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How to Give Up Plastic by Will McCallum: a Review and My Own Efforts to Reduce Plastic Waste

By Curlygeek04 @curlygeek04

Plastic may not be the worst issue impacting the environment, but it does feel like one that an individual can more easily do something about. And if you’ve seen the photos and videos of marine life with bellies full of plastic trash, it’s pretty hard to look away. 

How to Give Up Plastic by Will McCallum: a review and my own efforts to reduce plastic waste

I picked up McCallum’s book as part of the Nature Reading Challenge, but also because I was looking for practical suggestions about reducing my own plastic use.  This book does provide a lot of suggestions, though I didn’t find it added much to what I’d already seen on websites like While McCallum offers many suggestions, it would have been more helpful if he prioritized the ones that would have the greatest impact. 

This book did motivate me to write about some of my own efforts, and some areas I’m still working on, in case they spark some ideas or suggestions for you. 

What I’m doing…

I’ve mostly eliminated plastic bags.  I use reusables at the grocery store, and now I’m working on using reusable produce bags as well. I use washable containers (which I still want to call Tupperware) and silicone zip bags (like Stashers) for food.  I still find I need plastic wrap sometimes for baking but I try to use the smallest amount possible. I bought some of those stretchy lid covers but I don’t use them very much.  I also have some of that beeswax wrap but I haven’t ever used it.

Apparently coffee cups are a huge problem, and I can say that I never buy takeout coffee – which is no credit to me, I just prefer to stay home and make my own. And thanks to COVID I don’t eat nearly as much fast food as I used to.

At home, we’ve eliminated plastic straws and coffee stirrers. It took a while to find washable straws I liked. I bought some clear plastic ones but they melted in the dishwasher. I tried stainless steel but hated the way they felt in my mouth (too cold, metal taste).  My favorites are silicone and I use them every day and throw them in the dishwasher. I keep a reusable straw in my bag but I’ll be honest, I do give in sometimes and buy a soda with a lid and a straw.  But I don’t do it often! 

There’s a company I love, Ethique, that makes beauty and household products in bars with no plastic packaging. I’ve switched to shampoo and conditioner bars and bodywash, though I can’t replace all my hair products with bars. They also make things like lotion and cleaning products in concentrate bars – you mix a bar with boiling water and put it in your own container. I’m proud of my “homemade” lotion though it came out slightly more chunky than lotion should be. I’ve been saving and washing glass jars so I can reuse them for things like this.

What I’m working on…

Where I could be much better is in reducing the amount of plastic containers in my groceries.  Mr. CG and I cook a lot at home, most plastic containers can’t be recycled, and it’s actually worse to throw something into recycling you’re not sure about (something I’ve been doing for years). We cook with Blue Apron, one of those meal services, and that generates a lot of waste. We’re good about recycling glass, which has to be driven to a special receptacle, and paper and cans. I occasionally purchase a box from a company called Terracycle where you fill up the box with hard-to-recycle plastics and mail it to them.  But a good part of me isn’t sure I’m actually accomplishing anything – how do I know where that box is going? 

If I’m honest, I’m probably not going to become someone who brings my own containers to stores.  But I can try to choose produce that isn’t shrink-wrapped and buy products that are larger so I’m buying fewer disposable containers. I’m also pretty good about keeping and refilling travel size containers.

Another weakness is I love my single-pod coffee maker. I do buy the pods that come with half the plastic, and I substitute reusable K-cups when I have time. But the convenience of a quick cup of coffee is pretty hard to beat.

Additional thoughts on the book:

What do do about the plastic you’ve already bought? McCallum advises going through your shelves and sending products with excessive plastic back to their producers. I can see where that sends an important message, though I’m not likely to start doing that myself. My approach for the moment is to use what I have and watch what I purchase. 

McCallum strongly argues for trying to convince others, particularly companies, to reduce plastic rather than just changing what you do as an individual.  I support the idea, but activism feels like a stretch for me right now. Some of McCallum’s advice about how to talk to people effectively felt condescending to me, but might be very useful for someone who’s eager to get out there and change minds but doesn’t know how to start.

McCallum does suggest a number of blogs to follow, and I appreciated that suggestion because blogs are more likely to have up to date ideas.  One of the difficulties with a book like McCallum’s is (and he notes this himself) the information quickly becomes dated, as science and politics are constantly changing how we look at the environment and what we do about it. Since I listened to this book on audio, the blog suggestions weren’t ones I could turn around and look up, but I will seek out blogs on this subject. This site has some suggestions, some of which were also mentioned in the book:

Any suggestions?

If this is an issue you care about (and if you’re still reading, it must be) what are you doing to reuse and recycle? Let me know about your successes, and if it’s something you’re working on, hopefully this post has given you an idea or two. And you can read about other books about environmental issues and activism here.

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