Sunday Story: The New Natural

Kassidy Coleman and Jacob Sequeira want to help people live well — with less plastic.

Their self-published book “Pretty Much Plastic-Free: Your Guide to Breaking up With Plastic” offers a crash course in avoiding the single-use plastic items that have become ubiquitous in our daily lives — disposable straws, water bottles and produce bags, among others. The 5-by-7-inch guide looks like a marbled composition notebook and is small enough to ride in a backpack or purse. It offers tips and tricks in bite-sized portions with colorful, whimsical illustrations.

“We titled the book (this way) because nobody’s perfect,” Sequeira says. “We don’t want people to feel pressured but to feel comfortable, to make (reducing plastic use) a normal thing.”

The married couple met a dozen years ago in Northern Virginia, where they were working as cashiers at a home improvement store. Sequeira says he noticed Coleman and asked a manager to align their lunch breaks. Were they using a lot of plastic then? “Probably,” Coleman says, laughing. “We were eating a lot of fast food and probably using a lot of plastic utensils,” Sequeira adds. Now, the couple advocates shopping local, which minimizes food transportation costs and allows them to bring their own bags and containers for purchases.

Nearly six years ago, after moving to Richmond, Coleman became interested in composting as a practical solution to a household problem: Their dog routinely ransacked their trash, drawn by the food smells within. “Once we started composting, it wasn’t even an issue,” Coleman says.

Sequeira admits he was initially “really apprehensive” about changing how they handled food scraps, but he realized that composting is simpler than it looks.

To share their journey with others, the duo published their first book, “Casually Composting,” in 2022. They focused on plastic use for their second book because they want people to understand that living a more eco-conscious lifestyle isn’t a burden , just a change. Coleman does the writing, Sequeira provides illustrations, and they collaborate on the content. While both have day jobs now, Sequeira worked full time on the plastics book.

“Kassidy really wanted to get out this idea that being plastic-free should be accessible and digestible,” he says. “There’s a culture of normalcy built around plastic (because of) its convenience.”

While many regard reducing their reliance on single-use plastics as a way to be kinder to the planet, studies are showing that avoiding plastic may be kinder to your body, too. Researchers from the Endocrine Society and other organizations are finding that exposure to chemicals from plastic may cause illness and other health issues.

“Plastic is toxic; it’s harmful for your body,” Coleman says, adding, “It’s good for your mental health to not have clutter and trash in your house.”

The anti-plastic mindset “makes you conscious of what you do and what you purchase,” Sequeira says, noting that he and Coleman recently chose not to purchase a vegetable at the supermarket because it was packaged in plastic. “We decided we could do without,” he says.

Of course, the pair note in the book and in conversation that some plastics are essential, such as those used in medical supplies. “I have a senior dog with meds and supplements (packaged in plastic); I won’t compromise her care,” Coleman says.

And there are plastics that can be used for good. “Buying plastic for a long-term use, like a Brita pitcher or travel cup, is often accessible and an affordable option,” Sequeira says. “People might already own these and should keep using them until they can’t. Any item that reduces your single-use plastic consumption can have a better impact, even if the item itself is made of plastic.”

So far, the pair have received good feedback about the book’s message. Jana Flores, owner of Fill Happy, a store in Williamsburg that seeks to encourage a healthy lifestyle, ordered copies of “Pretty Much Plastic-Free” after seeing the book at Eco Inspired, a similar store in Bon Air. A 5-year-old she knows was so taken with the book that he carried it to school to share with friends. “It’s really interesting how some kids are into (caring for the environment),” Flores says. “It impresses me how thoughtful they are; it’s very automatic for them. That brings me hope because they will hopefully inspire others.”

And that’s Coleman and Sequeira’s goal, too. “Everyone lives with different circumstances, so simply being conscious of your impact can have lasting effects,” Sequeira says, adding that the couple is known at a restaurant near their home for bringing their own bags and declining utensils. “It’s about building relationships and trying to normalize being plastic-free,” he says.

Their next project: a graphic novel designed to be a sequel to their composting guide. “That was our first (book), and we want to improve on it,” Sequeira says.

“We’re trying to be the change we want to see,” Coleman says. “It’s never going to be perfect, but you can make progress.”

“Pretty Much Plastic-Free” can be purchased through Etsylocally at Eco Inspired in Bon Air or via online book stores.

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