'Life Without Plastic: The Practical Step-by-Step Guide to Avoiding Plastic to Keep Your Family and the Planet Healthy' (book review)

Life Without Plastic cover with candle
© Life Without Plastic

A modern life without plastic may seem an impossibility, but this Canadian duo shows it's achievable.

If you have read any TreeHugger articles on plastic-free and zero-waste living, then you've probably heard the name "Life Without Plastic." It refers to an online store, run by business partners Chantal Plamondon and Jay Sinha from Wakefield, Quebec. For over a decade, Life Without Plastic has been offering plastic-free alternatives to everyday household objects. On its website you can find everything from cotton mesh produce bags to stainless steel popsicle molds to wooden toilet brushes. I have spent much time perusing this website and gaping at items that I never imagined existed in plastic-free form.

Now, the pair of indomitable anti-plastic crusaders has published a book, titled Life Without Plastic: The Practical Step-by-Step Guide to Avoiding Plastic to Keep Your Family and the Planet Healthy (2017). The book delves into the problem with plastic and what we can do about it. It builds a strong argument for why moving away from plastic in our lives is so important, without feeling like an advertisement for their business. The book is packed with scientific research, meticulously annotated, and highly readable. I devoured it over three afternoons and came away feeling better educated, but also horrified at how bad things are and inspired to take greater action.

As a green lifestyle writer, I have done a lot of reading about plastic over the years, but until picking up this book, I hadn't realized how much of the public discussion surrounding plastic pollution focuses on physical waste and litter, rather than its toxicity. While the book does talk about waste and the pathetically low rates of recycling, the most profound lesson for me came from learning what plastic does to our human bodies when we come into contact with it every day, all day, forever.

The book divides plastics into categories based on their recycling symbol and explains how toxic each type is. Single-use water bottles, for example, are made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which the authors say is important to avoid, due to the presence of antimony trioxide, a possible carcinogen.

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is another example, commonly found in school supplies, shower curtains, medical care, and home-building materials, and yet extremely dangerous:

"It is often referred to as the most toxic consumer plastic for our health and the environment because of the range of dangerous chemicals it may release during its life cycle, including cancer-causing dioxins, endocrine-disrupting phthalates and bisphenol A, and heavy metals like lead, mercury, and cadmium. The problem with PVC is that its base monomer building block is vinyl chloride, which is highly toxic and unstable, thus requiring lots of additives to calm it down and make it usable. But even in its final 'stabilized' form, PVC is not very stable. The additives are just so eager to leach out, and they do."

These are just a few of the many examples given in the book. The authors explain the plastic-making process, how plastic can take so many forms and be the impressively versatile material we know it to be, as well as how recycling takes place -- something most people don't think about, once they've placed their blue bins on the curb.

The book spends some time debunking bioplastics, which have been touted as an eco-friendly replacement to fossil fuel-based plastics. I have written about this issue before, but in a nutshell, bioplastics are not the solution to plastic pollution and toxicity problems:

"Given their mixed character and the chemical additives most of them contain, relying on them is not a replacement for making a concerted effort to reduce all plastic use at the source (whether fossil fuel- or bio-based)."

Sinha and PlamondonLife Without Plastic -- Sinha and Plamondon, book authors/via

Life Without Plastic heads into 'practical solutions' territory, which is a refreshing and empowering section. Room by room, activity by activity, the authors explain how to go about minimizing plastic in one's life. They offer detailed advice without naming specific brands (there is a resource guide in the back). I am familiar with many of the swaps, but was very impressed by the breadth and depth of their explanations for why these changes matter and where you can find good alternatives. From clothing to lunch supplies to travel to kitchen wares, they have a plastic-free solution to almost everything.

The final chapter encourages readers to jump aboard the global plastic-free movement by connecting them with similarly-minded individuals and groups around the world. There are lists of bloggers, charities, citizen science groups, researchers, and artists, all of whom are working to fight against the plastic scourge.

Even though I am already passionate about these issues, I think it would be impossible to read this book without feeling motivated to make significant changes to one's life. The authors do a fine job of making plastic pollution a problem for everyone, no matter where one's interests might lie:

"What is it about plastic that most irks you? Is it the synthetic chemical toxicity? The strangling and choking of wildlife with plastic packaging? The secrecy of plastic manufacturers about all the chemicals in plastics? Whatever it may be, go for it."

As they say in the beginning, you don't have to do it all at once. Start with small steps and work toward significant, meaningful goals. Every little bit counts, and this book is the clearest, most comprehensive resource I've seen yet to help you get there.

You can order Life Without Plastic online, US$22 / CAD$32. Also available at major book retailers.

'Life Without Plastic: The Practical Step-by-Step Guide to Avoiding Plastic to Keep Your Family and the Planet Healthy' (book review)
A modern life without plastic may seem an impossibility, but this Canadian duo shows it's achievable.

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