The moment you pick up this book, you can already see that Beth’s Plastic-Free is championing something unique. The book’s spine is exposed and protected only by an uncoated cardboard jacket. As the publisher’s note explains, Beth and her publisher did their best to ensure that the book was made with minimal plastic.
With this same attitude—a belief that anyone can reduce their negative impact on the planet, no matter the context—Beth talks about the many ways we can use plastic-free alternatives in our lives.
Beth begins her first chapter explaining what plastic actually is. Even though she's unravelling scientific concepts, she writes with a conversational tone that is easy to grasp. A light bulb moment of understanding for me occurred when Beth explained why plastic cannot biodegrade like organic material can. I’ve supplied her explanation here:
Beth also explains why we can’t be certain how dangerous plastic really is. This is because manufacturers are not required to declare what is in their products. Although public outcry means that BPA is no longer found in many plastics, other alternatives have not been proven to be less toxic. As Beth explains, “it is not enough for us to know what’s not in a plastic product; as citizens we should have a right to know what is in it”. I also appreciated Beth’s extensive list of references at the back of the book, denoting the studies that explore plastic toxins.
Now for the plastic-free alternatives themselves. There are a whole heap of them! Beth talks about reusable bags, composting, bulk shopping, BYO containers, how to DIY from iPod covers to eyeliner, and opting for water filters instead of bottled water. To see all the possibilities gave me a greater motivation to remove plastic from my life in many more ways than one. What was also striking was Beth’s approach to alternatives when there are no alternatives. For example, frozen peas only come in plastic. Before, I would have simply thought: this is the only way I can get frozen peas, and I want frozen peas, so I’m going to buy frozen peas and live with the burden and guilt that its plastic gives me. Beth encouraged me to think about what I can say no to, and ask myself if I can live without it. The alternative could be a different food, or not this particular food at all. It framed my view of plastic packaged foods differently. And so they became not a burden, but something that I didn’t have to let into my life in the first place.
Beth also talks about how reducing plastic in her life lead to her becoming more aware about the gap between herself and what she was consuming. She mentions how she used to live on single-serve freezer meals. After recognising that they were packaged in excessive plastic, she stopped consuming these freezer meals. And to do that, she had to start making home-cooked meals. Which is what she did, and more—she can now grow her own vegetables and make her own mustard.
This is a familiar trouble in the modern world, where children grow up seeing apples already picked in the supermarket before they ever see an apple tree. And in this gap, the great understanding and connection of where our nutrition comes from is lost. Beth’s plastic-free method is also an approach that brings you down to the level of nature.
Beth talks about how fraught recycling is, and how it’s not a viable solution to our plastic waste. This is because plastic is often down-cycled; plastic is turned into other objects that do have their uses, but plastic bags are not necessarily being recycled into new plastic bags. As a result, we still end up having to create brand-new plastic bags to fulfil the demand, and the recycling loop is not closed. It’s better to refuse the original plastic in the first place.
But at times, it is overwhelming. During and after reading this book, I started making a note of all the plastic I could see in my life and it truly was everywhere. Here, I want to share the best and worst thing that I learnt in this book: most thermal receipt paper is coated in BPA. This is the worst thing I learnt because it is simply awful, but also the best thing I learnt because I also now have the knowledge to tell others.
Still, Beth’s voice is an encouraging one, and she encourages until the end of the book. She recognises that we make mistakes and can give in to plastic when we don’t mean to. And although she presents hundreds of alternatives, she isn’t an overbearing presence that scolds you for all the alternatives you are yet to implement. Instead, she says, “Just pick one thing and get started”. That is enough.
Visit Beth Terry's website here.