Simplify Your Life by Using Less Plastic

by Tammy Strobel on April 29, 2010

An Interview with Beth Terry

For the past month, I’ve been interviewing amazing bloggers about minimalism, location independence, financial freedom and more. Every Thursday, a feature interview is posted on RowdyKittens. Last week, I spoke to Leo Babauta from Zen Habits and mnmlist. This week the feature interview is with Beth Terry from Fake Plastic Fish. We talked about plastic, cultivating superpowers and how every individual can make a difference.

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Tammy Strobel: What prompted you to stop using plastic?

Beth Terry: Back in June of 2007, I saw a photo and read an article that changed my life. The photo was the carcass of a dead albatross chick whose body was full of plastic pieces. My heart just broke. And I realized that my personal actions, buying a lot of disposable plastic on a regular basis, could be contributing directly to the suffering of creatures I hadn’t even known existed. Global warming wasn’t tangible to me. The plastic inside that chick was.

Tammy: A number of my friends would love to cut plastic out of their lives, but don’t know where to start. Can you recommend 3 actions people can take to decrease the amount of plastic in their households?

Beth: 1) Bring your own grocery bags to the store and stop taking plastic produce bags. You don’t need a separate bag for each item. Apples and oranges get along fine together during the short ride home, as do broccoli and green peppers. If you need a produce bag for smaller items, you can use cloth bags or wash and bring back the plastic bags you already have.

2) Cut out bottled beverages and carry your own stainless steel water container or travel mug. I myself prefer a travel mug because it is so versatile. I can get hot or cold drinks in it. Your mileage may vary. Make friends with water fountains and have the gumption to go into eateries and ask for free water in your own container.

3) Look at all the processed foods, frozen foods, energy bars, cereals, etc. that you buy and figure out which things you can cut out. Eating whole foods instead of processed is healthier and helps us reduce waste, plastic and otherwise. If you have stores that sell foods in bulk bins where you can bring your own bags and containers, use them. If not, skip individual serving sizes and buy the largest size packages you will actually be able to consume. They use much less plastic than individual servings.

Tammy: I know you’re working on a book. Can you tell us a little bit about the book and why you decided to write it?

Beth: The book is in the planning stages. It is part personal journey, the things I have learned through learning to live mindfully with less plastic, as well as a guide for peopled who’d like to get started themselves. It will be much better organized than the information on Fake Plastic Fish!

Tammy: Has using less plastic simplified your life or made it more complex?

Beth: Well, it’s done both, actually. I do have to think more about what I buy and be prepared. But once those habits are in place, they become automatic. It’s simplified my life because I find myself shopping a lot less and buying a lot less stuff.

Tammy: Has your family been supportive of your project?

Beth: For the most part, yes. In the beginning, they were skeptical. I think they were worried I was judging them. But because I realize that I am in no way perfect, I don’t feel I have a right to judge others. I just want to be an example. And my family sees that. I think they are proud of me, actually. I have a funny video on my web site: an interview with my husband about how he feels about my plastic-free ways. It’s here.

Tammy: What books are you always telling people to read?

Beth: Hmm… not many books except for Bottlemania and now The Story of Stuff.

There are more movies:

And coming up: I have a small part in the film BagIt, which is still in production.

Tammy: Do our personal actions really make a difference?

Beth: Yes! Here are a few reasons why…

a) We know they are the right things to do
b) We want to live in harmony with nature
c) We become more invested in the outcome of our actions and have the will to push for changes on a larger scale.
d) We see the limits to personal actions and realize in what areas we need to push our governments and businesses to reduce the amount of waste they create in the first place.

Tammy: Everyone has unique skills; skills that I call superpowers. What is your superpower(s)?

Beth: OMG. My superpowers are both blessings and curses.

a) The ability to get by with very little sleep, for one thing. It’s necessary when you are a blogger, activist, and also have a job as an accountant.

b) An obsessive nature and single focus that can at times drive me and others crazy, but that also helps me accomplish what I set out to do. A dogged persistence.

c) A naivete that compels me to try new things even if they seem impossible.

***

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1 Dave April 29, 2010

We’ve made some very simple produce bags out of a thin muslin with string loops attached at the corners (to hang them at home), and they have worked brilliantly. We also use all glass containers for storing cooked food, taking leftovers to work, etc (mainly just our glass pyrex baking dishes). We are trying now to buy most staple foods in bulk and keep them in glass jars at home (grains, pasta, beans, spices, etc), and we get our milk/cream/buttermilk directly from farms in glass bottles/jars which go back to the farm to be re-used.

I suppose if you have to use plastic, and in some cases it’s basically unavoidable, at least try to make sure it gets recycled and not dumped in landfills, the ocean, etc.

We’ve found this a really nice way to do things, plus we get better food this way, it looks better when stored, and you get the benefit of using objects that are made to last and feel more substantial than the cheap plastic stuff that is so prevalent. So, not only is it a health-conscious and environmentally-conscious decision, it has actually tangibly improved our experience of life and our home.

