Sunday, August 26, 2012

September 2012 Sustainability Profile: Beth Terry & Kicking the Plastic Habit

Blogger extraordinaire and recently published writer Beth Terry used to be just like everyone else. She "lived the plastic lifestyle," and the convenience and familiarity of all things plastic and the ubiquity of it in her life obscured any of the side effects that relying on plastic has on the planet and our health. Most of us, even those of us who are aware of the consequences of plastic and try to listen to our environmental consciences, still use plastic more than we might realize.

In 2007, the plastic-happy train Beth had been traveling along, which sped through life collecting plastic products and using up disposable food containers, came to a screeching halt. She saw a photo that changed her life completely. Beth describes the photo in her new book Plastic Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too:
"The picture showed the decomposed carcass of a Laysan albatross, an ungainly-looking seabird that nests on Midway Island, which is halfway between California and Japan surrounded  by thousands of miles of Pacific Ocean. The flesh of this particular bird--a chick!--had fallen away to reveal a rib cage filled with plastic bottle caps, disposable cigarette lighters, even a toothbrush--small pieces of plastic that had no business out there in the middle of nowhere. Pieces of plastic like those I myself used and tossed away every day. 
Frozen in my desk chair, I started at the awful image. For several seconds, I literally could not breathe." (p. 3)
The photo that Beth Terry came across in 2007 that worked as a catalyst for her journey to a plastic-free life.
 After seeing the image, Beth was in shock. Shock turned to grief, which soon turned to anger. Something had to change.

As she began researching the issue more, she found out the many reasons why plastic is so bad--not only does it cause the death of seabirds and other marine life, but plastic in animals moves up the food chain and into the foods we eat, and the "chemicals from plastics could leach into our food and drinks" (p. 4). Suddenly, the repecurssions of a plastic-dependent lifestyle came a lot closer to home, and she realized that our actions not only affect animals, but they also affect us. "We're pumping this stuff into the environment so fast that it's coming back to us on our dinner plates," she writes (p. 4).

The things she learned and realized that first day, all a result of that catalystic image on her computer screen, were just the beginning of her journey to understanding the many issues surrounding plastic. With understanding and her investment in wanting to stop the damage from plastic that was a direct result of her actions, Beth began collecting the plastic in her life in order to identify where she needed the most improvement and decided to stop acquiring new plastic. She created some rules for herself that were practical and tangible, and she created a blog to share what she was learning and experiencing on her journey to a plastic-free life.

Beth Terry with her plastic accumulation from the 1st week of paying attention to her plastic.

Over the last 5 years, her plastic consumption has dropped dramatically. On August 19, 2012, when Beth spoke at the Seymour Center at Long Marine Lab in Santa Cruz for Science Sunday, she carried with her a single plastic shopping bag that held 2 pounds of plastic products--the total amount of plastic that Beth had accumulated in the year 2011. One bag!

To hear Beth speak about her plastic-free living experiences, check out this video from TEDxGreatPacificGarbagePatch.

Her lecture at Science Sunday brought people of all ages to hear her story and find out how they can practically and effectively avoid plastic in their lives. The audience was filled with parents and children, teenagers, college students, adults, and senior citizens. Plastic free living can begin at any age.

She spoke about the albatross picture and how mother albatrosses feed these plastic products to their babies, mistaking them for food. It "shocked me out of my complacency," she told the room full of people. For her, it was one of those realizations that cannot be ignored. "I have to do something. I can't not," she remarked.

In addition to telling the story of why she was inspired to change her lifestyle, Beth spoke for most of the lecture about why personal change actually matters. In going over her reasons, Beth gave examples from her own experience and tangible suggestions for ways to implement these changes into our everyday lives. In addition to the tips she provided for avoiding plastic, Beth's presentation was down-to-earth and inspiring, providing a sense that anyone can do what she is doing and that it doesn't take a degree in environmental studies or an understanding of the complexities of ecology to have a reason to make these changes. All it takes is to be informed on a basic level, seek answers when it will help you make better decisions, and practice a lifestyle that does the least harm. If you want to see Beth's list of reasons why personal change matters, check out her blog post about it here.

Beth is also really funny, which makes her book an enjoyable read, as well. Positive and funny encouragement always works better than bitter, serious diatribes, and Beth definitely knows this. Her presentation certainly inspired many of those who were there on August 19, and after the lecture, the line for purchasing Beth's new book and meeting her for a signature crowded the entryway of the Seymour Center.

At the end of her book, Beth writes:

"Whoever you are, whatever your age, gender, or economic status, there is something for you to do in the fight against plastic pollution. There are so many ways to reach out and connect with the wider world. There are so many different ways to participate in this global movement. All talents and skills are needed.
Just pick one thing and get started." (p. 317)  

If you want to learn more about Beth and her plastic-free life, please check out her blog at You can take her "Show Your Plastic" Challenge here and begin thinking about living without plastic starting today. For a list of some simple ideas for getting plastic out of your daily routine, view Beth's Plastic-free Living Guide here.


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1 comment:

Plastic-free Beth Terry said...

Thanks for this great summary! One correction: My plastic trash is actually 2 pounds, not 2 ounces. That would be a dream come true. :-)