Book Review: How to Give up Plastic by Will McCallum

How to Give up Plastic – Will McCallum (Penguin Books, 2019) (and a few of the items we use in our home to replace plastic)

I received an Advance Uncorrected Proof of this book. It is set for publication June 4, 2019. All opinions are my own.

I read this short non-fiction book very shortly after reading American War and so the far-reaching effects of climate change were already at the forefront of my mind. Will McCallum works for Greenpeace UK and has recently spent time working in the Antarctic to create a protected area. The book is easy to follow and reads more like an extended magazine article than a full-length book. It includes checklists and sample letters and, to be honest, I skimmed over a good portion of it.

McCallum’s descriptions of the effects of plastic and the long-lasting litter that we are creating every second are eye-opening. We might be aware that our garbage doesn’t simply disappear after the garbage truck drives away but it’s easy to forget the sheer volume of trash we create. While reading How to Give up Plastic I started to really notice just how much single use plastic is in my home. We’re good about reusable bags at the grocery store and we recently purchased reusable bags for produce too instead of using the plastic ones the store provides. We have bamboo straws and bee wraps to replace cling wrap. We cloth diaper (though not 100% of the time) and try to avoid buying a lot of plastic toys. But the strawberries I bought this weekend came in a plastic clamshell, my shampoo comes in a plastic bottle, my toothbrush is entirely plastic.

McCallum isn’t trying to make you feel hopeless though. He is encouraging toward even the smallest efforts. If you forget your reusable coffee cup one day, bring it the next and that’s still one less plastic-coated cup being used. His focus too isn’t on individual use but on the larger scale – the corporations and businesses who are creating the plastic and benefitting financially from its use. He is clear on his belief that this is who needs to stop plastic use and who needs to take responsibility for its disposal. As such, he offers ideas (and sample letters) of how we as individuals can force and encourage this change.

The most straightforward way is, of course, voting with our dollar. Don’t buy from companies that don’t have an end plan for their plastic disposal. Better yet, don’t buy from companies creating plastic. This is easier said than done but, again, McCallum encourages even the smallest changes. Personally, I’ve been inspired to try out a shampoo bar to avoid another plastic bottle. I don’t love McCallum’s idea of simply getting rid of the plastic that’s in our homes. (He suggests returning it to the manufacturer but it seems to me it would simply be thrown out there.) For example, I have a full bottle of conditioner and I’m going to use it up before I search out an alternative.

Finding plastic-free products and companies does seem overwhelming right now but I’m reminded that when I committed to buying ethical clothes for the girls and I it also felt overwhelming but got easier. I’m hoping that this is the case here too. (And if you have any plastic-free items you love, especially in the kitchen or bathroom, let me know!)

Overall, this is probably a book that you read because you already agree that our plastic use is a problem. It might spur you to further action or offer further food for thought. The book does get repetitive and much of it can be skipped or skimmed through but I do believe it’s a conversation worth having.

19 thoughts on “Book Review: How to Give up Plastic by Will McCallum”

  1. I’ve been trying to make small changes to cut back on plastics as well. It can feel like a bit of a minefield, but every little helps, and I’m glad to hear the author encourages that line of thought.

    1. I was pleased to. It can be easy for people deep in the movement (like an employee of Greenpeace) to forget how hard it can be to make those changes. And sometimes your options are limited and you just have to choose the best one available. Overall, he’s quite encouraging.

  2. It’s almost impossible to avoid plastic, isn’t it? I review products on Amazon, and always deduct a star for plastic packaging – sometimes two if it’s that dreadful moulded plastic that can’t be easily recycled. But I was laughing at McDonald’s the last time I was there – a rare event. They’ve changed to cardboard straws in their drinks – hurrah!. But you still have to stick the straw through the plastic lid on the cup…

    1. It’s so hard. We were on holiday while I read this one and I was so aware of how much garbage we were producing at the breakfast the hotel served. All those individually packaged items and the plates etc. I think the one that bothers me the most is when food at the grocery store is packaged in plastic. I don’t need my avocados individually wrapped!

  3. I’m so glad this is beginning to crop up in more places-the more aware we are of this, the better! I’m trying to cut down on our plastic use too. I’m attempting to convince my husband that using bar soap instead of liquid hand soap is worthwhile, same with our shampoo. I’ve heard Jillian Harris in your province of BC is a good celebrity to follow-she has lots of tips on her website about shampoo bars she likes, etc.

    1. I’m glad too! It does seem like more and more people are attempting to reduce their plastic usage and it definitely does add up. Now we just need the manufacturers to take action. I only know Jillian Harris from The Bachelor so I will have to investigate what she’s up to these days!

    2. Yes, I think that’s what she went on to do. She probably doesn’t like being primarily identified as a former Bachelorette!

  4. It’s interesting that the author suggested sending the plastic back to the company because he neglects to consider the pollution created by you putting the plastic is a box or large envelop to mail the item back in, driving to the post office, then you pay for the postage at which time the post office gives you a mile-long receipt, and you drive home. Meanwhile, your item is then flown or driven to the company. I mean, this is a huge waste.

    1. No, he doesn’t touch on that at all. Let alone that if you send shampoo back to a company they are probably just going to trash it. I wish he had talked about those issues and finding that balance. I live in a smallish town without a huge amount of plastic-free options. But I try and shop locally as much as possible because the greener options on-line come with all that travel and packaging etc and I’m not sure which is worse.

    2. That’s the part that paralyzes me from doing anything: exactly what is worse. I even saw an article about how we should use paper plates because we waste so much water doing dishes that if you weigh the two out in terms of waste, buying dishes and washing them is worse. Who knows?!

    3. Ugh, there’s another thing to worry about now! That is one thing I liked about this book, that the author puts the real responsibility on the big companies that are producing and profiting off of plastic. Because the things we as individuals can do can only make so much difference.

    4. I agree. If companies are more responsible, it stops the problem before it spreads, and many people are more likely to support a company that is environmentally responsible.

  5. This sounds like a good book to get you thinking about things you can change. But after reading all the comments, I started feeling overwhelmed again about all the issues and how they are all interconnected. Ugh.

    1. It’s complicated, isn’t it? Like, planes are apparently one of the worst things but I have trouble finding a lot of plastic-free options locally. I’m pretty sure our house will never be 100% plastic-free but I figure even small reductions can help.

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