January 5, 2010

2009 Plastic Waste: 3.7 pounds! New 2010 Resolutions

2009 is over, and I’m thrilled to report that my new collected plastic for the year comes in at 3.7 pounds, roughly 4% of the U.S. per capita average. Geeks out there can check my calculations at the bottom of this post.

Beth Terry's 2009 Plastic Waste Collection

I created a little video for you guys showing me dumping out my plastic (complete with music and special effects!) describing what I generated and explaining how I got away with so little and why it (hopefully) will be even less next year. For those who can’t hear it, I’ve got a summary below.  And for those reading this post via email or reader, here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Myr_KHDs_3g

Breakdown of Beth’s Plastic Waste for 2009

Note: My plastic waste (as well as that of the nation) was calculated BEFORE recycling. In other words, anything recyclable is still included in the tally. But note: I don’t include waste for which the company practices Extended Producer Responsibility and takes back their own products for recycling. (Like HP print cartridges or Preserve toothbrushes.) The recyclable waste I add to my collection is the stuff that goes in my curbside bin because I have no way of knowing what’s actually happening to it.

Also note that this is only waste generated after I began this project.  Anything I already had before June 2007 is not included.

1) Cat-related items (cat litter bags, BalanceIT supplement for homemade cat food, Frontline flea treatments) came in at 2 pounds, which means my own personal plastic waste was only 1.7 pounds.

Goal for 2010: Mix our World’s Best Cat Litter with SweatScoop, which comes in a paper bag, to cut down on cat litter bag waste.

2) Electronics-related packaging: Battery charger and rechargeable batteries to avoid disposables; camera packaging and battery when my own camera was stolen; cell phone & memory card packaging when I switched to Credo Mobile I could continue using my old phone.

Goal for 2010: No new electronics.  None.  Hoping nothing breaks and that if anything does, I can replace it with an already used version.

3) Expired credit and gift cards

Goal for 2010: Not much I can do about these.

4) Medical Waste: Prescription and OTC bottles & a few bandaids

Goal for 2010: Cut down on medicines.  Try making my own versions of cough syrups and other OTC meds.

5) Dental: toothpaste tube & caps from recyclable aluminum tubes. Note: This waste doesn’t include Preserve toothbrushes, which I send back to Preserve.

Goal for 2010: Stick to Tom’s in aluminum tubes until someone comes up with biodegradable packaging.  (Organic Essence’s tube?)

6) Food-related waste: Plastic caps from glass milk bottles and other glass bottles, as well as plastic bottle neck seals;  two plastic wine corks; a couple of wrappers; a few condiment containers and one straw from a take-out place; and seals from pints of ice cream that I couldn’t resist.

Goal for 2010: Continue learning ways to make my own foods to avoid waste.  Be even more diligent in restaurants.  Cut down on milk and ice cream, which I have a feeling are contributing to my health problems.

7) Laundry-related waste: One detergent scoop when we made the mistake of trying a brand we don’t normally use.

Goal for 2010: Just stick to the plastic-free laundry products I’m using.

8) Exercise-related waste: Tyvek race tag & related plastic from Bay to Breakers

Goal for 2010: Get more of these.  Seriously.  I need to start running again.  Get out of my head and away from the computer.  Races are awesome.  And race tags seem to be inevitable.

9) Shipping and mail-related plastic: Packing tape; envelope windows; plastic envelopes from finance company.

Goal for 2010: This is a BIG one.  Be firmer with shippers about switching to paper tape, and cut down on the amount of stuff I’m buying in the first place.  If a company wants to send me a free review sample, they must commit to no plastic packaging in order to send it to me.  Also, continue getting off mailing lists.

10) Clothing: a few tag hangers that you can’t even see because they are so small.

Goal for 2010: Buy fewer clothes and stick to second hand stores as much as possible.  (Although honestly I didn’t buy that much throughout 2009.)


