Christians around the world often give up something for Lent. This year, several folks suggested we give up plastic. Great idea! Photos of floating piles of plastic in our oceans, combined with stories of dead animals with stomachs filled with plastic debris, were huge motivators for this environmental-protection enthusiast. I decided to try a day without plastic.
The first order of business – brush my teeth. My toothbrush is plastic, but I use it twice daily for perhaps several months before I replace it. My pills are all contained in plastic bottles. I put them in my seven-compartment plastic pill dispenser that I have used for at least a decade now. It was clear before the first cup of coffee I will not be able to totally avoid using plastic. I modified my expectations, thinking perhaps I could get through one day without using any single-use plastic items.
Next up – get the paper from the driveway – wrapped in plastic. Sigh. Well, later I’ll use that to pick up after the pooch when I take him for a walk. The stupidity of it – wrapping a perfectly natural fertilizer substance in plastic that goes into another plastic bag as I do my part to keep our neighborhood dog poop free. At least I get two uses out of the plastic around the paper. And we only put a plastic garbage bag at the curb a couple of times a month, so technically I don’t think that should count as a single-use plastic. How easy it is to justify our actions.
By breakfast I realize this single-use plastic-free day is going to be rather challenging. The coffee comes in a container consisting of cardboard, metal, and a plastic lid, but It will last me about two months – so maybe that’s not so bad. The eggs are in a cardboard twelve-pack. Phew. Uh oh. The juice is in a plastic bottle, but it holds eight servings; so technically it’s not single-use. The bread is in a plastic wrapper. But then again, it’ll take me at least a week to go through the whole loaf. The strawberries and blueberries came home in plastic containers, but I store them in the refrigerator for a week or longer. So, does that count as single-use? Perhaps not. I’ll recycle all this, but how do I know it isn’t eventually going to end up in the stomach of some unsuspecting sea creature? I can’t know. I do not control what happens after I drop it off at the recycling center.
Reduced Plastic Usage
By lunch I’m doing errands and don’t want to take time to go home. At the fast-food place, I decide to dine in. The less-than-fine meal comes to me wrapped in paper. Score one for the plastic-free day effort. It’s all finger food, so I can avoid the plastic eating utensils. The drink comes in a paper cup. I pass on the straw and skip the lid. Lunch went better than breakfast in the plastic-free department. To entertain myself I pull out my phone and check the latest e-mails and social media posts. I realize the phone contains some plastic, but I use it several hours a day, according to the phone’s tracking device. It definitely does not qualify as a single-use plastic item.
The list of errands includes picking up the dry-cleaning – which is of course covered in plastic. I need a couple of things from the grocery store for dinner. All the meat options come wrapped in plastic.If I put individual vegetables in my cart, I can avoid plastic. Ditto for the fruit, if I’m careful about which fruit to add. I pick up milk in a cardboard container this time. Good for me.
However, the applesauce cups are all in plastic. I might still find applesauce in a glass container, but prior experience has taught me it will turn to mold before I use it all, so plastic it is for this item. I feel quasi-righteous as I place my re-usable plastic shopping bags on the conveyer belt. I feel discouraged watching the person in front of me load at least a dozen plastic bags of groceries into his cart.
Plastic, Plastic, Everywhere
Meanwhile back at the ranch house, the mail has arrived. Two magazines, wrapped in plastic, an assortment of solicitation letters, one personal thank you note, and the rest into the paper recycling bag. Today’s mail had only minimal plastic impact.
By late afternoon husband Tom and I debate our dinner options. Maybe tonight we’ll go with a carry-in option. Pizza will come in a cardboard box, with a plastic small container of melted butter in case the pizza itself wasn’t un-nutritious enough. The Chinese choice offers slightly healthier options, but it comes in plastic bowls. If we aren’t quick enough to stop them, they’ll add plastic eating utensils and plastic tubes of assorted sauces. Dining in seems the best non-plastic plan. Later we’ll snack on ice cream. I know, it’s full of calories and sugar; no judging please. It comes in a paper container so it’s better for the environment than the grapes packaged in a plastic bag. Life is one trade off after another.
Plastic Around the World
My plastic-free day was a failure in terms of avoiding plastic for even one day. However, I am more aware than ever how thoroughly plastic has invaded our world. We are literally wrapped in it and we are not so slowly, but surely, killing the natural world with it.
The problem is far more invasive than individual changes of habits can overcome. Yet, we have to start somewhere. Awareness is always the first step in addressing a problem. I hope this blog makes you more aware that we have a plastic problem.
Who cares? That is the next task. Getting people to care. We have to care before we can collectively begin to reduce our reliance on plastic.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Lent is a time to reflect on where we’ve been, where we are, and where we want to go from here. We’ve let our reliance on convenience take a terrible toll on the natural world. We need to repent of our careless ways. We need to resolve to use less plastic and pay more attention to our use and abuse of the natural world. Like it or not, we are mortal mammals dependent on the earth for our very existence.
My plastic-free day was a failure in terms of avoiding the stuff; but my awareness of the problem is greater. Now I pause before I select an item wrapped in plastic and select another item if that’s an option. I carry a cloth bag and decline the plastic one at the check-out counter. I recycle what I can. I reuse when I can. I invite you to join me in the effort to reduce, reuse, and recycle plastic so it doesn’t end up clogging our rivers, lakes, and oceans. Let’s work together to prevent plastic from ending up in the stomachs of innocent animals who pay the price for our negligence.