2 Tammy April 29, 2010

@Dave – Excellent! Thanks for the tips. We’ll have to make some for our shopping trips. :)

3 Sarita Li April 29, 2010

Great interview.

It’s amazing, once you become aware, how many plastics you come across each hour of each day that you never even noticed before!

Thanks Beth for raising awareness and sharing your solutions!

Also, thanks Dave for the muslin bags idea above– I keep meaning to make up a few produce bags, but my sewing projects keep piling up! Knit natural fiber market bags are a wonder for the Farmers’ Market– they stretch to hold so much without breaking!

sj

4 Eric Normand April 29, 2010

We try to reuse all of the plastic that comes into our life. But it’s often impossible.

I remember when I was a kid my mom would save every yogurt container. We had stacks of them in the cabinet, and we would reuse them to store food. Who needs tupperware?

People say the problem with plastic is that it doesn’t degrade. It lasts forever. But that could be a really valuable property. The real problem is that we don’t take advantage of that property. We take advantage of how cheap it is. So we make it, use it once, and throw it away. But it will last forever!

In some countries you pay for your shopping bags. That would go a long way to get rid of waste.

5 Niall Doherty April 29, 2010

Great interview. I loved this part especially: “But because I realize that I am in no way perfect, I don’t feel I have a right to judge others. I just want to be an example.” Excellent attitude.

I’m from Ireland originally and they charge 5c per plastic bag in stores there, been doing it for a few years now. It’s made a big difference, a huge step in the right direction. And it’s such a simple idea that I’m not sure why other countries aren’t doing the same.

Also, I’ve heard about the movie Addicted to Plastic before but I can’t find it on Netflix. Is it possible to watch it online somewhere or do you have to buy the DVD? And does the DVD come in a plastic case? :-P

6 Tammy April 29, 2010

@Niall – Have you tried looking on YouTube? I’m wondering if there is a full version of the film there? If you can’t find it via google, I would suggest emailing Beth. She might be able to track it down for you. :) And I’m sure the DVD would come in plastic. Then again maybe they are using recycled materials?

Thanks for reading the blog!

7 Beth Terry @ Fake Plastic Fish April 29, 2010

Check it out. I just did a Google search. Apparently, you can watch Addicted to Plastic online:

http://www.documentary-log.com/d402-addicted-to-plastic/

Not sure how the DVD is shipped. I got mine in recycled cardboard, but that was because it was part of a third party DVD subscription program that has since ended. Not sure how the DVD is shipped now.

8 Niall Doherty April 30, 2010

Wow. Thanks, Beth. I’ll be sure to watch that later.

9 Logan April 29, 2010

Great interview!

Beth Terry is a hero and visionary in so many ways. She has really enlightened me to the hazards of plastic and to solutions for reducing consumption. Its fantastic to read rowdykittens supporting the cause! :)

Cheers!

10 Beth Terry @ Fake Plastic Fish April 29, 2010

Thanks so much for the interview! Your questions were great.

I just want to let people know that there is a full list of all the plastic-free changes I’ve made thus far at http://fakeplasticfish.com/list.

Cheers!

11 Tammy April 29, 2010

Thanks for the link to the list Beth. :)

12 Chris O'Byrne April 29, 2010

What a wonderful interview with a wonderful person. Tammy, you’ve done well with your choices of people to interview (except for that one guy, you know who I mean) and Beth is a shining example. I’m heading over to her site for more exploring. Thanks to both of you!

13 Tammy April 29, 2010

@Chris – thanks! :) I’m glad you enjoyed the interview.

14 Victoria Vargas April 29, 2010

I also love Beth’s attitude about being an example, not a judge. That’s exactly the challenge I’ve given myself. I have so many areas to work on to live more simply, how could I ever point a finger at someone else in criticism? Can’t. I also love Dave’s idea of muslin produce bags. Some natural food stores and co-ops are now providing biodegradable clear produce bags made from corn that can be composted, but reusable is even better. Thanks for a great interview, Tammy.

15 Beany April 30, 2010

Beth is my hero as well. Every time I deliberately or inadvertently get plastic home, I think about her. Sometimes I can’t figure out an alternative, sometimes I do, but she is incredibly inspiring to me.

16 SimplyMe April 30, 2010

Excellent post! Thinking about that little chick really puts things in perspective. I’ve just recently started to really focus on less plastic. I always take my own bags on shopping day. I used to be careless and forget them, but it’s amazing how we can reprogram ourselves to get into the habit. (They’re so much sturdier too!). We’ve also donated all of our plastic containers and replaced them with glass. Better for us. Better for the environment. We’ve switched our shopping habits too, trying to only buy items sold in paper or recyclable glass. Easier said than done, but an interesting little challenge and I feel like we’re succeeding. Slowly. But. Surely. It’s just the right thing to do, and it feels good.

17 Tammy May 2, 2010

@SimplyMe – Thanks for sharing! :)

18 Carol Brenneisen June 2, 2010

Tammy, I just found out about the North Pacific Trash Vortex – http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/oceans/pollution/trash-vortex/. It’s a floating plastic garbage dump estimated to be the size of Texas! egad.

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