(Drum roll please)

The Fake Plastic Fish BOOK! I’ve been wanting to write this book and scared witless of it for the past year.  I created an introduction that turned out really sucky and scrapped it.  Every time I think about it, I want to throw up or pass out.  I’m getting nervous even writing these words right now.  But maybe, just maybe, by putting it out there publicly like this, I have to do it.

So, please understand if I don’t post here as often.  Or tweet.  Or update my Facebook status.  Or answer emails.   Or do any of the other things that I like to do instead of writing my book.  It’s all in my head, actually.  But unfortunately, you guys can’t read my mind.

Or can you?

So, what are your goals for 2010?

How I arrived at the 4% average:

1) According to the EPA, the total trash generated in the U.S. in 2008 came out to 4.5 pounds per person per DAY!

2) But of this, only 55 – 65% was residential, which is basically what I’m interested. Of course, the residential trash doesn’t count the stuff generated from restaurants and tossed by us before we get home. So my figure of 4% could actually be higher than it should be.

3)  Also, of the total waste generated in 2008, the EPA estimates that 12% of it was plastic.  (https://www.epa.gov/smm/advancing-sustainable-materials-management-facts-and-figures) The California Integrated Waste Management Board goes further, and estimates that at least in California, the 2003 residential plastic waste was 9.4% of the total for residences. (http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/Publications/LocalAsst/34004005.pdf)

4)  Here are the upper and lower calculations:

4.5 lbs/day x 365 days x 55% x 9.4% = 84.9 pounds of plastic waste per person per year

4.5 lbs/day x 365 days x 65% x 12% = 128.1 pounds of plastic waste per person per year

5) 3.7 pounds of my own waste / 84.9 pounds national = 4.4%

3.7 pounds of my own waste / 128.1 pounds national = 2.9 %

So, I just chose a figure towards the high end so as not to over estimate my own percentage.  If you would have done it differently, please let me know.

This post is included in the New Years Resolutions Green Moms Carnival hosted by Katy at Non-Toxic Kids.

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Crazy Maria
13 years ago

poor animals they r dying b cuz of us////

13 years ago

Wow that is just amazing! I’m really encouraged by you! Thank you for sharing and making me more aware of the plastic I use and how I can cut down on it a lot!

13 years ago

for recycling gift cards, you might want to send them to the address here:

thanks for the video! you have given me a lot of ideas on how to cut back on plastic.

13 years ago

I’ve heard that Aveda takes plastic bottle caps. On their website, the have a school collection program, but no mention of their stores.

I’ve started collecting them, but not take them to a store yet because they are not that close to where I live.

The Earth911 also mentions Aveda and Whole Foods see https://earth911.com/home/family/want-to-know-where-to-recycle-your-bottle-caps/

13 years ago

Oh I agree, I fear the number of ‘reusable bags’ out there that aren’t being used. Many people could just look in their closet and find something to use. As you said…consumption is consumption. Items that have built in handles don’t need any bags. So yeah, i’m glad Walmart is taking these steps, it is not ‘required customer service’ to provide bags.
I am happy that Walmart is picking up some of the ‘greener’ ideas though b/c that will really propel it into more households. I happily saw that my walmart is now carrying biodegradable bags for yard waste. The city of Houston is ‘trying’ to require these bags so that the leaves and grass clippings can be composted on a city scale. (I remember when living in KY it was no bags, they would drive around with a vacuum truck and suck up the leaves). Anyway small steps forward are still steps forward!
Also thought you might enjoy this article…

Beth Terry
13 years ago

Hi Patty. Actually, I think I like the idea. I think it will be a good experiment. Because those cheap plastic reusable bags they give away for free are almost as bad as disposable plastic bags. Because they will end up being disposable. They are generally poorly made and will end up in the landfill eventually. Consumption is consumption. I’ll be interested to learn the results of Walmart’s experiment.

13 years ago

Just saw this article…
I have mixed feelings of the concept and the article. I try to bring my re-usable bags to the store and so many cashiers still fight me with an “are you sure” when I reject their bag. Target is starting to go more mainstream with its 5cent credit, I hope grocery stores in my area start that soon. I comment Walmart for trying, even if many people think they are an evil giant.

