Tag Archives: Plastic

Addicted to Plastic

Post-film conversation with Beth Terry, author of Plastic Free:  How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too

Hand-prints & plasticFrom styrofoam cups to artificial organs, plastics are perhaps the most ubiquitous and versatile material ever invented. No invention in the past 100 years has had more influence and presence than synthetics. But such progress has had a cost.

For better and for worse, no ecosystem or segment of human activity has escaped the shrink-wrapped grasp of plastic. Addicted To Plastic is a global journey to investigate what we really know about the material of a thousand uses and why there’s so darn much of it. On the way we discover a toxic legacy, and the men and women dedicated to cleaning it up.

Addicted To Plastic is a point-of-view style documentary that encompasses three years of filming in 12 countries on 5 continents, including two trips to the middle of the Pacific Ocean where plastic debris accumulates. The film details plastic’s path over the last 100 years and provides a wealth of expert interviews on practical and cutting edge solutions to recycling, toxicity and biodegradability. These solutions — which include plastic made from plants — will provide viewers with a new perspective about our future with plastic.


Plastics 360: film night & conference

What are the effects of plastic in our daily lives?  What can you do to protect the environment and your health?  Hear local leaders in conservation and resource recovery describe issues and solutions.  This year’s conference takes place on March 7 in Berkeley and March 16 in Lafayette.  For a full description, click here.  (Last year’s conference is described below.)

Join us for a comprehensive introduction to the latest research on plastic in the oceans, innovations in bioplastics, how recycling fits into the picture, and ways that we each can shift to life-sustaining materials.

Who should attend:  students, teachers, business managers and owners, civic leaders, citizen activists, and anyone interested in sustainable living.

Friday, March 16, 7-9 pm.   Introduction & film night.  No charge, but reservations required!   Contact info@greensangha.org or call (510) 532-6574 to register.

  • Film shorts:  Addicted to Plastic (selection); We can recycle plastic (Mike Biddle); Bring Your Canvas Bag (Tim Minchin)
  • Moderator:  Chris Pincetich, PhD, Sea Turtle Restoration Project

Where:  111 McInnis Parkway, San Rafael, 94903

Saturday, March 17, 9:30 am – 4:00 pm.   Conference.
Fee:  $40 ($20 for Green Sangha and EFM members, and students with current ID).  Register here.

  • Celebrating Plastics.  Susan Freinkel, author of Plastic:  A Toxic Love Story
  • Marine Litter.  Chris Pincetich, Ph.D., Sea Turtle Restoration project
  • Plastics in Our Bodies.  Nancy Buermeyer, Breast Cancer Fund
  • Does Recycling Work?  Kim Scheibly, Marin Sanitary Service
  • Bioplastics – Our Future?  Thomas Wright, Sustainable Business Practices
  • Nine Reasons That Personal Changes Matter.  Beth Terry, myplasticfreelife.com
  • Transformational Events.  Mary Munat, www.green-mary.com
  • Putting It All Together.  Pam Kramer, ITP International
  • Plus!  Opening meditation with Maeve Murphy and Mindful movement with Debra McKnight Higgins

WhereSt. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, 3 Bay View Avenue at Golden Gate, Belvedere, 94920

Refreshments:  BYO lunch!  We will provide coffee and beverages.  (BYO mug if you can.)

Reservations:  Click on the links above or call (510) 532-6574, or write info@greensangha.org

° Environmental Forum of Marin – leading Marin’s environmental conversations for over 40 Years, www.MarinEFM.org
° Sea Turtle Restoration Project, protecting and restoring endangered sea turtles and marine biodiversity worldwide, www.seaturtles.org/


How much trash do you make?

This morning I got an e-mail from Dan Jacobson, Legislative Director of Environment California.  Dan’s group helped raise a public outcry when the Governor wanted to close all our State parks for budgetary purposes.  His group also published an important report on Toxic Baby Bottles, showing that five major brands of plastic baby bottle leached the neurotoxin BPA into infants’ milk.   

Dr. Mercola shares this picture of a baby with a polycarbonate bottle. The WHO recommends breastfeeding of babies for the first two years of life. Do we need to be using so many bottles?

