Frequently Asked Questions

(Last Updated 06.06.2018)

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.

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.

What are the goals of My Plastic-Free Life?

There are basically 4 goals:

  1. 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.
  2. To keep existing plastic out of our waterways and landfills where it can cause further harm.
  3. To limit my exposure to toxins that can leach from certain types of plastic.
  4. To educate others about these issues so that my actions can have a farther-reaching impact than those of a single individual acting alone.
Those are pretty big goals. How do you plan to accomplish them?

By following my 4 R’s:

1) REDUCE: If at all possible, do not buy any new plastic items.

2) 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.)

3) 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.

4) REPORT: Report my successes and failures as honestly as possible on this blog.

What’s wrong with plastic, anyway?

Good question. Here are some answers:

What’s Wrong with Plastic Anyway? This post lists the main problems with plastic from creation to disposal and beyond.

The Perils of PVC. What’s PVC and why should we avoid it?

Bisphenol-A (aka BPA): What is it? Where is it? Why do we care?

BPA-Free Does Not Mean Safe. Most Plastics Leach Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals.
Woman Drinks Wine… Why plastic wine corks and screw caps are problems for the environment.

Is Your Laundry Polluting the Ocean with Microfibers? How the fibers shed from synthetic clothing are making their way to the sea.

And here’s a link to a PDF version of the IATP Smart Plastics Guide, which lists the different types of plastics and explains which ones are the most harmful and why.

Can’t we just recycle all of our plastic waste?

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.

Recycling Part 1: Wait! Are you sure that’s recyclable?

Recycling Part 2: Lessons from the Davis Street Transfer Center

Recycling Part 3: Further Lessons from the Davis Street Transfer Center

Recycling Part 4: A Visit to California Waste Solutions

Recycling Part 5: Only in San Francisco

Is Recycling the Answer to Holiday Waste?

What’s the weekly plastic tally, why are you graphing your plastic waste, and what happens to all that plastic after it’s tallied?

For the first few years of this project, I collected, tallied, and graphed all of my plastic waste each week.  It was 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.  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. Some of the collected plastic ended up in 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

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.

Still, it can’t be easy? What’s the most difficult change you’ve made so far?

I’d say giving up certain kinds of bread 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 flatbreads 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.

You mentioned your husband Michael. Is he 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.  And here’s a funny video interview I did with him wherein he tells me I remind him of Ned Flanders.  In my weekly tally, I don’t include plastic that he’s bought for himself unless I have gained some benefit from it myself.

What’s the best way for me to start to use 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.

So, is there any plastic you still haven’t given up?

Yes. Much of it related to our cats. Also certain medicine bottles, plastic caps from glass bottles, a bit of unavoidable packaging here and there.  For the most part, I’ve found ways to avoid almost all of it.

What’s the best way to look up specific information on your website without having to scroll through all your many blog posts?

I do try to label my posts into categories, and those categories are listed on the right sidebar of the blog. Another good way is to use the Search Bar on the blue menu bar to find references to topics you are interested in.

Is it possible to subscribe so new blog posts are emailed letting me know when there is an update, or do I just have to keep checking back?

Absolutely. There’s a subscription link at the top of this page. Just click the button that says “subscribe by email.” Or click here.

I notice there are some ads on your site? What’s your advertising policy?

Please refer to my Advertising/Review Policy page.

Are you collecting my information or putting cookies in my browser?

Possibly.  Read my Privacy Policy and Terms of Service here.

Do you give in-person presentations to groups?

Why yes.  Read about my plastic-free presentation here.

Can I interview you for my website, newspaper, magazine, radio or TV program?

Sure.  Probably.  Contact me to discuss.  And have a look at my press kit.

Do you have a plan in case of zombie attack?

Not as yet, although we are working on it.  And anyway, how do you know it hasn’t already happened?

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Dan
2 years ago

We go to a local store that refils shampoo bottles, washing up liquid bottles and the like. The only problem is that we drive there as it is 5 km away. How does the environmental cost of the additional 10km return drive compare with the saving of say 3 plastic bottles? Does the drive wipe out the benefits of the plastic saving?

adhithi tawde
2 years ago

Hi, I have a small query. I am starting my plastic-free journey. I have replaced my plastic containers with glass or steel. My question is should I reuse the old plastic up to its maximum potential since the damage is already done or immediately send it for recycling.

Sarah
2 years ago

I don’t live a plastic free life style yet, though I have made a few adjustments to reduce it in my life. My question is the cost; is it expensive to live a plastic free lifestyle? I have checked a few websites with plastic free items and it seems to me the prices are rather high in comparison to normal goods.

Cynthia
3 years ago

I live in an area where there are no plastic free stores and the natural food stores are expensive.
Because of my budget I have to shop low cost grocery stores. My only way not to bring plastic into my home is to transfer everything I buy into non plastic containers and throw away the plastic at the store. That way they are paying for the disposal of plastic containers. Is this wrong? What else can I do?

Lucy
3 years ago

Here’s a question: Why should people in landlocked regions go plastic free? Why is it bad for their environment too? I’m asking, because most people on this planet don’t live near the ocean, so they don’t believe it’s important to go plastic-free!

Natalie
3 years ago

Is it possible to subscribe so new blog posts are emailed letting you know when there is an update, or do you just have to keep checking back, please?

Katia
6 years ago

Here is a list some items I can not find plastic free… Can you buy them plastic free??
multi vitamins / dietary supplements
markers
small electronics like Christmas lights
fish care products

Liz
7 years ago

I would like your opinion regarding silicone alternatives (in applications such as children’s cup lids for example). Do you have a post about silicone already? Thanks!

Beth Terry
8 years ago

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

Kaptain
8 years ago

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 re-package 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 re-fill company you profiled — Green 11. Thanks for all your hard work :)

Emerald
8 years ago

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?

Beth Terry
8 years ago
Reply to  Emerald

Emerald Hi. I absolutely have had successes writing to companies. Here is one success story:
https://myplasticfreelife.com/2009/04/big-plastic-free-soapnuts-giveaway-from/
Here is a very recent success. Well, the beginning of one: https://myplasticfreelife.com/2013/01/dear-virgin-america-i-love-you-but-not-your-plastic-bottles/

mychocolatepeaces
9 years ago

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

Beth Terry
9 years ago

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, https://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. https://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!

Katie
10 years ago
Joe
10 years ago

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
10 years ago

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). https://www.homesicktexan.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
11 years ago

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
11 years ago

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
11 years ago

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
http://www.hydrasip.com

Beth Terry
11 years ago

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:

https://myplasticfreelife.com/2009/02/guilt-gratitude-glass/

And I use stainless steel in the freezer too. Containers like this work well:

/2008/09/plastic-free-in-freezer-airtight/

Do these suggestions help?

Eleanor Sommer
11 years ago

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
12 years ago

Thank you!

I will let you know if I find a solution!

Beth Terry
12 years ago

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
12 years ago

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
12 years ago

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
12 years ago

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
13 years ago

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

Alex Fayle
13 years ago

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
13 years ago

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
13 years ago

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
13 years ago

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

Misdynamite
13 years ago

what company do you use to make cornstarch fake plastic fish

Anonymous
13 years ago

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 packaging

2) BAN certain oversized packaging
3) 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 :-)