Beth Terry
13 years ago

@Lauren, it IS Ecover. I last got it at Berkeley Bowl not long ago. We also use LaundryTree soapnuts.

13 years ago

Where do you find laundry detergent without a plastic scoop in Oakland? Is it Ecover? I don’t think the Berkeley Whole Foods carries it. I use Planet, but that comes with a (recycled) plastic scoop.


13 years ago

you are my HERO!!!! kudos to you!!!! and i love how you said “hella.” represent norcal! =)

Beth Terry
13 years ago

@Denisse Here is info on soda maker:


@Condo Blues Race numbers are made from Tyvek which can be recycled like this: http://shop.marathononline.com/tyvekrecycling.aspx

@Tree Huggin Mama

If you don’t want stainless steel from China, check out Life Without Plastic:


As I recall, their plants are generally not in China, and they regularly go and inspect them. I have met Jay from Life Without Plastic and he is one of the most sincere and committed people I have known.

Pure Mothers
13 years ago

You busy girl! I am excited that you are writing a book. And, was that your first vlog? I LOVED it! Love to hear your voice to connect with you better. I am trying my hardest here in London, but it is so difficult. We compost and recycle, but the trash won’t get collected unless it is in a bag. I buy biodegradable bags. Everything comes in plastic here too. I just found out about “box companies” – like coops for veggie and fruit delivery. But there isn’t a single fruit grown int he UK that is on the list! Only greens and potatoes. Everything comes from Spain, Holland or Israel! I won’t be a locavore again until we move back to Marin. Go write that book. I can’t wait to read it!

Jen Clean Bin
13 years ago

Great video!! I love it. Puts our plastic waste to shame. I also like your resolutions; although, I must admit that the metal toothpaste containers are messier for me because they tend to get crease holes in them and toothpaste oozes out the side.

Yay, a book! It might be scary, but you know that you have tons of loyal fans who are dying to read whatever you put out. Good luck with the writing this year. Are you still going to work fulltime?

Tree Huggin Momma
13 years ago

Where do you find all those nifty metal containers? And where are they made? I find that most are Made in China and I can’t bring myself to buy items made in China. Hoping you have some good sources and suggestions. Your plastic waste for the year is great. I would love to get my milk in glass as tossing 2 plastic gallon jugs per week drives me nuts, but alas Organic, Pastured Milk isn’t available in glass just yet!

Nick Palmer
13 years ago

Hi Beth,
If you want to make your own home remedies, cosmetics etc this guy’s TV series was very popular in England recently. His book is available on Amazon.com at about $27 but it is only about 7 ($9) on Amazon.co.uk



13 years ago

I look forward to your book.

Condo Blues
13 years ago

I hope you get many more race numbers this year. Actually, my husband just gave me a stack of his old ones because he thinks I can do something with them. Any ideas what I can make race numbers into – other than trash?

Loved your video. My Husband stopped what he was doing to watch it over my shoulder while it was playing on my computer. He liked it too.

13 years ago

thank you you have inspired me to try to use no plastic and have no waste but was wondering about your soda maker what it called and where i can get i live in florida do they have a web site

13 years ago

Yea! Good luck with the book! Can’t wait to read it.

13 years ago

Great post! It is so important to get the message out about plastic pollution, that is what we are all about at Save Our Shores! That is amazing you only had that much plastic trash, way to go!

Beth Terry
13 years ago

Raven — I do plan to either add captioning or a transcript as soon as I have time.

Eleanor — the sounds like an ingenious cat litter system. But I would have to find a liner pan with holes (we got our current pans from Freecycle) and also figure out where to find pea gravel. Also, the gravel wouldn’t be flushable, so the gravel and poop (since some of the gravel would stick to the poop) would end up in the landfill. By flushing the gravel, it ends up as compost. And we’re not worried about toxoplastma gondii because our cats never go outside and we have them tested for the parasite.

