Guest Post | How Beth Terry Kicked the Plastic Bag Habit

San Francisco has committed to kicking the bag habit by expanding its plastic bag ban to include all retailers beginning today, October 1st 2012. (Restaurants have until 2013 to comply.) Are you ready to kick the bag habit but aren’t sure where to start? In a guest blog post below, Beth Terry, author of the book, Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too, and the blog My Plastic Free Life, shares her story of going almost completely plastic free, and her tips for helping you kick the bag habit. If Beth can give up all plastic, we can certainly live without plastic bags.

Beth Terry in 2007
Beth Terry with collected plastic from first six months of 2007.

Before June of 2007, I lived the plastic lifestyle. It’s a lifestyle of consumption, enabled by convenience, and seduced by low cost. Products are inexpensive because they are not designed to last; they are packaged so that they can wait indefinitely on store shelves. But we’re not paying the full cost of this lifestyle. We don’t see all the trash our lifestyles produce. It just disappears to that magic place called “away.”

For the past five years I’ve been living with almost no new plastic. What woke me up to the problem? It started in the summer of 2007 (the year that San Francisco passed the first plastic bag ban in the nation). I was stuck at home recuperating from an operation when I came across a shocking photo of the decomposed carcass of a Laysan albatross. The baby bird was from Midway Island, an island out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, halfway between California and Japan. The bird’s flesh had fallen away to reveal a rib cage filled with plastic bottle caps, disposable cigarette lighters, even a toothbrush. Pieces of plastic like those I used and tossed away every day. This baby albatross was not unique. Many die of starvation each year, their bellies full of our plastic trash that their mothers have mistakenly fed them, thinking it was food.

Read more about Beth’s quest to live without plastic in her new book.

That’s when I knew my life had to change. I knew I had to give up plastic forever—starting with the easiest possible item—single-use plastic grocery bags. The first time I brought my own bags to the store, I was the only person in line who did so. Now, thanks to San Francisco and other forward thinking cities making it easier for consumers to kick the bag habit, it’s common to see fellow shoppers bringing their own bags to the grocery store. If you’re just getting started and don’t know where to begin, I give many tips for plastic bag free living in my book, (and even show you how to make your own bag out of a t-shirt!) but below are a few to get you started. Share your own in the comment section below.

  • Choose good quality washable cloth bags and wash them often
  • Designate certain bags for meats and others for produce to avoid cross-contamination
  • Keep them in your car
  • Store them where you keep your wallet and keys
  • Stash small collapsible bags in your coat pockets, purse or knapsack (and bring extras for a friend!)
  • Return bags to your car after you unload them

Are you on Twitter? Join me, @PlasticfreeBeth, along with @SFEnvironment, @Colehardware, @SaveSFBay, and others for a Tweet Chat on Monday October 1, 2012, 11:30am to 12:30pm. Follow @SaveSFBay and tweet your questions and solutions with hashtag #BYObagSF.