Because I’ve often written about how to reduce plastic garbage in our lives, ECOlunchbox offered me a free copy of Say Goodbye to Plastic: A Survival Guide for Plastic-Free Living by Sandra Ann Harris, which is available as an ebook or printed book. It’s a great, quick read, explaining why we need to minimize plastic in our lives and how to tackle this huge problem in small, feasible steps.
The book opens with a vivid account of hiking on the California coast during a special low-tide event, expecting to relish a pristine beach . . . and seeing a huge amount and variety of plastic garbage washed up from the ocean. Carrying away some of the trash for proper disposal helped the hikers feel a little better but didn’t really address the underlying problem: Way too much plastic is produced, purchased, used, and discarded around the world today! Putting it into a landfill or even recycling it isn’t much of an improvement over tossing it into the ocean, as the book explains.
Harris quickly assures us that plastic-free living doesn’t have to be a cumbersome process of making everything from scratch! Even busy parents working outside the home can make choices that cut about 3/4 of the plastic from their everyday lives.
One turning point in Harris’s journey was a preschool policy that students bring home any packaging from their lunches, rather than throwing it away at school. This is a great idea! Not only does it reduce trash-hauling costs and labor for the school, but it makes parents and children aware of at least the short-term after-effects of individually-packed food. (It also helps parents see which foods their kids didn’t finish, so they can adjust portion sizes.) Seeing trash that hasn’t been thrown away can help us remember that there really is no “away”—everything has to go somewhere.
Harris spells out strategies for reducing plastic in every area of your home, organized room-by-room. She encourages each reader to start in the place that most calls to you with a feasible change you’re ready to make. As that first change becomes part of your normal lifestyle, you’ll naturally notice other changes as you’re ready to make them.
One thing I found a bit awkward about this book is that–after promising the room-by-room approach and encouraging you to find your own starting point–there’s a section encouraging you to get started by making a travel kit of “just” 9 types of items for eating/drinking outside the home and grocery shopping. That seems a bit complicated! In fact, as a seasoned environmentalist myself, I don’t carry any of those things all the time—I only bring the types of reusable dishes or bags I expect to need on my outing, and I resist spontaneously getting food/drink or making other purchases when I don’t have the right equipment. I never carry a reusable straw, just drink from the cup, so I like to see that option at least mentioned rather than speaking of straws as something everyone requires.
The room-by-room section of the book is thorough and informative about both the impact of plastic products and the alternatives available. It includes many things you might not realize are made of plastic, like dental floss, candles, and kitchen pan coatings. Unfortunately, Harris states that “we all need toilet paper” and doesn’t mention any of the options for reducing our need for toilet paper and thus avoiding some plastic packaging—and she never mentions that disposable wet-wipes, like some people use in the bathroom or for household cleaning, are made from plastic! (Here are my tips for finding toilet paper that’s easy on the environment and your budget when you do have to buy some!)
The suggestion that you nudge guests toward sustainable options by setting out labeled recycling and compost bins, but hiding the trash can, immediately made me wonder if Harris has looked carefully at what she collected in these bins. In my experience, people drop trash into any bin they can find if they don’t see a trash can—just as they drop recyclable items into a trash can if the recycling bin is not in sight. Even if you’ve served your party food entirely with recyclable and compostable items, guests may arrive chewing gum (many brands of gum are made of plastic!) or need to take medication from a plastic blister-pack with their meal—and only the most responsible will stick the trash into their pockets until they find a trash can.
One room missing from this tour is the nursery. Disposable diapers, wet-wipes, and baby-food packaging all contain plastic, so I would have liked to see this addressed. Maybe because Harris woke up to the plastic problem when her child was already in preschool, she had no personal experience with cloth diapers?
Overall, this book is packed with great tips for noticing plastic in your lifestyle and finding alternatives. I spotted some gaps because I’ve been thinking about this issue for so long, but for a novice living the typical American lifestyle this would be a great guide to making changes! Harris enthusiastically conveys, “These are easy changes to make, one at a time, and you’ll love them so much you’ll want to change more!” I strongly agree, that’s how it’s worked for me.
Say Goodbye to Plastic doesn’t mention the coronavirus pandemic, which makes sense because it will keep the book timely after we cure the virus. But because the pandemic is in full swing as I’m writing this review, I want to mention that making extra garbage won’t help you stay healthy and it’s important to leave the disposable masks for health care workers. Stay safe, stay home, and look around that home for plastic junk you could replace with something better!