Diane — I started to add info about shampoo but the video was getting too long. I actually use the No ‘Poo method, which is a baking soda solution for washing and an apple cider vinegar solution for conditioning: https://myplasticfreelife.com/2008/06/no-more-poo/

Juice: we generally don’t drink it, opting for whole fruit instead. When we do need juice, we buy brands in glass bottles like Knudsen. They make a killer spice cider.

Ruth — definitely going to try honey instead of cough meds. Several other people suggested it too, including a friend of mine who keeps bees.

Pam — you can find other videos on my Youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/bethfly

Kelly — I tried tooth powder and went back to toothpaste because the powder was too abrasive for my sensitive teeth.

Axelle — we actually have TWO ice cream makers. But don’t forget that the milk for the ice cream will also have a plastic cap.

OrcaSister — that looks like a terrific link! I’ll try to explore the site this weekend.

Mary — thanks for sharing the book writing software

Leah — You could contact the Algalita Marine Research Foundation and see if they’ve come up with any estimates. Keep in mind though that some of that plastic has been out there since the advent of plastic itself, and also much of it comes from the other side of the Pacific, specifically Japan. I don’t know if anyone knows the answer to that question at this point. But maybe there are rough estimates.

Leah Lamb
13 years ago

Totally inspiring! Thanks for the break down of information~ now my question is, do you have any idea about how to find out what percentage of that garbage ends up in the ocean? (researching my little garbage project) :)

Danish girl
13 years ago

I’d love to read your book, Beth, so please write it. Please, please, please.

13 years ago

Beth — congratulations on starting a book and then telling us about it! That’s big news. Don’t worry, the first draft is supposed to be really sucky. Seriously. Just write now, save everything, and then go back and revise everything. Write write write! You can do it!

Mary Hunt
13 years ago

Use Notebook from circus ponies to write the book. It has a fabulous indexing capabilities for finding those words you “thought” you wrote but can’t remember which chapter you put them in.

You’re changed my life, Beth. I can’t touch plastic without seeing your face. Thanks!


13 years ago

Beth –
Here’s the closest link

The get-it-done guy has a podcast (that I can’t find right now) where he talks about capitalizing on blog posts, email messages, presentations, even conversations. He says (as I recall), take the time to explain the context and write well, you’ll find that a blog post is a good lead in for a chapter, or a presentation has whole paragraphs that are worth putting in the book.

Thanks for what you’ve blogged. I’m encouraged!

13 years ago

I’m a lurker, but I’d love to read your book. I’ve been making changes in my own choices based on your information for months, but I haven’t said so. Thank you so much for being a symbol and voice for those of us who feel the way you do about plastic.

axelle fortier
13 years ago

Wonderful! Inspirational, as always.

How about making your own ice cream, using an old-fashioned, non-plastic ice-cream maker? Never again would you have to deal with a plastic lid and the ice cream would be heavenly because no one can screw up homemade ice cream.

13 years ago

congratulations on your book! That is such exciting news.

13 years ago

Adorable! I LOVED your video! :)

13 years ago

Awesome video and a great accomplishment for the year!!!

13 years ago

I loved the video, and so did my kids. In fact, my 4-year-old wants to see it AGAIN. And AGAIN.

And good luck with the book. I would love to read it. And I will totally understand if it cuts into your blogging time. :)

Mindful Momma
13 years ago

What an inspirational video – I just love it!! I’ll be spreading the word on Twitter & Facebook. I know you’ve tried before…but we’ve just got to find a way to get Oprah to see this! :)

13 years ago

Consider making your own tooth powder. You just wet your brush and pour a bit of it on there. The recipe is simple: 1/2 cup baking soda and a pinch each of salt, xylitol, myrrh, and sage. Add a pinch of cinnamon or mint for flavor if you want. Works great!

Diane MacEachern
13 years ago

Love it love it love it! A few questions: what do you do about shampoo? Do you use a soap bar? What do you do about juice? Do you make your own, or buy frozen in a paper container? Thanks for the inspiration!

