You think living without plastic is impossible?
Not so. Just ask Beth Terry, an almost plastic-free diva who made headlines with her blog FakePlasticFish.com last year when she forced the mega-company Brita to agree to recycle its plastic water filters. Beth continues to amaze anyone who drops by her blog with her tactics for eliminating new plastic from her life – even when it means giving up her favorite cheese. Read my interview with Beth, and be inspired!
Where did the idea of Fake Plastic Fish come from? "The name of the blog was inspired by the Radiohead song, "Fake Plastic Trees," actually. It's a melancholic song that matched my feeling of deep sadness on first seeing a photo of a dead albatross chick filled with plastic. I substituted "fish" for "trees" to suggest that if we don't figure out solutions to our plastic pollution problems, fake plastic fish may be the only kind we have left in our oceans."
Is plastic really so much worse than other "no-no's" we have to deal with, like synthetic fibers, conventionally grown food, Hummers? "Not worse. But plastic is unique in that it encompasses so many of the environmental problems we have to deal with:
resource depletion (made from fossil fuels);
waste (will not biodegrade & really only downcyclable);
litter (nearly all litter on our beaches is plastic);
harm to wildlife (starving albatross chicks with bellies full of plastic, sea turtles choking on plastic bags, fish swallowing toxic nurdles);
air pollution (toxic fumes from PVC factories & dioxin released when buildings burn);
toxicity issues (leaching chemicals such as BPA, phthalates, styrene, antimony, etc. as well as bioaccumulation in the marine environment that makes its way up the food chain.)
"Because plastic is so fraught, it's a good place to start, no matter what your main environmental interest, from toy and foodware safety to climate change concerns to wildlife protection. And as individuals start limiting the amount of plastic in their lives, other steps often follow. For example, once I was in the habit of bringing my own bags, bottles, and containers to avoid disposable plastic packaging, it was easy to add a cloth napkin to save paper. These steps go together.
"My definition of plastic, by the way, includes synthetic fibers. If a jacket can be made out of recycled water bottles, it's plastic!"
What's the most effective way to encourage people to use less plastic? "Education is key. Through Fake Plastic Fish as well as Green Sangha’s Rethinking Plastics presentations, I hope to give people the opportunity to have the same kind of "Aha!" moment I did the first time I read about the devastating effects of plastics on birds, fish, and other wildlife out in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and realized that my own actions had repercussions thousands of miles away.
"Once folks have the desire to change, we should ask them to start wherever they are. Drastic changes usually lead to burnout and failure. In interviewing other plastic-free bloggers for Fake Plastic Fish, I've learned that what motivates each of us to act is very personal. A mom concerned about child safety might start by replacing plastic foodware with glass or stainless steel. Another person frustrated by waste and litter might begin by eliminating plastic bags and bottles and opting for reusables as much as possible. Someone concerned about climate change may want to find alternatives to products made from fossil fuels and may be interested to learn that wasting has a direct connection to greenhouse gas emissions."
What makes choosing alternatives so difficult? "Plastic is cheap. Just look at all the cheap plastic crap we import every year. And plastic is convenient. Disposable plastic packaging and containers make our fast-paced lifestyle possible. Until our values shift as a society away from rampant consumerism and things that are quick and disposable, manufacturers will have no reason to stop producing plastic products and shipping them in plastic packaging.
"Our government ultimately will need to get involved to make some of these changes happen, like bans and taxes on disposable bags, for example. But let’s also remember that we are the government. First, we need to change our own behavior and then let both our elected officials and the companies that produce the products we rely on know what we want. (DM Note: One alternative to plastic bags: mesh produce bags like those pictured here).
"I love that Big Green Purse is a terrific resource, providing government and company contact information to those who want to take the next step and speak out.
Thanks for the nod to Big Green Purse! What product or service has been hardest to give up because you want to avoid plastic? What's been surprisingly easy? These are the same questions I ask other plastic-free bloggers in my Voices of the Plastic-Free Blogosphere series! I’d say the very easiest change of all was switching from liquid soap to bar soap. Simple simple. My local Whole Foods Market has a huge selection of bar soaps that come wrapped in only a tiny bit of cardboard.
"The hardest thing for me personally has been cheese. I could go to the cheese shop or deli and ask for cheese to be sliced and put into my own container. But the large blocks and wheels of cheese are either already wrapped in plastic to begin with or must be wrapped in plastic as soon as they are cut. So I just skip it. I did make homemade paneer today. And I can buy fresh mozzarella in bulk. But it’s just not the same as sharp, aged cheddar or gruyere. Not the same at all.
"Another ongoing snag is plastic-free cat litter. The one brand that’s both biodegradable and plastic-free (SwheatScoop) is a complete turnoff to my cats, who would rather use the floor. *Sigh*"
Does it cost more money to live plastic-free? "First, let me clarify that my life is not entirely plastic-free. My main goal is to stop buying any new plastic.
"To answer your question, some things cost more, but overall, I’ve saved a lot of money. I buy fewer new things in general and find ways to borrow, repair what I have, or obtain secondhand through Freecycle, Craigslist, or thrift shops. We got our kitties’ plastic litter boxes and carrier boxes that way. And when my computer monitor died and couldn’t be repaired, I found a used one through Craigslist that cost much less.
"Avoiding new plastic means jumping off of the hamster wheel of consumerism: compulsively needing the newest gadget, having to own every CD or DVD, engaging in mindless sport shopping and retail therapy.
"I may spend more for fresh plastic-free bread from the bakery or fresh chicken in my own container at the butcher shop, but think about how much I’m saving on things like bottled water by filling my own Klean Kanteen with tap water or on sparkling water by using my soda maker instead."
You had a big victory with the Brita filters campaign (please explain). Who or what is your next target? "Take Back The Filter collected over 16,000 signatures and over 600 used Brita water filter cartridges to demonstrate to Clorox (owner of Brita in North America) that consumers who opt for filtered tap water instead of bottled water want a way to recycle the filter cartridges. We were thrilled when Clorox announced its partnership with Preserve and Whole Foods to take back and recycle the pitcher filters.
"But Brita pitcher filters, while the #1 filter method in North America, are still only a fraction of the market. We’d like to see other water filter companies follow Clorox’s lead. And we’d like Clorox to continue to research a way to recycle its faucet-type filters.
"I don’t currently have any other company to target. These days, I’m more interested in motivating others to speak out for the things they want. I was thrilled when one of my readers contacted me about recycling plastic gift cards, and as a result of our brief conversation, was able to convince her local drugstore to begin a collection/recycling program."
You said you are learning to sing! Are you learning punk rock, American ballads, or opera? I love La Boheme! "When I was in Junior High, I dreamed of being Pat Benatar. (That gives away my age, huh?) Rent is about as close as I get to La Boheme! I performed a couple of fierce Evanescence songs during my last karaoke night, if I do say so myself. But that could just be the plastic-free martinis talking."