 So, when Dan asked for my input on a survey, how could I refuse?  My response is below.  You can respond, too:  http://www.environmentcalifornia.org/action/oceans/member-survey?id4=ES

One of the real heroes of waste reduction these days is Beth Terry (www.fakeplasticfish.com).   You can see what Beth  is doing every day to reduce her trash footprint by watching her 5-minute video on her 2009 plastic trash (total under 4 pounds). 

Beth says, "my new collected plastic for the year comes in at 3.7 pounds," about 2% of the average American's trash.

 Here’s the survey from Environment California, and my replies:


What are some everyday things you do to cut your use of plastic and other trash that might end up in the Pacific?   

I eschew plastic at every opportunity!  I never buy any beverage, oil, cosmetic, or herbal product in a plastic container.  (Plastic lids, however, have become impossible to avoid, even on some glass jars.)    

My friends at Marin Farmers' Markets are really into reusable container of all sorts!

 I buy milk in glass bottles, bread in paper bags (yummy artisan bread), grains in bulk.  I make my own yogurt, too — much easier than I ever imagined.    

 I never use bottles like these! 

What are the most interesting and creative things you do to cut waste? 

 I tally the number of times that we take the trash bin to the curb for pick-up each month.  On a good month, we’re at one pick-up or less.

Today I’m starting Beth Terry’s plastic challenge — capturing every piece of plastic that I am about to throw away or recycle, and keeping it in a bin (I’ll wash food-stained pieces before storing!).  At the end of 12 months, I’ll make a tally and weigh it all.

 What are some common barriers you’ve experienced to maintaining a small trash footprint? 

Packaging is the number one item:  styrofoam cushioning in boxes, hard plastic casing around small office purchases, plastic bags around newspapers even when it’s not raining; non-recyclable, non-compostable milk cartons. 

All this junk. Ugh!


The second issue is the difficulty in repairing or recycling items that break or malfunction.  For example:  flashlights, mugs, school binders, tools. 

What are some ways you help reduce trash at your work, school, church or community center? I have always tried to leave little trash behind.  After a month taking care of a friend’s house in 1996, I had only one small paper bag of garbage to put on the curb (I put it in my neighbor’s garbage can instead).  In 2004 I joined Green Sangha, a group dedicated to helping individuals live more consciously and harmoniously.  The next year, I co-founded Green Sangha’s Rethinking Plastics campaign.  We have given over 200 talks in the community, educated business owners and employees, consulted with schools on waste reduction, and advocated for civic change.  We helped pass the plastic bag ban in Fairfax, and are collaborating with EcoMom Alliance, iReuse.com, Teens Turning Green, and the County of Marin on the BYOBag Marin campaign. I’m also working with our local middle school, Davidson in San Rafael, on an End to Litter.  Too often, we see things like this bag lying on the ground:   

 What information would make it easier for you and the groups you are part of to cut waste? An itemized list or chart of the costs of throw-away items, in terms of energy expenditure, materials wasted, extraction (mining, logging, drilling), and toxicity, along with the less measurable dimension of non-biodegradability.  Then, a comparison to reusable items of various sorts (sustainable vs. synthetic, for example).

Bring Your Own Bag Day

More trash still 8-09

Have you ever felt depressed by all the bags that people use, day after day, and how many of them get loose in the environment?  Plastic bags are high-count items each year in the California Coastal Cleanup.  We’ve all all seen bags littering our parks and blown up against highway fencing.

Redwood Landfill, the final resting place for garbage from Marin and Sonoma Counties, has an employee dedicated full-time simply to patroling the property and recovering plastic bags and other plastic packaging that has gotten loose!

The average Californian, according to the Integrated Waste Management Board, throws away about 552 plastic bags a year.  This may seem like a small number — less than 2 a day — but when you add up the numbers that we all use together, the amount is overwhelming:  19 billion plastic bags per year in California, or 600 bags per second.

Shopping cart

But you may also have wondered, “What good is it for me alone to stop throwing away bags?”  The answer is:  it’s a good start, and let’s get everyone else involved.  That’s what Bring Your Own Bag Day is about, on Saturday, December 19, 2009. 


It’s a joint project of the County of Marin, EcoMom Alliance, Green Sangha, iReuse.com, and Teens Turning Green, in conjunction with Day Without a Bag, an action by Heal the Bay, Earth Resource Foundation, Surfrider Foundation, and others.

It’s a day dedicated to raising community awareness and showing how we all can reduce waste, clean up our streets and parks, and eliminate toxic inputs from our lives – simply by bringing our own bags.

