books environment waste

How to give up plastic, by Will McCallum

There are dedicated bloggers who have been writing about plastic for years. Publishers are keen to ride the wave of interest in plastic, and there are several books on giving up plastic in the shops right now. I thought I’d check some of them out, starting with Will McCallum’s How to Give up Plastic.

McCallum is the Head of Oceans at Greenpeace UK, so the book is a direct response to the Blue Planet II phenomenon. As he says early on, “it is quite rare in environmental campaigning to feel as though you are on the winning side”, and the book seizes the momentum. It outlines the problem of plastic and how it affects the marine environment, gives readers the key facts, and notes different ways that countries are responding around the world.

The last few chapters go around a typical UK house, room by room, and make suggestions for how to cut down on plastic. Bar soap and shampoo in the bathroom, bamboo toothbrushes, etc. The focus is very much on cutting down plastic – as McCallum says several times, the answer to the plastic problem is not better recycling, though that is necessary too. No recycling system could handle the sheer amount of waste we produce, and we have to start with better choices. “Our throwaway culture has gone too far.” Carry your own coffee cup, for crying out loud.

There are things that we can all do to reduce the plastic coming into our homes, and there are more plastic-free options every year. Ultimately it’s bordering on impossible to avoid it altogether, especially in the form of packaging. That’s where we need to look beyond our own shopping habits and start asking for alternatives. So the book ends with a basic guide to campaigning so you can take it beyond your own house, with tips on writing letters and a how-to guide to running a beach clean. It suggests a hierarchy of campaign actions, starting with asking nicely and escalating until we get what we want.

Being written by the head of oceans, all things come back to marine health rather than land pollution or human impacts. That’s fine, since that will be the main motivation for many people in picking up the book, but I wanted a more holistic view myself. There could have been more background on plastic too, on its development and usage, and the culture around it – but that would have made a longer book, and this is very much about taking action.

How to give up plastic is an easy read, interspersed with big pull quotes and interviews with campaigners of one sort or another, many of them from Greenpeace. It has a can-do attitude and lots of practical advice. I made a note of a few things we’re going to try as a household as we get to grips with “this material that is defining our generation”.


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