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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Laurel Goes Plastic Free, a Student Perspective

by Laurel Marks, Student Coordinator for the Zero Waste Team 

Photo Credit: Plastics Today
Through my job as the Student Coordinator for the Zero Waste Team at the UC Santa Cruz Sustainability Office, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the Zero Waste Youth Convergence on March 17, 2013, in San Francisco.  One of the most inspirational speakers that I saw there was Beth Terry.

In 2007 Beth was inspired by the growing horrors of plastic-filled oceans and global warming and  decided to radically change her life by going plastic free. It wasn’t easy, especially since more and more things are packaged in plastic these days, but Beth was passionate about changing the world with her personal actions.  She documented her challenges and successes on her blog and created a plastic-free guide to help others on the path toward a more sustainable life.

After seeing Beth speak and many other incredible visionaries at the conference, I decided to take my own plastic-free challenge. I began by reading Beth Terry’s plastic-free guide. On April 1st I went to the local natural food store (next time I’ll go to the farmer’s market!), prepared to avoid all plastic.

The foods that I miss most include:

  • fresh strawberries (because of the plastic container--maybe I can get some in my own bag at the farmers' market)
  • tofu (I’m vegetarian so I cook tofu a lot)
  • orange juice (I caved in once and bought some for smoothies... they’re my weakness)
  • cereal
  • yogurt
  • Luna bars that I eat on the run at school for an energy boost. 
I’m lucky because my house already has a wonderful composting system that feeds our beautiful backyard, and we are growing lettuce, strawberries, raspberries, and other delicious foods!

I've had to think ahead and get creative when it comes to food on-the-go. On my last shopping run I bought some dried fruit and yogurt covered pretzels in bulk (with my own reusable paper bags) to eat as a snack during the day. At cafes I now ask for reusable utensils, and at the burrito shop I get the burrito to-go without a plastic bag. I ask for no straw with my drinks and bring my own utensils in my purse. 

Some of the challenges that a plastic-free lifestyle brings I knew I wouldn’t be able to face just yet.  One example is giving up shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, and other bathroom products that come in plastic containers.  Beth has some wonderful recipes for making your own shampoo, soap, deodorant, and lotion on her website, but I knew with my busy life I wouldn’t have time to try all those. Fortunately I already had all these items and haven’t run out yet.  

The goal is not to throw away every item you own that contains plastic, but to use everything to its full potential without acquiring any new plastic. And don’t forget to try to fix what’s broken before buying something new, buy used, go to thrift stores, clothing swaps, and check out item swap websites like

Just because we live in a single-use, wasteful world doesn’t mean we have to comply!  Be the change you wish to see in the world.  It’s been a difficult experience, but a fun one too, and I am so proud of myself for truly living a lifestyle I believe in!

For more on Beth Terry and her plastic free lifestyle check out our previous article.

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