What’s the goal? 

  • Stores will measurably reduce the number of bags they give away on Saturday, December 19. 
  • Customers will develop the habit of bringing their own reusable bags instead of counting on costly, environmentally-polluting single-use bags. 
  • Eventually, we will see elimination of free bags every day of the year – saving stores money and conserving precious resources.

Tote Bag

How can stores and markets get involved? 

Participating businesses can:

  • Proclaim BYOB Day through signs outside stores, displays at check-out counters, in-house newsletter messages, PA announcements, and checker scripts.  Green Sangha has provided sample text and scripts, and a customized message that Safeway will broadcast in all their Marin County stores is copied below.
  • Make reusable bags available and prominently displayed at their check-out counters.  In Marin County, the JPA on Hazardous and Solid Waste has already given away 10,000 canvas tote bags.  They will donate even more on Saturday.
  • Give a generous credit for each reusable bag a customer brings (10-15 cents); add a surcharge on all non-reusable bags that the store dispenses (we suggest a minimum of 25 cents, to catch customers’ attention and reinforce the point).
  • Join our working group of businesses, civic officials, and eco-activists to work on the proposed county ordinance to ban single-use shopping bags and to make BYOBag a daily reality.

Participating stores in Marin County include:  Delano’s, Good Earth, J. Crew, Marin Farmers’ Markets, Mill Valley Farmers’ Market, Mill Valley Market, Mollie Stone’s, Nordstrom, Palace Market, Safeway, Whole Foods, Woodlands Market.  Municipalities that have issued official proclamations include the County of Marin, City of San Rafael, and the Town of San Anselmo. 

Here’s what Safeway is putting on their loudspeaker announcement in every Marin County store on Saturday: 

Good Morning Safeway Shoppers…just a reminder that today (Saturday) is Bring Your Own Bag Day – a special community project brought to you by the County of Marin and a number of other local nonprofits.  Safeway is proud to be participating in this event and we will be giving away one free reusable bag to our first 250 customers today!  We are doing this at all of our stores in Marin County. 

“It’s also a good opportunity to remind you that Safeway does sell re-useable bags and we have a number of types to choose from. Come take a look at our checkout counter and complement your purchases today by buying a few additional re-useable bags.”


Reusable bags save everyone money, and conserve natural resources.  They're often easier to use, too!

Reusable bags save everyone money, and conserve natural resources. They're often easier to use, too!





What a Drag!

Last spring I received a call from Devi Peri, Education Coordinator for Marin Recycling. A customer wanted some information on plastics. How much does the average American throw away every year?

This sounded like an easy enough question, but where does one begin to find the answer? We all have a rough sense that there’s a lot of plastic out there in the world. We see it in too many places. Here’s an extreme concentration of plastic, in the Citarum River:

Fortunately, I remembered that the EPA publishes a report every two years on Municipal Solid Waste (MSW), the stuff that we use and throw away. “These materials,” according to the EPA, “range from packaging, food scraps, and grass clippings, to old sofas, computers, tires, and refrigerators.” (MSW does not include industrial, hazardous, or construction waste.) In 2005, the average American threw away 4.5 pounds of MSW every day, a rate which has held nearly constant since the 1990’s. In 2007, that rate rose slightly to 4.6 pounds per day. (We recycle or compost about 1.5 pounds of that total daily.)

Doing some math with other tables in the EPA report for 2005 (Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures) and referring to the US Census, I came up with an estimate of 186 pounds per person per year thrown away, not recycled.

Armed with this information, Devi’s caller, a man named Sierra Salin, constructed a costume for the Fairfax Festival Parade. It was really a kind of anti-float: about 90 pounds of plastic, representing the weight of what the average American throws away in half a year, which he then dragged behind him for the length of the parade (about half a mile). Here’s what he looked like:

This year, Sierra went at it again, picking up waste plastic at Marin Sanitary Service (the parent organization of Marin Recycling):

After the parade, his daughter wanted to try hauling the costume, or display, or whatever it was. The expression on her face says a lot about the dismay that we feel in our heart of hearts as we watch the growing load of plastic in the world:

Joanna Macy reminds us that we need to embrace the grief that we feel when we bear witness to the suffering of the world. Having done so, she says, we can move on to constructive action. Sierra and his daughter have not only embraced the grief, they have dragged it in full public view. May we all wake up and take constructive action soon!