An Interview with Fake Plastic Fish

>> Sunday, March 14, 2010

Since we've been talking about reducing our trash for the past couple months, I wanted to introduce you to one of my eco-heroes, Beth from Fake Plastic Fish, who has been writing about reducing her plastic use since 2007.

Plastic is ubiquitous in our modern lives. Is it actually possible to live a life without plastic? Probably not - but we can definitely reduce how much plastic enters our lives and how much gets thrown away. After two and a half years of reducing, collecting, and examining her plastic use, Beth produced only 3.7 pounds of plastic waste in all of 2009 (roughly 4% of the U.S. per capita average).

Some of Beth's attempts to live life with less plastic may seem extreme. For example, she buys meat from the butcher to make her own cat food. I say, "Impressive!" Some may say, "Too extreme for me!" But even Beth doesn't expect everyone to go as far as she does. By attempting to weed out as much plastic as possible from her own life, Beth simply hopes to bring attention to the issue and show people what could be possible. Maybe you'll never make your own cat food, but after reading about Beth, you'll decide to do something that's possible for you - like using a reusable glass, mug, or bottle instead of buying bottled water.

Beth kindly agreed to answer some questions and provide some tips to help us use less plastic (and reduce our trash production). Enjoy!

Q: Can you give me some background info about why you're trying to limit the amount of plastic in your life?

A: The impetus happened two and a half years ago when I first saw a photo of a dead albatross chick on Midway Island, thousands of miles from civilization, whose carcass was completely full of plastic pieces. Plastic that I used in my daily life. From that moment on, I knew I had to change. I had no choice. Then, after learning more and more about plastic -- that most of plastic recycling is actually downcycling, that all plastics contain chemical additives that can leach and that manufacturers are not required to reveal those chemicals to us, that plastic is made from a non-renewable resource, etc. -- it became even more important to limit my exposure to plastics. Mostly I focus on single use plastics. But I also avoid buying new durable plastic items, opting for second hand whenever possible or finding a way to do without.

Q: I get a lot of funny (and sometimes antagonistic) reactions from people about my green lifestyle, and I'm nowhere near as far along as you. How do your friends and family react to your plastic-free lifestyle?

A: I don't know if I'm further along in all things green. I'm definitely further along in plastic reduction. But there are so many issues to consider. I could do much better in energy and water conservation. One thing that helps is that I live in a walkable, bikeable area with great public transit. We also have awesome sources of bulk foods where you can bring your own containers and bags. We all have different challenges and must do the best we can starting where we are.

My family and friends are actually very supportive. Some of my friends have made great green changes in their live. One of my friends bought a reusable water bottle and carries it everywhere. And she switched to reusable cloth maxi pads. Now, she's starting writing letters to companies about their waste! On the other hand, my co-workers think I'm weird and have no desire to change. Whatever. Sometimes I get frustrated, but mostly I just work on changing myself and being an example and letting people make their own decisions.

Q: Along the same lines, several people commented on my blog recently that sometimes sales clerks are not very nice when they try to use cloth bags. You go far beyond cloth bags to bringing your own straws, napkins, and to-go containers. What kinds of reactions do you get to that, and what advice would you give to people who are nervous about rocking the boat?

I get nervous about rocking the boat too! But I try to just feel the nervousness and do it anyway. And I remind myself that getting a weird look is not going to kill me. Recently, I wrote a post on that very subject.

Some store clerks are supportive. The staff at Berkeley Whole Foods, for example, don't bat an eye when we come in with our containers and bags. They will weigh the containers at the customer service desk so the cashier can deduct the weight as we check out. We even bring a big pot to the butcher counter to buy ground turkey for our homemade cat food.

Other shops don't allow customers to bring their own, citing questionable health regulations. I just void places like those. Luckily here in the Bay Area, there are plenty of places to choose from. If one shop won't do it, there's another one that will. My favorite Chinese restaurant has no problem putting take out food in our stainless steel tiffins. The trouble is, we always have to remind them not to put the tiffin in a plastic bag!

Q: At the Conscious Shopper, I divide a lot of my going green tips into Baby Steps (easy), Jogging Stride steps (medium), and Marathon Runner steps (hardest). Can you give us your favorite Baby Step, Jogging Stride, and Marathon Runner tips for reducing plastic?

A: First of all, what's easy for me might be hard for someone else and vice versa, so this list is based on my personal experience. Everyone's mileage may vary.

Baby Steps: Bring your own reusable grocery bags and reusable water bottle or travel mug wherever you go. I carry several ChicoBags in my purse and backpack at all times so I am never without a reusable bag in a pinch. The hardest part is remembering to empty them and put them back each time I get home. I try to do it immediately.

Jogging Strides:

  • Carry your own utensils, glass or stainless steel straw, stainless steel container like LunchBots or To-Go Ware. There is a new campaign called Take Out Without started by my friend Lisa Borden to encourage people to bring their own reusables for take out and leftovers and to encourage restaurants to get involved promoting the program.
  • Request no plastic packaging when placing orders online.
  • Wash your hair with a shampoo bar (like Burt's Bees rosemary mint shampoo bar or J.R. Liggett)
  • Switch from liquid soap to bar soap
  • Buy from bulk bins as much as possible bringing your own bags and containers
Marathon Runner:
  • Stop eating convenience foods: energy bars, frozen foods, snack foods. They all come wrapped in plastic unless you can buy them from a bulk bin.
  • Buy all durable plastic items -- like electronics, appliances, etc. -- second hand instead of buying new plastic. It can be challenging to find these things.
  • Try as hard as possible to get stuff repaired when it breaks rather than discarding and buying new.
  • Send back unwanted plastic packaging to companies with a letter explaining why
  • Start a campaign like Take Back the Filter to get a company to take responsibility for its non-recyclable waste
  • Start a blog to encourage others to take these steps too!
I have a whole long list of suggestions on my website, Fake Plastic Fish.

Q: What books, movies, and websites would you recommend to someone who wants to learn more about reducing their plastic waste?

A: Web Sites:

I hope you all enjoyed learning more about Fake Plastic Fish. Isn't she inspiring?

You have hereby been challenged to go green in a year without going broke! Check out the last challenge, or view the whole list of Challengicious Mondays. Sign up for my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, and join my "Go Green without Going Broke" group on Facebook!


Beth Terry, aka Fake Plastic Fish March 14, 2010 at 10:37 PM  

Thanks so much for the interview, Erin. It's always great for me to have a chance to clarify my thoughts.

Would you like to do a post on saving money by using less plastic for Fake Plastic Fish?

Sense of Home March 15, 2010 at 9:07 AM  

Excellent interview! I have been trying to reduce my plastic and find the packaging particularly frustrating. I like the idea of requesting no plastic packaging when placing an order. Maybe companies will get the hint, no reason they can't wrap the item in newspaper.

I wish we had more bulk items available in our area. I asked about it at the store and was told they were concerned with germs, so they chose not to carry them.

Lina March 17, 2010 at 9:43 PM  

Great interview thanks! Its funny once you start noticing how much plastic is everywhere. Kind of crazy. Its good in some things - like car seats - but bad in so many things. I've been fixated on the bulk food thing and trying to get the courage to take my own containers in.

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