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Plastic Free: The Inspiring Story of a Global Environmental Movement and Why It Matters

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In July 2011, Rebecca Prince-Ruiz challenged herself to go plastic free for the whole month. Starting with a small group of people in the city of Perth, the Plastic Free July movement has grown into a 250-million strong community across 177 countries, empowering people to reduce single-use plastic consumption and create a cleaner future.

This book explores how one of the world's leading environmental campaigns took off and shares lessons from its success. From narrating marine-debris research expeditions to tracking what actually happens to our waste to sharing insights from behavioral research, it speaks to the massive scale of the plastic waste problem and how we can tackle it together. Interweaving interviews from participants, activists, and experts, Plastic Free tells the inspiring story of how ordinary people have created change in their homes, communities, workplaces, schools, businesses, and beyond.

It is easy to feel overwhelmed in the face of global environmental problems and wonder what difference our own actions could possibly make. Plastic Free offers hope for the future through the stories of those who have taken on what looked like an insurmountable challenge and succeeded in innovative and practical ways, one step--and one piece of plastic--at a time.


Published December 8, 2020

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Rebecca Prince-Ruiz

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 30 reviews
Profile Image for Fianna Whitman.
498 reviews9 followers
April 23, 2021
Thank you to Netgalley, the publisher and authors for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

I love this book. The authors look at the amount of plastic Americans use and throw away on a daily basis and discuss how to cut down on that amount. The talk about the initiatives that have been started for plastic free homes and don't shy away from talking about the mistakes they made along the way. One of the best parts of the book is that they share tips and tricks for reducing your plastic footprint on the planet.
Profile Image for Sandy.
63 reviews23 followers
November 12, 2020
Thank you NetGalley and Columbia University Press for the digital ARC in exchange for an honest review.

When I was in graduate school for environmental policy, a professor assigned the class a questionnaire to determine what our carbon footprint was. I thought I was going to nail it and was shocked when my result showed otherwise. I’ve since realized there continues to be plenty of room for “go green” improvement in my life, particularly when it comes to single-use plastics. But, as the author states: “Making change can start with awareness, and a resolve to do things different.”

I really enjoyed learning about Plastic Free July, something I had heard of before but didn’t know the history or ins and outs of. I’ve often envied zero-waste influencers’ abilities to make the movement look effortless, as I tend to struggle in my own transformation. In Plastic Free, however, the author actually highlights the challenges associated with those changes, making it more relatable and accurate for an average person like me. Plastic Free has a lot of great information about actually going plastic-free, woven into stories and thoughtful reflections on the author’s personal experiences.

Because of my own studies in environmentalism, I was intrigued by the outreach communications aspect of Plastic Free July: social media campaigns, community involvement, word of mouth, and most importantly, what the overall messaging was (and is). Another part of the book that I’d like to mention is the author’s thoughts on going plastic-free during and post-COVID. I’ll be curious to see the impacts of the pandemic on the movement going forward.

A really thought-provoking, solid book---one of the better ones I’ve read about the plastic-free movement.
Profile Image for Anjana.
1,785 reviews40 followers
May 10, 2021
I read quite a few zero waste books and Plastic-related ones as well since I first got clued in to the reality of the issues around us. It is surprising how blind I was to my own footprint a few years ago! I made a significant stride forward as long as I lived in HK with native food growing quite close by and Indian spices being delivered in paper bags since HK is a central trading hub, and I was spoilt for choice. I am trying to get back to a semblance of that life, although it's hard where I am now. I was lucky enough to have a bulk store opening in the city just the year before moving! When I saw this written by women in Australia, I thought it might help me.
It did more than that, it reenergized my feelings towards the moment, and I am consciously thinking of what I can do next. It is the most comprehensive book with ideas and moments that I have picked up. It is for the layperson to help jostle one down the path of making even the tiniest bit of difference towards their plastic consumptions. We have individual comments littering the chapters, which further help provide practical anecdotes to solidify the ideology. It is not preachy; it gives suggestions for baby steps, which will appeal to even the most reluctant participants.
The book even addressed the start of the pandemic and how it might impact the reduction of single-use plastics achieved by everyday people! It was an energetic book covering a lot of ground and I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to start thinking about the single-use plastics in their house.

