On Saturday I bought my very own signed copy of Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can, Too from author Beth Terry herself. Since June 2007, she has been committed to eliminating plastic from her life, going from “personally generating almost four pounds of plastic waste per month to a little over two pounds per year” and reporting on her changes, challenges, and discoveries at her blog, My Plastic-free Life (formerly known as Fake Plastic Fish).
In the past three days I’ve read much of the book, and I must say that it’s even better than I had anticipated. Like Beth’s blog, it provides practical guidelines for eliminating — or at least reducing — one’s use of everything from plastic bags to disposable pens. It also includes profiles of several entrepreneurs and activists who are striving against plastic waste in a variety of ways, and each chapter concludes with a handy action items checklist. There’s information about why recycling isn’t really the solution as well as a guide for organizing a citizen action campaign — like the one Beth herself organized to get Brita to take back and recycle its pitcher filters. And, despite the gravity of the topic — which evokes images of sea birds feeding their babies plastic bottle caps, toxins leaching into our bodies, and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — the book has a light, welcoming tone. In fact, it’s infused with good humor, optimistic, and enjoyable to read.
In very small steps, I’m making my way toward significantly reducing the plastic in my life. Plastic-Free is going to be the source of many small changes to come, including this month’s change.
On Eating Down the Pantry
Of the items in our pantry that I planned to turn into dinner last month, only five remain: two large jars of dried lentils and black beans (it was just too darn hot to be cooking beans last month), one can of coconut milk, one can of tomatoes, and one can of tomato paste. I have plans for all of these items. The tomatoes and tomato paste will be turned into pasta sauce tomorrow night, the lentils and coconut milk will be turned into dinner sometime within the next week or two, and the black beans will be cooked and frozen for use later on. The frozen black beans will certainly come in handy, because this month’s change is that we’re doing a trial run on giving up on canned goods for good.
What’s the problem with canned goods? Writes Beth Terry, “The majority of metal food and beverage cans are lined with BPA, and state legislation banning BPA generally focuses on the BPA in plastic bottles and sippy cups, rather than metal cans. What’s worse, foods are processed at high heat, which makes BPA leach even more readily.” Some companies are now offering their products in BPA-free cans, but it’s hard to know whether or not these products are safer, because most companies will not say what chemicals they are using now — claiming that the information is proprietary. Easy enough, then, just to give up canned food altogether.
Easy enough, because I don’t really use that much canned food. For one month — at least — we won’t be buying any more of the following:
- canned tomatoes
- canned beans
- coconut milk (which I don’t use very often, anyway)
- canned wild salmon (which I do use often, in lieu of canned tuna fish, which I gave up a long time ago because of the mercury) and the occasional can of sardines
The idea of a one-month trial run on giving up something for good came from Paul Wapner, an environmentalist and academic and the author of Living Through the End of Nature: The Future of American Environmentalism, who suggested at a retreat I attended last summer that we trying giving up something for a month (or maybe a year? — which you’ll note I tried to do, but failed, with fish) just to see how we make do. I’m sure that after this month I can give up canned tomatoes, beans, and coconut milk for good without any regret. Giving up the canned fish may be trickier, however, because two of my go-to quick dinners (salmon sandwiches and pasta-and-salmon salad) rely on it. So let’s see what it’s like to go without for a month. What simple, plastic-free substitutes can I find for canned fish? Do you have any suggestions?
Have you ever given up an entire category of foods? How did you find substitutes — and what did you have to give up completely?