How to give up plastic? A review of a book by Will McCallum.

I have noticed that recently there has been huge (and depressing) media coverage of the plastic pollution problem. I am glad that this question has become a topic of interest – I think it means that more and more people are becoming conscious of how much in trouble we can soon be because of plastic. And this should concern all of us – as everyone will be impacted by the consequences.

Fortunately, these days more and more people are now adopting the trend of a zero waste lifestyle, which means reducing the amount of generated waste to a minimum. The first step on the way to lead a zero waste lifestyle is to eliminate disposable plastic accessories such as bags, packaging, straws or bottles. These things are really not so difficult to replace by multiple-use substitutes. As living a zero waste (or less waste) lifestyle has become fashionable, quite a few books have been recently published on this topic. The authors of these books share their advice on how to best implement the zero waste principles in your own backyard. A few weeks ago I read one of these books, written by Will McCallum, the Head of Oceans at Greenpeace. How does this book differ from other publications on the same subject? Is it worth reaching for? In today’s post I will present a short review.

When you grab Will McCallum’s book, the first thing you pay attention to is its small-size format. It is a perfect thing for those who enjoy reading when travelling by train, tram or bus, at a doctor’s waiting room or elsewhere in a queue. The book is really light and it won’t take much space in a bag or backpack. Its great asset is also its cover – in my opinion, it’s very nicely designed and enjoyable to look at. If you are considering to buy the book as a gift for someone, the visual side also has an importance. This is it, when it comes to the physical aspects of the book. Now time to discuss the content.

Will McCallum “How to give up plastic?” (Penguin Life)

In the first 4 chapters, the author explains how single-use plastic items pollute every corner of our planet and why the problem has taken such catastrophic dimension. He also briefly describes the history of the fight with plastic pollution and the initiatives taken recently in some countries to prevent further escalation of the problem. He also tries to convince the reader that everyone – with a little bit of good will – can have a contribution to saving the planet (with all living species, including humans).

“90% seabirds have plastic in their guts”.

Next chapters are full of very specific advice on how to lead a plastic-free life. The author provides a number of useful tips for all those taking their first steps on the path leading to a zero waste life. He makes them aware of the amount of plastic an average person uses on a daily basis and explains how to eliminate single-use plastic from our lives and replace it with reusable substitutes. What’s interesting is that each chapter in this part corresponds to one part of a typical house. This way, we can find advice on how to stop using plastic in your kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and children’s room. There is also a separate chapter dedicated to your workplace and another one devoted entirely to your backpack or handbag.

The last part of the book is aimed at people who already demonstrate a high level of awareness of the plastic pollution problem. It is dedicated to all those who have already stopped using disposable plastic on a daily basis and would like to convince other people to do the same. By other people the author does not mean only the closest family or friends but also local and state institutions and owners of  all kinds of businesses. Will McCallum provides the readers with a number of useful hints on how to use social and traditional media to that end, how to write a report, a press release or a petition.  On top of that, in the book you will also find a few interviews with people who are already actively fighting, on a larger scale, against plastic pollution.

12.7 million tonnes of plastic end up in our oceans each year.

Now, that you know what Will McCallum’s book is about, it is time to answer the question: is it worth spending your time on it? By the way, you will only need to spend very little time if you decide to read this book. It is written in such a simple language and has such a clear, readable design, plus it is so compact that reading should not take more than 3 evenings, even to the busiest person.

But let’s focus on the content. I will be honest with you – this is not a great literary work of art. But this is definitely not the point. The author is not a professional writer but he is a professional environmentalist and an active campaigner against plastic pollution. And this is why this particular book wins with other publications on the same topic.  Will McCallum really has in-depth knowledge of many aspects of the problem. As the main role of a guide book like this one is to transfer useful information to its readers, this goal has definitely been achieved in this.

As a professional campaigner against plastic pollution, the author witnesses the consequences of our excessive attachment to plastic and he is involved in multiple forms of activism aiming to prevent further destruction of the planet. That’s why he also has a vast knowledge on the topic and is able to present a great deal of shocking facts and number. And he uses this ability in every chapter of this book. I think it is a very good strategy, especially when you want to convince a person completely unfamiliar with the problem to reconsider their daily habits. You might want to remember about it if you are looking for a gift for a person with no clue about a zero-waste lifestyle.

Every minute, one garbage truck of plastic is dumped into our oceans.”

What about those who are already practicing a zero waste lifestyle? I think these readers will also be happy to reach for Will McCallum’s book. They probably won’t be very surprised with the information on how to eliminate disposable plastic from their households and workspace, as more or less the same tips appear in all zero waste guide books and blogs. The only difference between this book and the other ones I have read so far is the fact that after chapter (corresponding to a specific part of the house), you will find some space to note down your ideas on how exactly  you will replace some single-use plastic accessories currently present at your household. This can be handy for those who wish start planning immediately after reading each chapter. For me personally, the only new thing I found out from this part of the book was the information about synthetic microfibers polluting seas and oceans. Microfibers are very small pieces of plastic released from our clothes into the environment by our washing machines. I was not aware of this fact and I am really glad to have found out.

“(…) what we do know is that although invisible to our naked eye, these synthetic fibres may still look like tasty treats to zooplankton such as krill, tiny shrimp-like crustaceans. Animals like these form the base of the food chain in the ocean, being eaten in vast quantities by bigger zooplankton, fish and marine mammals like whales. In this way microfibers can pass up the food chain, accumulating in huge quantities the further up you get, and eventually could even end up on our dinner plate”.

The big number of facts and numbers gathered in one place is also very important. It is good to have them handy when you try to convince someone to give up plastic.

The last part of the book containing the advice on how to start acting on a larger scale is also very interesting. In other words, this is a number of tips on how to run a social campaign and how to become an activist fighting to rescue the planet. I have not found this type of information in any other book I have read so far.

To sum up, Will McCallum serves his readers with a lot of very useful information in what I preceive as a very easily readable book. It is definitely worth reaching for, remembering, taking down some notes from and further transferring to your family and friends so the author’s knowledge and tips can be further spread to as many people as possible.

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