I received an ARC thanks to NetGalley and the publishers; the review is entirely based on my own reading experience and my previous attempts at looking at my own plastic usage.
Profile Image for Blue.
1,525 reviews75 followers
August 23, 2020
Want to see more...


Thank you NewSouth for this book in exchange for an honest review

I always try to think of ways that I can reduce my negative impact on the environment so when this book came, I knew that I had to review it.
I didn’t even know Plastic Free July was a thing, but now that I do, I can promise you that I will be taking this on every July and making more of an effort for every single month of the year.
What I loved is the efforts that the authors went through when they decided to take on this challenge and what every day issues that they came across in every day situations which made the whole process of moving to plastic free realistic. At one put they decide to take a road trip and they forgot to pack snacks, so usually in this situation you would stop off at a servo (petrol station) and get snacks. But what snacks can you buy in a servo that doesn’t have plastic on it? You can’t! One of the biggest problems is that all food comes in plastic and how can you buy food without plastic?? SO she went without snacks because they weren’t available.
It is honestly crazy to think about how much plastic there is in our lives and that only 9% of the plastics in the world get recycled!! If that doesn’t freak you out, then nothing will!
While I loved the lengths they went to sharing stories and experiences, I was hoping for more examples of how we can go plastic free and places that you can go grocery shopping without buy plastic.
I think this was a great starting point to introducing a plastic free option but I think I might have to look at other books for a hardcore option.

Profile Image for cab.
113 reviews12 followers
June 14, 2022
“It can feel incredibly overwhelming. It is understandable to have a sense of powerlessness against a rising tide of plastic, but learning about the issue and taking action through our purchasing habits helps to drive the momentum we all need. No individual action is trivial, because those action combined send strong messages to corporations, governments and the many people in organisations across the world who are working every day of their lives to address plastic pollution and it’s effect on marine environments.” (Ch. 5 Plastic Sea)

To me, this is the only reason why individual actions have a chance of working, not as an ends in itself but as a political act, a means to achieve a greater end.

I would consider myself fairly insulated against climate despair (thanks, Andreas Malm) in the issues of agriculture/ energy, but Chapter 5 on the plastic soup of the oceans was really difficult to get through for me. I think plastic is one issue I really don’t know how to engage with, as one of those true hyperobjects of Timothy Morton’s conception. This scares me.

A very necessary read and primer on the plastic problem. Initially read for work, but I appreciate Prince-Ruiz’s highly localized and specific examples, with considerations for indigenous people and cultures, and the citations that she draws from Vandana K, an Indian participant who boldly asserts the importance of addressing the system of poverty that is enmeshed with the system of plastic collection and downcycling.

I would recommend this book. Chapters 1-4 are fairly easy to read, while being profound. Chapter 5 on the plastic ocean was difficult. I considered the book sufficiently gutted and stopped after that.
Profile Image for Lisa Konet.
1,977 reviews10 followers
September 5, 2020
This was one of the much better books on the topic of plastic being bad for the environment. The author talks about her childhood and how she became interested in being an environmentalist and someone who cares about the future of the planet. Some of her personal stories are a lot more interesting and why she wants to get other people to become just as passionate as her without sounding like a lunatic. There was actually some humor despite the subject matter, but it was definitely a thought provoking read. I definitely have tried to use less plastic products or reuse them as much as I can, but what then :-(

A better book on this topic and a must if you are into climate change and saving the environment.

Thanks to Netgalley, Rebecca Prince Ruiz and Columbia University Press for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Available: 12/8/20
Profile Image for Jeff.
1,207 reviews102 followers
July 21, 2020
Strong Start, Your Mileage May Vary On Ending. I gotta admit, as an American I'd never heard of Plastic Free July before seeing this book on NetGalley. (And yes, since I am writing this review on July 21, 2020 - the day after it hit NetGalley - and it doesn't publish until December 8, 2020, this is certainly an Advance Review Copy, with all of the things that generally entails.) But the description of how Prince-Ruiz started the organization sounded promising. And the text of the book, for the first half - two thirds or so, showed exactly that promise. Someone deciding independently to choose to do something that could make a difference and work to convince her friends and family to do the same... in the age of social media. The back part of the book, where the organization shifts from voluntary action to political action - which is ultimately *always* at the point of a sword (in Ye Olden Times) or gun (in the modern era) - is more problematic and is where the book will likely be seen as much more divisive. I try to keep my own politics out of my reviews to as much a degree as possible, so I'll simply note that through this section the voluntary actions the author describes are commendable, and I've actually supported a few of them myself, but the less-than-voluntary actions... any time politics gets involved, you invite problems. Ultimately a great look at various things we all can and arguably should do, marred by its descent into politics. Recommended.
Profile Image for Megan.
92 reviews
February 28, 2022
This is an encouraging tale of the "Plastic Free July" movement that began in Australia. I appreciated many of the anecdotes, and I loved reading about the variety of successes that the movement has inspired.

