In June 2007, Beth Terry set out to drastically reduce the amount of plastic in her life. Her motivation? A photo of a baby albatross that had died with a stomach full of bottle caps and other pieces of plastic that its mother had mistaken for food.
"It was the first time I could see the direct connection between my actions and the death of an animal," says Terry, an accountant and writer in Oakland, California. "These were products I was using on a daily basis without thinking about it."
Today, Terry can stuff all the plastic waste she generates in one year into a single grocery bag. Through her blog "My Plastic-Free Life" and her recent book Plastic-Free, she offers a comprehensive look at the pervasiveness of plastic in our lives and offers ways to liberate ourselves from it. (See some of her tips below.)
Terry says her meditation practice has taught her that simply sitting with awareness is an important first step in changing habits. Once you're aware of the ways you're using plastic, she says, you can ask yourself, "Is that snack or beauty product something that I absolutely have to have?"
But reducing plastic isn't all about deprivation, says Terry, whose book includes ideas for throwing zero-waste dinner parties. With a little creativity and mindfulness, a few small changes can make a big difference.
5 Ways to Use Less Plastic
1. Take the plastic challenge.
Get help tallying your plastic waste for one week to identify where you can cut back, at myplasticfreelife.com.
2. Don't just rely on recycling.
A lot of plastic we assume is recyclable ends up in a landfill, warns Terry. Buy in bulk whenever possible, and keep Mason jars on hand for storage.
3. Find and avoid the hidden sources.
Milk, juice, and ice-cream cartons are often lined with plastic, so look for alternative packaging where you can. Many reusable grocery bags are made with polypropylene; opt for cloth bags instead.
4. Don't just buy those reusable containers. Use them!
Keep bags and mugs in your car, bike bag, or wherever you keep your wallet and keys. Stow a few reusable utensils in your purse or backpack. Stuff small, lightweight bags into your wallet or purse.
5. Seek out alternative packaging.
Find yoga mats made with natural rubber or hemp. Grab sunscreen in an aluminum bottle—Avasol makes one—or lip balm in a cardboard tube, like Organic Essence.
Learn how you can help ban plastic bags in your town and follow other cities' campaigns at plasticpollutioncoalition.org.