Book Review: Plastic Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too by Beth Terry


How’s this for irony: because the book has an exposed spine the first thing my library did when they got their copies in at the service center was to swath them in plastic dust jackets.

Matt and I hate plastic. Matt objects to it on principle – wishes it was never invented – and I resent just about every characteristic of the stuff: it absorbs odors and stains easily, left in the sun it gets brittle and useless, you can only recycle some of it and what little gets recycled is actually downcycled (which means that it is made into some other product that it originally was, leaving a hole in the supply chain that needs to be replaced with virgin materials). Mostly, though, I think locally, not globally. Very locally. Like, just in the room I happen to be occupying. So what bugs me most about plastic is that we can’t recycle it at our place and have to take it to the dump which means it will languish in the landfill until that time I have predicted in which landfills will be reopened and mined for plastic because we’re out of oil to waste on making new water bottles.

I’ve got to say, though, that we’re not totally fascist about this. Plastic has handy dandy uses: I make my own shampoo and conditioner and I can’t see worth a damn without my specs so you can be damn sure I’m not going to bring that stuff into the shower in breakable glass containers; plastic makes some live-saving medical products possible; it’s wonderfully lightweight.
So, on to the book review.
I ‘m going to be up front about the fact that I did not read every word. I confess to skimming the chapters which were too political for me (those on the ecological effects of the plastic making, using, and disposal stream and on how to form an action group to fight the use of plastics in your area) or in which I’m pretty well-versed already (such as gardening as an alternative to buying plastic-bagged produce). And this is a hefty tome. Ms. Terry has a lot to say and a lot of experience to speak from. She started the blog Fake Plastic Fish in 2007 (and changed the name to My Plastic Free Life at some point) and this book is hot off the press in 2012.
I learned a lot from this book: the “chasing arrows” on the bottom of consumer plastics do NOT mean that the product is recyclable; the reason that your municipality may (seemingly arbitrarily) specify that only plastics of a certain shape (say, narrow-mouthed bottles) are acceptable in their bins is that the majority of plastic is sorted at the recycling facility by human beings who do not have psychic abilities or the time to look over every piece of plastic to find the resin number (the digit inside the aforementioned chasing arrows); most chewing gum contains a form of plastic; not all naturally-derived plastics (such as corn plastic) are actually biodegradable; and more.
I took a lot of notes and I have a lot to think about. The more plastic we avoid bringing into the house the less I have to pay to dispose of and the less it weighs on my granola-crunching little conscience.
— Amanda

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