The book suffered a bit for lack of organization. There are many inset stories that interrupt the flow of reading. They could easily have been incorporated into the main chapters.
Profile Image for Lauren.
1 review
January 19, 2021
What I enjoyed most about this book was how it connected Plastic Free July with our environmental crisis. The bank analogy of earth overshoot day cements that ecological bankruptcy is rooted in our consumption behaviours and outlooks. I find the argument that it is not plastic itself that is the key problem, but our view towards it and how we are currently using (and not reusing it) both strong and productive. My main take away is how this movement urges a change in how we think about and use our resource and the need to dismantle our disconnect on how every material and product has a cost. These key points are great to guide people their chosen actions and maintain that momentum of inspiration by affirming why addressing plastic use is meaningful. There are many other interesting arguments scattered throughout (even an open ended question on plant based packaging- are we going to produce crops to feed the worlds population or package their things?)

I recommend this book to anyone wanting to reduce their ecological footprint and understand the complexities of environmental degradation. Although not limited to these, Chapter 3 to 5 offer interesting information and analyses on plastic waste. There are confronting statistics, stories which yank at our empathy and facts tied into broader narratives of environmental and social challenges.

It is an inspiring read with latter chapters providing varied examples in how people have responded to and tried addressing plastic waste in their own spheres. These examples offer readers ideas to implement in their own home, work, or community.

The author’s conceptualisations and theories on the success of Plastic Free July is intriguing. Alongside other things, naivety is highlighted as a important feature to the global movement. “Rather than strategising and overthinking...sharing and doing” became the approach. This conclusion adds to the debates in sustainability about imperfection. Readers can make up their own minds if they think this foundation of creativity, collaboration and starting somewhere rather than never starting is the appropriate course to take.

I appreciate how the book begins to pose more questions than answers to the future of plastics and the requirement for further innovation. The post script which contextualises this book in our current COVID-19 world is grounding and hopeful. Overall the tone and messages from this work is hopeful, an essential feature to change.
Profile Image for Pao.
4 reviews2 followers
September 20, 2020
Plastic Free is a great combination of real-life stories, facts, tips, and an inspiring message of focusing on the positives, sharing solutions, and doing what we can. This non-fiction book focuses on plastic as a symptom of some of the broader global problems like human impact on the environment and climate change. It does an amazing job on presenting the history on the use of plastics and ecological terminology that has become more and more frequent on daily life. The information made known is clear and interesting, regardless on if you see yourself as an environmentalist or not.

Something that I particularly enjoyed was the acknowledgment of cultural knowledge and indigenous sustainability, as well as how the book touches on privilege and the fact that people should do what their situation allows them to. It covers the problem of downcycling, perceived obsolesce, behavioral economics and other themes that relate to society and pollution. It also gives solid advice and ideas on where to start your plastic free journey.

I think the multiformat integration of text, quotes and real-life examples does a great job balancing out, although I do have to say I found some of the testimonials repetitive and it was a bit too long for me.

I didn’t know about Plastic Free July before reading this book, and I really appreciate how it opened my eyes to so many resources and tips that I can use on my daily life from now on. I liked reading about the author’s life and how they became interested in plastic, started a movement, and proved change is a constant thing. The overall message of community collaboration and having people from all over the world acting is a source of motivation, and I agree that “small wins inspire future changes”.

My favorite chapter of the book was the postscript, where the author talks about the impact of COVID-19 on the Plastic Free movement and briefly questions what will change moving forward. It felt like an honest reflection and I found it really interesting.

Ultimately, Plastic Free is a great book and I would highly recommend. It is completely relevant today and will continue to be so.

