Living without Plastic – and Teaching Others How to Do It

In June of 2007, I saw a photo (see above) that changed my life and shocked me into action.

The photo was of the carcass of a dead albatross chick, its belly full of everyday plastic pieces like bottle caps, cigarette lighters, and even toothbrushes.  That photo touched me as no other image of environmental degradation ever has, and it is with me every day as I work towards ending the plague of plastic pollution through my blog, Fake Plastic Fish, as well as through campaigns I have organized to combat the continuing flood of plastics into the marketplace and into our lives.

The American Chemistry Council would have us believe that the development of plastic has only made our lives better.  Through their multimillion dollar “Plastics make it possible” social media campaign, they are targeting young people in their twenties and thirties who they feel have not heard enough positive messages about plastic.  Yet the industry conveniently ignores the downside:  plastic pollution in our oceans; plastic harming wildlife like sea turtles, birds, and fish; plastic that litters our streets and clogs our landfills because it never biodegrades; and chemicals from plastic that can leach into our foods and beverages via plastic packaging and plastic dishware.

Since that fateful day in 2007, I have vowed to personally live with as little plastic waste as possible.  In 2009, I ended the year with only 3.7 pounds of plastic waste… less than 4% of the U.S. national average.  This video shows the actual plastic trash I accumulated this year (including recyclables) as well as a few explanations of how I did it.

I’m hoping that in 2010, I can end the year with even less plastic waste.  I realize that one person’s changes don’t make much of a difference in reducing the total plastic trash inundating our planet.

But my hope is that by my example and by broadening my reach, I can encourage others to act, thereby boosting the effects of my own changes exponentially.

One of the ways I envision reaching a wider audience is through writing and publishing a book on my experience living life with less plastic.  A book that would not only show how it can be done, but also how rejecting the convenience-based throw-away culture we find ourselves part of today, we can actually find our lives more fulfilling.  Plastics make possible a lifestyle full of empty promises and hollow values.  Living mindfully of the choices we make through our purchases and automatic habits can have impacts on our lives greater than the good feeling we get from “saving the planet.”  But I’m not making any promises… just inviting you to begin the journey with me.


Beth has been nominated for a Deserves Changes award and you can help.  Just go vote for her, and her wonderful project, here.

She was nominated by Gail Johnson of GlassDharma, the company that makes reusable glass drinking straws to replace disposable plastic ones, and this is what she wrote.

” I would like to nominate Beth Terry as someone who Deserves Changes in her life because she has acted as a change agent in the Bay Area but reaches worldwide in her influence with her blog, Her beginning statement is: “Our oceans are filling up with plastic: plastic that harms wildlife and never biodegrades; plastic that enters the food chain and leaches toxic chemicals. This blog is a record of my journey to live with as little unnecessary plastic as possible. Won’t you join me? Fake plastic fish may be cute, but if we don’t solve our plastic problem, they could be the only kind we have left….”

“At a time where many people feel overwhelmed and want to take the head in the sand approach to the environment, Beth has educated and offered many options for people to apply to their daily life such as using glass drinking straws instead of plastic.

Beth Terry, in addition to her blog Fake Plastic Fish and her activities around plastics, is a contributing editor for BlogHer and has served on their conference Green Team. She was also responsible for creating the “Take Back the Filter” campaign for Brita water filters, working with Brita and Whole Foods Market in Oakland to develop a viable recycling program for Brita water filters. She was given an award for this work by the city of Oakland.

by Beth Terry, Fake Plastic Fish
Beth Terry, Fake Plastic Fish


Anna N.
Anna N.4 years ago

Great article, and great video. That's an amazing effort! And here I was thinking I was good at avoiding plastic... there's so much more we can all do!

Beth H.
beth Hall5 years ago

I'm so sick of innocent beings dying because of our garbage! But I'm thankful for everyone who's trying to make a difference.

John S.
Past Member 5 years ago

Hate plastics, but it seems most food comes packed in it today.

Elizabeth Brawn
Elizabeth Brawn5 years ago

thank you for sharing (-: there are somethings that can only be made with plastic but most or at least half of the things in which plastic is used predominatly, can be replaced with more sustainable options

Monica D.
M D.5 years ago

Well done on your plastic reduction. Thank you for this article.

Beth M.
Beth M.5 years ago

Thank you, thank you. I found a way to make a toothbrush out of a twig that works better than a plastic toothbrush, but i still want a regular toothbrush, and i may buy a wooden one. Still looking for non-plastic dental floss! Radius has silk floss...that comes in a plastic dispenser! Aargh!

Anne H.
Anne H.5 years ago

Thanks for the article. Its easy to try just one little thing at a time.

Ron Avila
Ron Avila5 years ago

i always take my canvas bag along with me now and i don't use bottled water (but here in SF our tap water is direct from the Sierras and better than bottled)

Beng Kiat Low
low beng kiat6 years ago


Daniel M.
Past Member 6 years ago

The basic building block of plastics is cellulose taken from petroleum, but toxic petrochemical compositions are not the only way to derive plastics. Plastics can be derived from plant cellulose, and since hemp is the greatest cellulose producer on Earth (hemp hurds can be 85% cellA recent technological advance with biodegradable plastics made from cornstarch has led to a new material based on hemp. Hemp Plastics (Australia) have sourced partners who have been able to produce a new 100% biodegradable material made entirely from hemp and corn. This new material has unique strength and technical qualities which have yet to be seen before, and this new material can be injection or blow-molded into virtually any shape using existing moulds, including cosmetic containers, Frisbee golf discs, etc.ulose), it only makes sense to make other organics, instead of letting our dumps fill up with refuse.
The possibilities are endless with hemp plastics and resins, and bio-composites. Virtually any shape and purpose can be fulfilled by bio-composite plastics. Hemp plastics are already on the rise, it is only a matter of time before we will see the need to grow hemp in the United States to meet our demands.