Q & A with Beth Terry, Author of Plastic Free {Giveaway}

One of my favorite resources for plastic-free living is Beth Terry's website My Plastic-free Life. I frequently search her blog or consult her Plastic-free Guide when trying to reduce my plastic consumption. Now Beth has published a book and I am thrilled to be able to offer you the chance to win a copy. Beth Terry's new book Plastic Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too is one of the best green books I've seen. This book combines convincing explanations of the problems with plastic with incredibly comprehensive information regarding plastic alternatives (the book is over 300 pages!). Some of my favorite parts are the inspirational bios of Beth's heroes and the action item checklists at the end of chapters. I love a good action item checklist. 

I recently had a chance to ask Beth a few questions about her book.

Q & A with Beth Terry

What is your favorite part of the book?

Wow. That's a hard question because there are parts I like for different reasons. For example, the stories that make fun of myself--going on a Flamin' Hot Cheetos bender with my dad; realizing I wouldn't pass out on the treadmill without bottled water; pedaling my bike across town to take back a box of styrofoam peanuts to the manufacturer of the World's Best Fudge Sauce--were super fun to write. But the parts I had to research--why plastic doesn't biodegrade; what silicone really is and whether it's safe; the truth about bioplastics--gave my brain a mental workout, so I love those parts too.

What was the hardest part to write?

Honestly? It was all hard. H.A.R.D. Even though I have blogged several days a week for the past five years, writing this book was very hard for me because I majored in English in college and am a perfectionist. There were days when I would agonize over every word. And then there were days when the words would just flow. I've never had a baby, so I probably don't know what I'm talking about, but I have compared it to the pains of childbirth. And now that it's out in the world, I want people to love it as much as I do!

What awesome thing did you have to leave out?

My dentist!!! Oh my god, I have the best dentist. He founded the Eco Dentistry Association and instead of using plastic bibs, he uses surgical cloth. Instead of a plastic rinse cup, he gives you a ceramic one with special yummy herbal mouth rinse at the end. Instead of traditional X-rays, he does digital X-rays that use a lot less radiation and produce no plastic film waste. And you can have a foot massage while your teeth are being worked on. Seriously. There wasn't room to include him in the book, but here is a post I wrote about him several years ago: Does your new Eco-Dentist offer foot massages?  

Oh, and one other thing that I can't stop kicking myself for: I profiled Lisa Sharp's recycling campaign in my book and forgot to include her blog URL! So here it is: Retro Housewife Goes Green

What plastic-free change was surprisingly enjoyable?

Hands down, homemade chocolate syrup. It takes the place of Hershey's and all the other chocolate syrups in squeeze bottles, and is nearly plastic-free. Bulk bin sugar, bulk bin cocoa, bulk bin salt, tap water, and vanilla in a glass bottle. The only plastic is the cap on the vanilla bottle. I've looked into making my own vanilla extract, but all the vanilla bean pods I can find come in plastic.

Which lifestyle change has been the most challenging?

Giving up frozen microwaveable meals. I used to live on convenience foods: Lean Cuisine, energy bars, Pirate's Booty and other cheesy snacks. And when I went plastic-free, I had to give most of those things up. I learned that there are virtually no frozen foods that do not come packaged in plastic. Even the meals in cardboard trays have a plastic film on top and the tray itself is lined with plastic. That's one thing that many people don't realize. Any paper container that is leak-proof contains some kind of plastic. So milk cartons, ice cream cartons, paper coffee cups... all of those things are coated with plastic.

What is your biggest plastic pet peeve?

Restaurants that automatically put a straw in your drink. Why? Why not at least ask customers if they want a straw before sticking one in their drink? One of the people I profile in the book is this awesome kid named Milo Cress who started a whole campaign called Be Straw-free to get restaurants to ask patrons if they want a straw before giving them one and to encourage diners to refuse straws when they order their drinks. Personally, I carry a Glass Dharma reusable glass straw with me because I do like to drink through a straw and because when I show it to servers, it reminds them not to put a straw in my drink. It's a conversation starter.

I love the action lists at the end of each chapter! Off the top of your head, what are 5 of the easiest no-cost changes that my readers can make right now to decrease plastic production and consumption?

1) Refuse disposable plastic shopping bags. Bring your own reusable bag. I'm betting most people wouldn't even have to spend money on reusable bags because most of us have tote bags and backpacks at home that we can use.

2) Stop buying bottled water. Learn where the water fountains are in your area and use them instead. There's a woman I profile in the book who started a campaign to map the word's water fountains and has an app that you can download to your mobile phone to look up water fountains or add fountains to the database. The website is WeTap.org.

3) Forget plastic produce bags for large produce items. Apples, oranges, cucumbers, broccoli, and other big things don't need to be placed in their own separate plastic bag. You can put them on the checkout counter naked. And if you shop at the farmers market, you can hand back plastic berry baskets to the vendors to reuse.

