Practical Advice Delivered Without Smugness
I picked up a copy of Plastic Free at a screening of Bag It last week. I’m not a documentary buff and didn’t think this one was particularly compelling, but I had the pleasure of meeting Beth Terry of MyPlasticFreeLife. She answered questions about plastic after the film in the same friendly, unassuming, and thoughtful way that characterizes her blog. Plastic Free is pretty much what you would expect it to be: a guide to why plastics should be avoided and how to do it. Most of the information is practical, with lots of useful tips derived from personal experience, lists of actionable content, and interviews with activists. There are also some thoughtful meditations on burn out, whether individual actions matter, funny anecdotes (my favorite involves red wine in a Kleen Kanteen), and more.
I’ll admit right now that I have zero intention of gnawing on neem sticks for toothbrushes, and while I am deeply concerned about the environment, do not see plastic as the most pressing issue. I’ve already switched to reusable bags, water bottles, food storage, and bulk bins, but my life will never be plastic free — and I’m OK with that. Wherever you are in your green journey, Beth provides great tips and motivation to keep pushing yourself a little further.
Chapters cover subjects like plastic bags, disposable water bottles, grocery shopping, recycling, eating out, cleaning, and personal care. Some of it won’t be new if you’ve already made the switch, some of it won’t be relevant depending on your lifestyle (I skipped the entire section on diapers, thankyouverymuch), but it’s all quite readable and you’re likely to learn something new or pick up a good tip. For me, the section on recycling plastics was particularly eye-opening. That little triangle you thought meant something was recyclable actually doesn’t mean anything, and I am finding myself looking aghast at my yogurt tub and a lot of other things that I thought were being tidily recycled. The author also discusses bio-plastics and silicone.
Plastic Free obviously has a lot of thought put into it. Every time I thought of an objection, Beth magically anticipated and addressed it — from the way plastic is really more symbolic of our wasteful lives than anything else, to the fact that reusable bags are frequently made out of oil-based fabrics like nylon or polyester, to the bigger lifestyle and ethical changes that going plastic free entails. Yet it’s not didactic, smug, judgy, or simplistic, and that is quite an achievement.
Where Plastic Free loses me a bit is the science. There are a lot of ‘may’ and ‘can’ statements about plastic toxicity that have not achieved general scientific consensus. For example, Beth writes that “endocrine disruptors may actually have an increased effect in very small doses” and then cites an article that analyzes an EPA study in which the panel of toxicologists actually “is not persuaded that a low dose effect of BPA has been conclusively established as a general or reproducible finding.” Something we should do more research into? Definitely. But we just don’t know enough yet. I’m also slightly leery of citing the EWG, which 79% of toxicologists in a survey conducted by the Society of Toxicology say overstates chemical dangers. Although I’m a cautious person by nature, I don’t embrace the Precautionary Principle to the same extent as Beth does, or recognize a binary between safe or dangerous, since the same substance can be either depending on the circumstances. Based on the available evidence, I’m likely to continue using my Teflon pan for omelets. And just as factual nitpicking, toxoplasmosis in otters is linked to fresh water run off rather than municipal sewage systems, so keeping your cats indoors is a lot more critical than not flushing litter down the toilet.
But it’s not a science book, and even though I don’t find my health risks from plastic particularly alarming, Plastic Free offers plenty of environmental reasons to avoid plastic. I’m feeling inspired to take the Show Your Plastic Challenge and remember to bring my own take out containers.
Good read. Thank you, Beth.