10 Ways to Use Less Plastic

by guest blogger Beth Terry, author and green-living pioneer

Before June of 2007, I lived the plastic lifestyle. It's no great surprise--most of us do. It's pretty standard in the United States. It's a lifestyle of consumption, enabled by convenience. Fast-forward to today. For the past five years, I've been living with almost no new plastic. How could a convenience addict like me go from generating huge trash bags of the stuff each week to just one small grocery bagful in all of 2011? It's a long story, but lets just say that it started when I read an article in Men's Health about the plastic in our oceans and I got mad, real mad. And I committed to looking at my own plastic consumption and plastic waste and figuring out what changes I could make.

I wanted to try to live without buying any new plastic, but at that point, I wasn't interested in getting rid of the plastic I already had. And I knew I couldn't possibly give up all plastic all at once. I had to decide which plastics were essential and what I could let go of. So I created some rules. Here are my 4 rules to start living a plastic-free life (your rules might be different):
  1. I will collect all my plastic trash (both recyclable and non-) each week, photograph and tally it up on a spreadsheet, and post the list to my blog. I will only include plastic waste that I generate or contribute to. If Michael brings home food packaged in plastic and I consume some of it, the packaging will go into my tally. But anything he buys for his exclusive use (such as cottage cheese in plastic tubs!) will not count.
  2. I will continue to use up the plastic-packaged products I already have, but will try to avoid buying any new plastic. Using up what I have will buy me the time I need o research alternatives.
  3. If there is a plastic item I really need, I can borrow or rent or acquire it secondhand. I just can't buy it new. And I can't cheat by accepting new plastic gifts from friends.
  4. I will avoid storing or eating food in plastic containers because of chemicals that might leach from them.
You might assume I would have been afraid to look at my first few weeks' plastic collections--afraid of how much plastic trash I had generated. But I wasn't. In fact, I was excited to finally have some idea of
. In all, I collected roughly 3.5 pounds of plastic trash in the first month. That's more than the amount of
(The picture below is me surrounded by the plastic trash I collected during the first 6 months of 2007.)

Here are just a few of the hundreds of tips I outline in my book that will help you be part of the solution:
  1. Collect a stash of reusable bags. Make a plan to carry/remember them. If you're feeling really ambitious, speak to a store manager about eliminating plastic bags. Use Green Sangha's half-page flyer, "Why I Don't Use Plastic Bags" for help.
  2. Ditch plastic water bottles and use glass or stainless steel bottles instead.
  3. Contact your recycling center and make sure you know exactly what items are accepted in its bins.
  4. Bring your own reusable foodware, such as bamboo plates and utensils, stainless steel containers, and glass or stainless straws for takeout food or restaurant leftovers.
  5. Bring reusable produce/bulk bags and containers to the grocery store and buy from the bulk bins.
  6. Gather up toys, dishes, and other children's items made with PVC, a particularly toxic plastic, and dispose of them at a hazardous waste facility.
For more on how to live plastic free, check out my book: 
from which this blog was excerpted.


Beth Terry is the author of the blog  MyPlasticFreeLife.com and the new book
Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too (Skyhorse, June 2012). A founding member of the Plastic Pollution Coalition, Terry gives presentations on living plastic-free and why our personal changes do make a difference. She spearheaded the successful Take Back the Filter Brita recycling campaign, and has been profiled in Susan Freinkel's book, Plastic: A Toxic Love Story, Captain Charles Moore's Plastic Ocean, and the award-winning film Bag It.  She lives in Oakland, CA, with her husband and two rascally kitties.

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