After Beth Terry saw a video of a dead albatross with a belly full of plastic bottle caps, a fishing lure, and a pen cap, she decided to give up plastic. In her new book, Plastic Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too (which is literally free of plastic), Terry raises some specific issues that are very relevant for natural retailers—some or all of which you may want to share with your customers.
Plastic is in chewing gum.
Even Glee Gum, she says, is natural chicle mixed with plastic.
Try this: Here’s a plastic free gum from the U.K.
"BPA-free" isn’t necessarily safe.
Even “food-safe” plastic like #5 can leach, she says, and the alternatives being used to replace BPA are not well tested. Healthy Child Healthy World, for instance, has launched a campaign to pressure Campbell’s to reveal what they plan to use once they’ve phased out BPA from their cans.
Try this: For soups and other foods, TetraPaks are generally considered less reactive; glass is benign.
Yogurt is especially vulnerable to leaching.
High heat causes plastic to leach more chemicals; during large-scale manufacturing, hot milk is poured into plastic containers that are then quickly sealed.
Try this: This is a tough work-around for national brands. One California company, Straus, cools its yogurt in vats before packaging it in plastic. A few small, local companies now take deposits on reusable glass and ceramic containers that get returned. Or... there's always homemade!
Trader Joe’s produce is a major offender.
Why all the shrink-wrap and styrofoam when TJ’s caters to customers who care about the environment? Terry also went after “ecofriendly” Brita, which was offering filter recycling options in Europe but not in the United States. (They’ve since partnered with Preserve.)
Try this: Trader Joe's should sacrifice ease of maintenance for fresher produce! Any retailer can promote and sell better options like reusable cloth produce bags.
So what are the best ways to avoid plastic?
Use reusable shopping and produce bags.
Buy bulk items.
Cook at home more. (You can also mix up affordable, simple green cleaning products and some personal care items, if you’re feeling crafty.)
Buy local. "If we reduce our food miles, we don’t need as much plastic. It boils down to that. If you increase your food miles, then you have to find more ways to preserve the food because it has to last longer," Terry told grist.com. Check out in.gredients, a Texas company that asks local vendors to pick up empty bins at their next delivery.
Go slow, develop new habits little by little. Terry says it took her five years.
And a quick refresher, should you need it, on why to avoid plastic:
Beyond the huge floating “plastic islands” in our oceans (and the bottle caps that end up in dead seabirds’ bellies), phthalates and other endocrine disrupters in plastics are now in our waterways and in every human—including in newborns’ umbilical cords. In humans, these compounds are increasingly linked to obesity, hormonal disorders, and other health conditions.
Do you avoid plastic, and if so what are your best tips? Share in the comments.