Thank you to NetGalley and Columbia University Press for an advanced e-copy of the book.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Chantal Lyons.
270 reviews35 followers
August 12, 2020
I'm sometimes reluctant to read "environmental action" books because I find them pretty dry (as much as I care about the subject matter), but I was delighted by this one from the start - it opens with one of the author's personal history, where she grew up and why she's so passionate about the environment. The book continues in this vein for much of its page count. I always feel more "anchored" by non fiction when it's being told by someone who's lived what they're talking about. Interestingly, books about climate change often lack this, because the authors haven't "suffered" the more devastating effects of it yet. Whereas plastic consumption and plastic pollution are facts of life for everyone - even if not everyone has woken up to it yet.

I wouldn't say I learned anything new and mind-blowing from this book (I work for a marine sustainability-focused organisation and I'm already doing what I can to reduce my plastic consumption) but I'm sure it'll be enlightening for a lot of readers; and it's written in such a charming, engaging way. But reading the book really helped to make me feel that my individual actions are contributing to a greater difference. If governments won't step up - I think I'm much more pessimistic about this than the authors are - then it has to start with all of us.

(With thanks to Columbia University Press and NetGalley for an ebook in exchange for an honest review)
Profile Image for Martin.
80 reviews2 followers
January 2, 2021
Being a Biochemistry Major with a Minor in Environmental sciences, this book is absolutely amazing. Telling the story of Plastic Free July, this book follows this amazing movement from conception to 10 years down the road. This movement over time has gained immense support and has even changed the laws concerning one use plastics in certain countries, and has certainly put plastics and their use and environmental impact on everyones minds. This book is great for describing and understanding the problem of plastic pollution, and gives many useful and helpful hints at converting your own lifestyle to a more plastic free living.

The one gripe I have with this book, would have to be the E-book formatting. The reading became quite chaotic due to the formatting of the ebook. There were more times than I can count on one hand, that a sentence in the middle of a paragraph was interrupted by a quote, or an essay about a particular subject. Then after the quote or essay, the paragraph resumes like nothing happen. This happens frequently throughout the book. Typically this would really annoy me and it did a few times, but since the overall message of the book is important to me, I trudge through.

Other than that, this book is amazing and a great idea creator if you are considering going plastic free or reducing your plastic pollution!
374 reviews
December 29, 2020
Rebecca Prince-Ruiz wrote a book chronicling the efforts of herself and others as they encouraged a plastic-free lifestyle. Aptly titled Plastic Free, she tells her story from AHA moment to a yearly movement.

What makes this book different from other eco-living books is that she doesn’t offer out tips on how to make the changes. Instead, she just tells her story of the personal changes that she made. She tells the story of working with others to make bigger impact changes. And she repeatedly reminds readers that every little bit that each one of us does is important and helpful to the healing of our planet.

