Blog, blog, action. It all started with a blog that Beth Terry of Oakland, Calif., read on rodale.com about the monstrous plastic garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean. She was particularly struck by a photo of an albatross that had essentially been shrink-wrapped. It inspired her to start cleaning up her act, when it came to plastic waste. And she started a blog, fakeplasticfish.com and wrote about her plastic concerns. As she set about finding homes for all of the plastic items in her life that had served their useful purpose, she discovered that when it came to Brita plastic water filters, there was no room at the inn. This was particularly troubling because not only was this a lot of wasted plastic but due to the way that the filters extract toxic chemicals from the water, they became concentrated sources of toxins by the time they were spent.
People started writing back to her and when she began to analyze the search terms that people used to find her blog (she was, after all, an accountant by day) she realized that there were lots of other people seeking an answer to the Brita problem. Besides, Brita was representing itself as a green company and was already taking back filters in Europe! She’d seen the effectiveness of a website set up by two bloggers from El Cerrito, Calif., who managed to discourage AOL from sending out the millions of CDs that had been part of a carpet-bombing style marketing campaign, back in the bubbly days. So she put out a call to action which led, in January of 2008, to the formation of the Take Back the Filter Campaign.
I first heard about Terry last week when I was talking with Heidi Sanborn of CPSC about the new stewardship law just passed in Maine. I happened to mention that I wish there was something I could do with those darn Brita filters. So I contacted her to hear more about her story. “I didn’t have any idea what I was doing,” she said. “I just started sending emails to anyone I could think of. Co-op America responded, very excited which really encouraged me.” A year later she had collected 611 cartridges and a number of heavy duty endorsements from groups including Green America, California Product Stewardship Council, Californians Against Waste, Sierra Club and more, plus 16,225 signatures on her petition to Clorox (Brita’s parent company), and a whole lot of media attention.
“I never saw Brita as the enemy,” she said. “My goal was to show them how many of their customers wanted this.” Ten months after that, an announcement came out that Clorox had reached an agreement with Preserve, a company with a environmentally friendly process for recycling #5 plastics, otherwise known as polypropylene, through its Gimme 5 recycling and reuse program. According to the press release, the activated carbon interior of the filters “will be regenerated for alternative use or converted into energy.”
Whole Foods agreed to provide collection points for the filters at any of their nationwide locations. The filters can be dropped off at Whole Foods or simply mailed to Preserve.
Beth’s website still exists. On it she tells the story of what happened and asks people to stop sending her filters. She still blogs on fakeplasticfish.com, too, where she plots out her monthly plastic waste in ounces and items, and she still claims to be learning to live plastic free (since 2007). She has her plastic waste level down to about two pounds a year, down from 3.7 pounds the year before and considerably better than the 88-120 pounds that the typical American family goes through. She says that when you make changes in your personal life, then you have an investment in that issue.
She’s also working on a book about the subject. By now, she’s become a bit jaded about recycling as the “answer.”
“I’ve gone way beyond recycling and now focus more on reducing my consumption of plastic in the first place,” she says.
It’s a great testimonial to the power of blogging, the sensitivity of large corporations to publicity and public opinion and the fact that one individual truly can make a difference.
For more information visit the Plastic Pollution Coalition website.
RP Siegel is the author of Vapor Trails.