4) Shop the bulk bins instead of the aisles of the store with packaged foods. Obviously, this is not no cost. But if you are going to buy beans or nuts, for example, why not buy them from a bulk bin in your own bag instead of pre-packaged in plastic?

5) Ask yourself if you really need things before buying new stuff. To me, plastic-free does not mean that I don't ever use plastic. Obviously, I am using a plastic encased computer to type these answers. But I didn't buy it new. I found a secondhand computer from a used electronics store instead, and I will use it and repair it until it absolutely can't be used anymore. There are so many useful products still in existence. Why don't we value the stuff we already have?

Your website is one of my favorite resources for plastic alternatives. What are YOUR favorite resources for plastic-free living?

Google. Seriously. Any time I am wondering if something exists in plastic-free form, I get out my trusty fingers and start typing search terms into Google. Another one is Etsy.com. There are so many Etsy sellers creating plastic-free alternatives like shampoo and conditioner bars, deodorant in metal tins, makeup in metal tins, lotion bars, and all kinds of other personal care products. And the beauty of Etsy is that you can communicate directly with the sellers, so you can request no plastic packaging before you place your order.

It is my understanding that your husband is not quite as enthusiastically plastic-free as you are. How do you negotiate that?

He's actually come a long way. He has cut his plastic consumption considerably. And he makes the homemade cat food that we feed our cats. He even takes a stainless steel bucket to the butcher shop to buy the meat we feed them. That said, I once interviewed him about his feelings, and he told me I reminded him of Ned Flanders. Here's the video explaining why: Disagreeing on Green Values: Why Michael Thinks I’m Ned Flanders.

Who should read your book?

Anyone who wants to know why plastic is a problem; who wants to reduce their plastic consumption; who has already started on the plastic-free path and wants to know how to go further; who needs some extra inspiration to keep going; or who just wants to be entertained. Seriously, this book is for everybody.

Do you think your book would make a good gift? For whom?

Yes! It would make an especially good gift for friends who don't read blogs and who are interested to learn about plastic and ways to reduce how much they use. I tried to write it in a very non-judgmental style and take people through various levels of plastic-free steps. Also? It looks really cool. The publisher, Skyhorse, did a fabulous job with the design. It's printed in 4 colors with lots of pictures. And it's written for people like me with short attention spans. Each section is kind of like a blog post -- short and sweet. Honestly, this is the book I wish had existed when I was first starting on my plastic-free journey.

Win a Copy of  Plastic Free !

For your chance to win your own copy of Plastic Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too, leave a comment below describing one of your plastic-free living successes or failures. Be sure to include your email unless I can contact you through your commenting persona (Blogger profile, blog, etc.). 

Optional extra entries:
  • Spread the word by email, Facebook, Twitter, carrier pigeon, etc. (you can use the buttons at base of the post). 
  • "Like" My Plastic Free Life's Facebook page or follow @PlasticfreeBeth on Twitter.
  • Check out the "Click to Look Inside" feature for Plastic Free on Amazon and look at the table of contents. Which chapter do you need most?
  • Extra entry for current or new Eco-novice subscribers (this includes readers who subscribe by feed or email, "like" Eco-novice on Facebook, or regular readers by some other method). Tell me how you subscribe/ follow/ read Eco-novice in your comment.  
You can enter the contest FIVE times total. Leave a different comment for each entry. Contest open to adults 18 or older and residents of the US. No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. Giveaway ends Tuesday, July 31, 2012. Winner will be selected at Random and contacted Monday, August 1 and will have 48 hours to respond before I pick a new winner.

The winner is Kristina (The Greening of Westford). Congratulations!

This post is part of
Top Ten Tuesday


  1. Great interview! I always refuse plastic bags but have a much harder time always refusing plastic-packaged food. Would love to read the book.

  2. Thanks! Can't wait to find out who the winner is!

  3. I just got a copy of the book out of the library and am starting to read it. Only on chapter 1 and know that this is one book I would like a hard copy of.

    It took me almost a year, but I now faithfully refuse plastic bags at ANY checkout or have my own -for produce and bulk items too.

  4. I finally jumped on the 'mama cloth' wagon. It was a big step for me, but made much easier after switching to cloth diapers and seeing how easy that really was.

  5. I would love to win this book! My biggest progress recently is making my own shampoo, conditioner, and deodorant at home...so while I'm still using plastic containers to store them in, I can reuse the same containers for every batch :)

  6. I already own a copy of "Plastic Free", but I would be thrilled to have another I could share with friends or give as a gift. Back in December of 2011 I did the plastic challenge for several weeks, thinking that I'd already reduced my plastic use and would be collecting very much. I was wrong! It woke me up to several areas where I could improve. In the past 6 months: I've begun to buy many things from the bulk bins in my own bags. I now use baking soda to wash my hair most of the time, with almond oil as a light conditioner when needed. I've learned to make my own cleaning sprays, laundry and dishwasher soap. AND I've started taking a stack of 30 reusable plastic plates, cups, and bowls, cloth napkins, and table cloths to church potlucks, along with tubs for transporting it all home, where I wash it all and get them ready for the next event. In this case, reusable plastic items allow me to carry it all back and forth. I also go through the trash after these events and pull things out that should be in the recycling bin. This has saved hundreds of disposable items from the trash, opened conversations about caring for the earth, and saved money from an already tight organizational budget. Ultimately, I'd like to get a green team going there the help with these things.