She also goes beyond the litter aspect of single-use plastics and talks about why plastics, in general, are a pollution problem. The fossil fuels used to create plastics are killing the planet in numerous ways. Since the mass production of plastics and the utilization of convenience one-use plastic items, the health of our planet has been deteriorating.
Profile Image for Savannah.
76 reviews18 followers
November 29, 2020
I realllllly loved this. Definitely want to pick up the physical copy to add to my own personal library. This book provides an introduction to basic environmentalist concepts (the effects of ocean debris) and as the author recounts her own personal story and her hand in the IG-famous movement, there are lovely little tips for those looking to lessen their reliance on plastics. Easy tips include: replacing single-use plastic bags and straws (save the turtles!). Though none of the advice is particularly groundbreaking, the tone with which Prince-Ruiz write is motivating and as she gently encourages her readers to makes changes.
Profile Image for Lynsey.
86 reviews
March 4, 2021
Prince-Ruiz discusses the evolution of her Plastic Free July campaign, which started in Western Australia and has since become a global movement. The campaign encourages individuals to do what they can to reduce their plastic use, with the idea that small actions by individuals turn into larger actions by communities, which then can lead to societal change. Prince-Ruiz also argues, though, towards the importance of supporting governmental and business changes to reduce plastic production. She also discusses how our plastic use is just one of the many areas where humanity is wasteful, and that waste hurts the environment.
Profile Image for Cristie Underwood.
2,275 reviews56 followers
December 8, 2020
The author detailed how she became interested in helping the environment. I was so inspired by this book, as it really is a great example of how one person can make a huge impact. The challenge to go plastic free for one month started as a small group of people in Perth, but is now a 250 plus MILLION strong community that spans across 177 countries. I am just amazed at the success of this movement and of how many people have embraced it and are being more conscious about using single-use plastics.
Profile Image for Sean Harding.
3,259 reviews22 followers
February 15, 2021
First up I had never heard of Plastic Free July and I had never heard of the author.
What that says I don't know, either I am ignorant of these matters or this movement is not as large as you may believe after reading this book.
Anyway there were some interesting points in this and some helpful tips, however it felt like a promotion for the organisation and the authors blog.
In fact I think I'm getting to the point now when a blogger writes a book I'm suspicious.
Overall: A reasonable book with a little too much self promotion.
18 reviews
February 16, 2021
I have loved #PlasticFreeJuly and have signed up and taken the pledge for years, but in 2019 I finally buckled down and really tried to be plastic free for the month. It is not easy, and I could not wait for this book to come out because I am now heavily invested in shifting away from plastic pollution and the linear consumer society. Rebecca Prince-Ruiz is my new hero and I loved the book. The only thing that detracted from the interesting chapters was the way the stories (sometimes 2-3 pages) were inserted in the text.
Profile Image for Anisha.
52 reviews2 followers
July 6, 2021
The tag line of this book is quite obvious and makes the subject of this book quite clear: ‘The Inspiring Story of a Global Environmental Movement and Why It Matters’. I enjoyed this book quite a book but you know I have an interest in the subject matter but I have to say – I found it repetitive and it could be shorter. Another thing I want to mention it is not an instruction manual on how to go plastic free which some readers seem to expect. Full review: https://fashionandfrappes.com/may-rea...
Profile Image for Pug.
920 reviews3 followers
May 24, 2022
Interesting to read a book from Australia... unfamiliar locations and unfamiliar turns of phrase... sometimes hard to interpret - LOL!

At times long-winded (bogged down with details of all the organizations they're working with), but surely worth a skim. A gentle reminder to be and stay environmentally-conscious. So again, I'm trying to step it up in our reducing, minimizing and reusing of plastics. The thought of filling the oceans (and the animals) with trash is repulsive and horrifying. Sad how disrespectful humans can be to the Earth.

Profile Image for Abra Kurt.
93 reviews1 follower
October 30, 2021
A wonderful resource for understanding the harm plastic does, how it got so bad, and micro and macro strategies for reducing our use of it. I enjoyed the anecdotes about people who were inspired for different reasons, and in different ways, to do their part and become activists.

I received a digital pre-publication copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
1 review1 follower
October 5, 2020
I loved this book! Not only is it hugely inspiring, it’s proof that an individual can make a huge difference to the world by sheer determination, dedication and passion.
Profile Image for ✨ Aaron Jeffery ✨.
511 reviews18 followers
February 19, 2021
A very informative read. I will definitely be trying to incorporate the ideas discussed in this book into my own life.
Profile Image for Chelsea.
209 reviews3 followers
April 19, 2021
Easy-to-read insight into how a simple idea became a global movement with massive impact. Particularly interesting to hear how the campaign messaging has been developed backed by behavioural science.
Profile Image for Helen Geng.
642 reviews5 followers
July 30, 2022
Imaginative & funny & apt cover image by iStock.com/Andrii Zastrozhnov.

Not a perfect book, but I’m going to buy a copy for my personal library.

Read July 2022

NYPL book
Profile Image for Nora.
1 review2 followers
September 29, 2020
Loved learning the story behind the Plastic Free July movement which shows that just a small group of people can make a difference. This book had some practical tips on reducing plastic consumption as well and helped me understand the problem with plastics. Can highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about living a more sustainable life.
Profile Image for Victoria Meblin.
146 reviews
December 1, 2020
Thank you to Net Galley for providing an advanced reader’s copy in exchange for an honest review. I was glad to find that this book chronicled a plastic free challenge that began with a small group of people in Australia in 2011 and became a worldwide movement. The practical ideas, resources, and links given are helpful for people interested in reducing their plastic use. I also liked that there wasn't a preachy tone that could guilt people over what they haven't done to help the environment in this way.
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