13 years ago

Thats amazing! Great job. Something to definitely attempt! I have been trying to cut down on my waste in general but I think I would find food to be the hardest area as so much these days comes in plastic (yogurt, cheese and milk, I have never seen glass milk bottles). I’m going to be looking through your web page for more ideas! Keep up the great work!

13 years ago

write that book- I see a whole lotta people commenting here that want to buy it!

13 years ago

I LOVED that video! Have you done others? It was so great to be able to put a voice to the blog!

13 years ago

Ooooooo!!!!!! Book!!! Please!!!! I, the least patient person ever, will wait with baited breath for the combination of my two favorite things – using less plastic and books.

And if your book is half as well written as your posts, it will be an excellent book. I’m convinced too many brilliant ideas fall victim to inner critics – please instead believe your adoring public here whenever the critics rear their heads :D

By the way, ever since I found this: http://www.instructables.com/id/The-Green-Pee-Cat-Litter-System/ I’ve been excited to try it. I’m on a buy nothing new kick this year, though, so I’m waiting for a friend to drop off a bucket of leftover pea gravel for me. Have you looked in to anything like that? I buy in bulk from one of the big box pet stores currently and was toying with a switch to the wheat based in an attempt to compost (not for use in garden) rather than trash it, but the prospects of not purchasing any litter at all are far more appealing!

Book!! :D

13 years ago

On the subject of OTC cough syrup alternatives, pediatricians have now stopped recommending cough syrup for children and now instead suggest honey. Apparently, honey does a lot to soothe a cough but without the risk of addiction or side effects generally connected with cough syrups. Obviously, skimping on medical necessities or preventive measures is not good for the environment (It’s better to take a daily aspirin than get open heart surgery) and I generally don’t buy into alternative medicines, but, in some cases, there is an obvious, satisfactory option. (You should be able to find honey in glass bottles.)

I’m really excited for the book! Good luck with all your goals!

13 years ago

You can’t see all of us fish-people out here but we are on our feet shouting, Bravo! as we wave our canvas bags over our heads.

No wasted footage in that video and the multiplying bins of plastic at the beginning is special effects at its best.

The only thing I’d add in regard to plastic is the very big picture – that we are taking a very valuable and limited resource, petroleum/natural gas, and turning it into something worthless. At the same time, we’re taking something that has been given to us as a gift by the ages of time past and turning it into an unwanted gift to the future.

Oh by the way, forgive me for putting you in Berkeley instead of Oakland the other day.

13 years ago

Hi, Beth — You can do it with the book! Your blog will provide you with a lot of excellent material to draw from.

I’d like to second Holly’s contribution — I’m a freelance copyeditor and proofreader and would be happy to contribute my services for free, as well. Your blog has changed my life!

13 years ago

I think your book would be very successful. Go Beth! =)

The Raven
13 years ago

Great video! (Now can you get it captioned?)

And your book will have a prime spot on my overflowing bookcase.

Like everybody else here says, you’ve helped change my life.

13 years ago

Go write that book!

13 years ago

Hi Beth,

Great video! My husband calls your site “the feeder of my obsession” with plastic. Well he’s jumping on the bandwagon, too, and he doesn’t even read your web site, so what does that say about your power? Thanks so much for encouraging us all to think more and do more.

I love the idea for a book. I’m a professional proofreader/editor so if you need one before submitting your manuscript for publication, I would love to lend you my services for free because I think your no-plastic lifestyle is such an inspiration.

Best wishes for 2010!

13 years ago

“What did you think of the movie, Xana?”
“It’s good to use less plastic, because plastic is bad for you. LESS.”
said my daughter, age 3.

Lisa @ Retro Housewife Goes Green
13 years ago

Great post Beth! I loved the video!!!

Also I can’t wait for your book. I will happily review it and promote the hell out of it! :

You are my hero! Since “meeting” you I can’t look at plastic the same. :)

13 years ago

Oh, a book will be great!