  7. I somehow wandered onto the My Plastic Free Life blog in May and bought a digital copy of her book. I read it on a long international flight where EVERYTHING was wrapped in plastic. Made me kind of uncomfortable, and there was nothing I could do at the time, but it really drove the point home. A week later I was picking plastic trash off of the beaches on Robben Island, South Africa. Bags and bags of bottles and other assorted plastic trash. Those two things really cemented my resolve to use less plastic. My latest plastic-free lifestyle change is using baking soda instead of a regular plastic encased deodorant. Works great. (I also subscribed to your RSS feed in Google Reader).

  8. awesome interview. i am finally free of plastic bags and water bottles, and about to attempt cloth diapering with soon to be here daughter. great ideas for more ways to be plastic free!

  9. I've been plastic-free in shopping bags, water bottles, and home food storage for a while. (Mostly true. The lids to the Pyrex are plastic.)

    Biggest challenge (besides dairy!) is the baby! Big box baby stores are like plastic hell! We've not bought any plastic toys (wood and cotton, mostly) and have been gifted only one.

    I have been on the hunt for a plastic-free sippy cup but haven't found one ... So we're trying to teach him just to drink from a glass. (A stainless steel straw is asking for a DIY tonsilectomy.)

  10. I like Eco Novice on Facebook

  11. I love going to auction and buying vintage glass refrigerator containers to use in place of plastic food containers...reuse and environ. friendly and inexpensive!! Thanks so much for letting me no I am not the only Anti -plastic crazy person out there!! Heard you on the radio coming back from Chicago two weeks ago.. it was destiny!! Thanks for the inspiration to keep working on becoming plastic-free!!

  12. Great giveaway! I'd love to read this book. One failure I have is in finding an alternative to freezer bags. We freeze so much food - usually soups and casseroles - in freezer bags and I'd love to find an alternative that doesn't take much space and doesn't allow freezer burn. We use glass for fridge storage, and foil to freeze "solid" food... but soup in the freezer???

  13. Sounds like a great read. As you know, I use cloth diapers and don't remember the last time I bought diaper wipes.

  14. Subscriber via google reader

  15. chapter 4 sounds interesting

  16. After watching “Bag It” last month, and my six year old daughter crying over the sea turtles eating plastic, I realized that life would never be the same. I just finished sewing a bunch of cloth produce bags, grocery bags, and bulk food bags out of unbleached 100% cotton muslin! Yay! As I’ve learned more about this plastic epidemic from library books, more documentaries, and Beth’s blog, in retrospect I wish I would have made the cloth bags out of used sheets from goodwill instead of buying new fabric, but I’ll do that from now on! :)
    I can’t wait to read this book!! I’ve got it on hold at the library, but it’s going to be months before I get my hands on it! And Beth if you are reading this post, for your vanilla bean pod quest I saw one at a Whole Foods store in a glass bottle in the spice section – it was crazy expensive though.

  17. I "failed" for quite some time b/c I had reusable shopping bags and kept forgetting to bring them. I do regularly now and am saddened that it is always a conversation piece with the cashier b/c it's unusual :( I also have reusable coffee tumblers that I often forget when I go to the coffee house....you know the one....but I HAVE cut down on going there :)

  18. I probably need chapter 7 most....personal care and household cleaning...

  19. I subscribed in Google Reader and liked Eco Novice on FB....

  20. I use reusable shopping bags, as well as recycle my produce bags or don't use any at all, but giving up certain packaged foods and beauty products (even the earth/animal friendly ones) has been difficult. It's crazy how much plastic there is in the world!

  21. I subscribe via. email.

  22. I liked Eco-Novice on Facebook.

  23. Looking forward to going plastic free... My worst plastic habit is using bottled water... I need to stop!!

  24. i always use reusable shopping bags

  25. liked on fb

  26. need to read the chapter on plastic water bottles

  27. We have been using a lunchbox called Planetbox for our two oldest children. We love them. They are pricey, but they lasted all last year, and we aim to use them again in the Fall. My husband uses the Lunchbots, which he likes as well. We like the Lunchbot covers that are not painted. It took us a little while to get out of the habit of using plastic ziplocs for everything. My children would come home and repackage their leftovers into baggies to place in the fridge! But, we are now (nearly) baggie-free.

  28. We bought all of our kids stainless steel water bottles. Someone gave my daughter a plastic one for her birthday, which didn't make me too happy. We still use reusable plastic containers to package dinner leftovers for lunch, and the ziploc bags they rarely use to pack items are washed out and reused. We're not there yet (not even close), but making baby steps.

  29. you have a Great web site and A lot of useful information here I am sending it to a few friends ans also sharing in delicious And obviously, thanks for your effort!

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