Completely Cutting Out Plastic with My Plastic Free Life’s Beth Terry

July 15, 2013

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome to another edition of Green is Good, and we’re going to the West Coast and we’ve got Beth Terry on the line with us. She’s the author of the new book, Plastic Free, and she’s also created the website, MyPlasticFreeLife.com. Welcome to Green is Good, Beth Terry. BETH TERRY: Hi. I’m happy to be here. JOHN SHEGERIAN: We’re so happy to have you. I know it’s early in the morning on the West Coast, but Beth, we appreciate you getting up early to tell your story and also to share your book and your website with our listeners. It’s really important stuff. Talk a little bit about though, Beth Terry. How’d you even start this journey and how’d you end up writing this book and creating this wonderful website, which I’m on right now? BETH TERRY: Well, it started six years ago, almost exactly six years ago. I just stumbled across an article about the plastic pollution problem in the ocean and at that time, I was just like most Americans. I was using plastic like crazy, taking double plastic bags at the grocery store, and living on frozen dinners in microwaveable plastic trays and not really thinking about the things that I purchased and then I read this article and I saw a photo that actually shocked me. It was a picture of a dead albatross, a bird on Midway Island, a baby bird, and it was just completely full of plastic pieces, everyday plastic pieces like bottle caps and things that I was using on an everyday basis, and it just broke my heart and as I read this article further, I learned that we humans aren’t so different from those birds because we consume the chemicals that leak from plastic as well and we feed them to our children so I just decided to see what it would be like to live without acquiring any new plastic and I didn’t know if I could. I wanted to know what my personal plastic footprint was so I started collecting all my plastic waste every week and in the beginning, I had piles and piles of plastic and now my plastic waste fits in one regular sized grocery bag so it’s gotten way down. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You know, Beth, this is a fascinating subject. I have a lot of young people talk to me about this all the time and I’ve recently watched some specials on this. How bad is it? Can you quantify it for our listeners out there? You hear about these huge plastic sort of islands in the ocean that are 10 miles big, 20 miles big. Is there any sort of quantification you can give to it and how bad has this problem gotten? BETH TERRY: It’s worse than miles of islands of plastic because an island, you would think, would be big solid pieces that you could scoop up and retrieve, but what it really is is more like a plastic soup. It’s not an island you could walk on, but it’s water that’s just infused with tiny plastic pieces, and there’s the North Pacific Gyre, which was first discovered, which is a huge area. Some people say twice the size of Texas. It’s just a swirling area in the Pacific Ocean where all this plastic accumulate but now we know that there are actually five major gyres in the world’s oceans. They all have plastic in them and there are smaller gyres and they’re finding plastic in every ocean where they sample and this plastic isn’t getting there from ships at sea, some of it, a small portion of it, but most of it gets there from us, from land, things washed down storm drains, plastic pellets get littered in transit. I mean, it’s a huge problem and it’s gonna require, not just people going out and trying to clean it up. There are all these schemes to try to clean up the gyres but how do you clean it up when we’re pumping so much of the stuff into it every day? We’ve got to reduce the amount we’re using in the first place, you know? JOHN SHEGERIAN: Which is a great point, and that’s why we do this show, not only to platform great people like you that are truly out there changing the world one by one and again, for our listeners who just tuned in, we’ve got Beth Terry on with us. She’s written the book, Plastic Free. You can buy it at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, anywhere where you can buy books, Plastic Free, and also, go to her great website, which I’m on right now, MyPlasticFreeLife.com. It’s amazing. Beth, we talk about solutions on this show. It’s not just about framing the problem, which is massive, as you put it, but what can our listeners do? How can they follow in your footsteps to truly create effective change wherever they are, in their own home, in their own business, in wherever they are? BETH TERRY: Well, there are so many things people can do, but the first thing I want to say is you can’t do it all at once. It’s taken me six years to get to the place where I am right now, so take it step by step and I say that in my book, too. The very first thing that I did was to make a commitment to not taking any more disposable grocery bags from the store and just to always have my reusable bag with me at all times and in the beginning, it was a little difficult because it was a challenge just to remember it and I had to leave a couple of times with things rolled up in my shirt. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Very honest you are. I like it. BETH TERRY: My husband and I were on vacation one time, but you know, I knew that if I let myself off the hook that I would not develop the habit, so that’s why I went hardcore like that and then bringing a reusable water bottle with me, a stainless steel bottle, instead of drinking a bottle of water and then after that, it’s an individual process because everybody’s plastic use and lifestyle is different and so one thing that I really encourage people to do is take a look at their plastic footprint. Collect your plastic for a week and see what kind of things you’re using, what kind of things you could easily give up, what kind of things might be a little bit harder. There’s a worksheet in the book for people who want to do that and they can do it online, too, if they want to take a picture of it and post it and it’s a good way to kind of plan out what steps you’re gonna take to reduce the plastic in your home, in your life, in your business, wherever. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, Beth, just for a shameless plug, there’s a lot of suggestions in your great book and also on your great website. Is this not true? So, people can get a lot of inspiration and suggestions on how to live more plastic-free, both from your website in your book? BETH TERRY: Absolutely. The book is just full of suggestions. The first chapter has most of the information about the problems of plastic and the rest of it is almost all solutions. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Great, and then so talk a little bit about one of the fascinating things is you talk about in your book about recycling and where does recycling fit into us deleveraging out of our wasteful plastic society? Where does that fit in, recycling? BETH TERRY: Well, recycling should be the last of the Rs, right? We talk about reduce, reuse, recycle and some of us put the word refuse at the beginning of that list. Recycling is what we should be doing with what we have left after we have reduced as much as we possibly can. It’s not a panacea. It’s not a solution to the problem. First of all, it doesn’t address the toxicity issue. There are all these additives that companies put in their products to affect the quality or the strength or the flexibility, the color, even antibacterial chemicals and some of those we know about. We know about toxic additives like bisphenol-A and phthalates and things like that but there are potentially thousands of chemicals that could be in any particular plastic product that they don’t tell us about because manufacturers don’t have to disclose their proprietary ingredients so we don’t get to know what’s in the plastics so that’s one area where recycling just doesn’t cut it. There’s several more issues with plastic recycling. Plastic recycling is more accurately described as down cycling because it doesn’t really close the loop. If I have a plastic bottle and I put it in my recycling bin, it’s probably not gonna get recycled into another plastic bottle but into something like carpet or some of polar fleece or some kind of fabric and that generally doesn’t get further recycled so you’re slowing down the process from cradle to grave, but you’re not completely closing the loop and third: most people don’t realize that in the United States and Europe, most of our plastic recycling actually gets shipped to China. Especially here on the west coast, we have container ships, and this is true on the east coast as well, coming to deliver all kinds of goods from China and we don’t want to send those back empty so we fill them with our plastic trash and other types of recycling and send it back and there was an expose done that showed one particular town in China that had become just a toxic waste dump for all the plastic that was being shipped overseas. Now, that’s not the case of every plastic recycling facility in China I’ve been assured, but we know that a lot of the manufacturing that’s happening over there is being done with dirty fuels so really, what we’re doing when we send our recycling overseas is we’re just taking our problem and shifting it somewhere else. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I’m with you. Let me ask you two questions. We’re down to about two-and-a-half minutes and I have two important questions to ask you, Beth. Tell us the backside of this whole story. Are there any plastic items that you and your husband miss in your daily household living? BETH TERRY: No. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Alright, good. Well, that’s good. That’s hopeful. Let me ask another question though. You’re a tremendous ambassador and evangelist for this issue and for our listeners out there who really want to live more plastic-free — because I think we all do. I think we’re all starting to really understand the severity of this and I’m so glad you came on the show today. Talk a little bit about fighting apathy that our friends and family have against this issue. BETH TERRY: You know, one of the most important reasons for making personal changes is the example that you set for other people and so for me, setting an example and not nagging people and not berating them, not lecturing them, that’s been the best strategy. My friends see what I do and they pick up some of my habits and they try things and that’s been the same in my family. If I were to be nagging people and trying to say you really should do this or that, I don’t think it would help. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, you’re basically saying live your example? Just live the example and people will follow? BETH TERRY: They will. They absolutely will, and you know, when people in the stores see you bringing your container or your own bag, they get the idea in their head that’s a normal thing, that’s something that people do, and then you can talk about the issue when people ask for people who are interested because there is a growing movement of people trying to reduce their plastic and trying to do something about this problem. It’s getting in the media more and more, as you know, and so I don’t think we really need to push people on it because they want to do it. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Awesome. Beth, thanks for coming on today. For our listeners out there, buy Beth’s book, Plastic Free, Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, wherever you can buy books, and also go to her great website, MyPlasticFreeLife.com. Beth Terry, you’re an inspirational author and thought leader and truly living proof that Green is Good.