The last thing Orinda resident Sandra Ann Harris wanted to do was write a scary, depressing book during this pandemic – so she took six months and did exactly the opposite.
She wrote an uplifting, informative narrative about eliminating plastics from one’s life in her book titled, Say Goodbye to Plastic: A Survival Guide For Plastic-Free Living.
Founder and CEO of her woman-based online store, ECOlunchbox, a mission-based plastic-free lunch box social enterprise she started in 2009 that has sold over 800,000 stainless steel and silicone food containers worldwide, Harris is passionate about living a plastic-free lifestyle.
“I’m a lifelong environmentalist and humanitarian,” she said. “The business is a vessel for making change in our world by educating about the dangers of plastic, inspiring people to make better choices and empowering them to say goodbye to plastic starting at lunchtime with our ECOlunchbox stainless steel containers.”
Born in Oakland and moved to Orinda at age 3, Harris attended Del Rey Elementary, Orinda Intermediate School and Miramonte High School (class of ’84). She went on to earn her BA in English at the University of California, Davis, and an MA degree in investigative journalism through the Kiplinger Program from Ohio State University.
But her love for Mother Earth started as a child.
It began with enjoying a local summer hiking program offered by Mark Joiner, a teacher in the Orinda Union School District, and continued with hiking the 213-mile John Muir Trail in the Sierra with her Miramonte High School cross country and track coach, Bob Campbell.
After that, she sailed at Lake Pinecrest, windsurfed on the San Francisco Bay, kayaked on Tomales Bay, snorkeled in Hawaii and enjoyed other outdoor activities further sparking her love of nature from the mountains to the sea.
Today, she is mother to Nikolo Vo (20) and Mabel Vo (17) with husband Thinh Vo, all of whom support her green efforts to educate those around her about the perils of plastics.
“With the book, I’m hoping to share my journey with readers and invite them into the plastic pollution movement and lifestyle,” Harris wrote previously to Sustainable Lafayette, a grassroots non-profit working to transform Lafayette into a highly sustainable community that enhances the quality of life for current and future residents.
Parting with plastics, in her opinion, doesn’t have to be a downer for people.
“By recounting some inspiring experiences I’ve had in nature, as well as educating about the origins of the plastic crisis we’re facing, I hope to light people up with the possibility that we can joyfully say goodbye to plastic and save our planet from this onslaught of pollution,” said Harris.
Surprisingly, since she says she’s always enjoyed writing ever since she was a student at Del Rey Elementary, this is Harris’ first book
“My family told me that I must have ink in my blood, as the expression goes,” said Harris, whose parents, Sue and Bourke Harris, live at the Moraga Country Club.
While writing comes easy for this former journalist, writing her book was not.
“The hardest part was telling my own story. As an ex-journalist, I’m much more practiced in telling other people’s stories. Pulling my own story out of my head and putting it to paper was a bit of a challenge, but, with some coaching and persistence, I think I achieved that,” she said. “I wanted my readers to feel from the first page of the book to the last, that I was with them, walking the plastic-free path, supporting them in their journey. It’s not just third person tips, a how-to book. This is a memoir mixed with tips.”
In her new book, notably forwarded by Dianna Cohen, CEO of the Plastic Pollution Coalition, Harris offers tips to readers about how to eliminate plastics from their lives.
Revealing a tip or two from her prose, Harris suggests “you might pick a room in your house and do a plastic audit, looking at all the plastic you’re using to write down a top 10 hit list of plastic items you want to weed out.”
While COVID-19 has significantly changed the landscape of recycling methods, currently prohibiting shoppers from using their own bags, Harris offers this idea: “I suggest people refuse single-use grocery bags and take their purchases to their car and load them to reusable bags themselves, since we’re sometimes not allowed to bring our own grocery bags.
“There’s so much more you can do, but if you’re an Amazon shopper, contact customer service to get your account flagged ‘plastic free’ so your shipments are packaged only with recyclable paper – no plastic pillows,” she added.
If it weren’t for pollution, toxins and global warming, this book would not have been so important. “For me, plastic pollution isn’t just a job. It’s personal,” said Harris. “This is our world, our planet and home for future generations. We’d better not keep messing it up!”
Harris, who was not only a journalist, but also a humanitarian aid worker in Vietnam, and when her kids were young, a digital marketing consultant, said her book isn’t just about facts – it’s much more.
“It’s a first-person narrative about my life as a mother and my endeavor to show it’s possible to put to market, a plastic-free product line that’s healthy for both people and the planet,” said Harris.
In her own opinion, avoiding all plastics would be a good thing.
“If you can avoid using plastic, even if it’s a reusable plastic, it’s best to do so. At end of life, reusable plastics like Tupperware, are not recyclable,” she said. “Even if they have a symbol on the bottom with a number, it’s most likely that piece of plastic, at end of life, will be buried or burned. I talk about this in my book and changes in recycling policies that are making it harder and less likely plastic will be recycled as time goes by.”
Copies of Harris’ book can be purchased at Orinda Books or
www.ecolunchboxes.com, where copies are signed and shipped by Sandra Ann Harris.