boiling the kettle, sooner or later the kettle boils dry. We must refill our kettle, revitalize ourselves and our Purpose.
You are a true inspiration.