13 Mar Why I Gave Up Plastic For Lent
Trying to go six weeks without this popular material has as difficult as I thought it would be, but I’m happy I did.
Lent was initially observed by Christians and those of a similar faith. In recent years, more secular individuals have embraced the religious holiday, using the time as an opportunity to abandon bad habits and unnecessary vices. It’s not uncommon to happen across a meat eater willing to abstain from their go-to protein, or weight-watcher committing to curbing their chocolate consumption.
But this year, one popular item is on most people’s Lent list.
On Ash Wednesday, the Church of England, which has roughly 25 million members, challenged its congregation to a plastic free/less Lent and word of this challenge spread like holy fire.
This isn’t the first time a group of eco-warriors have attempted to avoid plastic over Lent. I’ve read about this conservational sacrifice for years. I decided this year would be the year I tried it for myself.
WHY GIVE UP PLASTIC?
Single-use plastic is one of the leading polluters of our rivers, oceans and landfills. Coming in the form of drinking straws, water bottles, toothpaste tubes, make-up products, medicine and many more, these items are often carelessly discarded and, because of the composition of plastic, aren’t biodegradable. This means the six separate straws you used, sipping on cocktails last night, will still be polluting the earth long after you die (and long after they’ve polluted the home’s of marine mammals).
HOW DO I GIVE UP PLASTIC?
It won’t be easy. Before I began my plastic-free/less Lent, I took stock of all the single-use plastic I had in my life. I was shocked to realise that in my bedroom alone, there were several different types of single-use plastic. I was confronted with the negative impact I have on the planet.
After consulting a number of environmentally-conscious friends who’ve attempted this plastic challenge, I decided I’d take it one week at a time. Most warned me that giving up plastic all at once can be a bit cold turkey – it was going to be a shock to my system. So I broke it down into weeks of fasting. I planned to slowly wean myself off single-use plastic, one product at a time.
WEEK 1: STRAWS, WATER BOTTLES & SINGLE-USE COFFEE CUPS
Nothing discourages a person more than setting a order too tall to reach, so I started small. During the first week of Lent I committed to drinking straight from the glass when I went to a restaurant, bar or the movie house. As a germaphobe, this was particularly challenging because I don’t trust the sanitary standards of kitchens that arent my own. I rarely eat out but when I meet anyone for a drink, I rely on a packaged straw to keep me from the E Coli, Salmonella or Hepatitis A I imagine is growing in the restaurants cold room. This coupled with no longer enjoying the convenience of grabbing a to-go chai latte or a bottle of water presented a challenge. One of the easiest ways around this is to carry your own solution around with you. They’re becoming more and more popular but Ecoffee Cups, stainless steel, glass or bamboo straws and of course your own transportable bottle offer long-lasting, hygienic solutions. Okay, week 1 done.
WEEK 2: PLASTIC CARRY & PRODUCE BAGS
The supermarket is the toughest place to try be plastic-free/less. If it’s not realising your yoghurt is packaged in single-use plastic, it’s noticing the same thing about your favourite trail mix. I was dreading going grocery shopping because I knew it was going to be an absolute nightmare. On top of the plastic cuts I’d made in Week 1, I was going to bring my own carry bags to the supermarket. Initially, it didn’t seem so tough. I threw two recycled material tote and produce bags in my cubby so I’d have them whenever I popped into the store. Only problem I had was remembering to grab the bags before heading into the store. It took one clumsy walk to my car, with all my groceries in in my two hands, to make sure I remembered to take my carry bags with me next time. I looked pretty silly with a half dozen apples shoved down my shallow pockets because I was fasting from produce bags too.
WEEK 3: SHAMPOO & CONDITIONER BOTTLES, MENSTRUAL PRODUCTS
I must confess, Ash Wednesday fell in the middle of the month and I wasn’t willing to throw out all my cosmetics for a eco-friendly overhaul so far from payday. Luckily, when the time came, there was an assortment of biodegradable soaps, shampoo bars, dry conditioner powders to choose from. Making the transition from tampons to a menstrual cup had to happen too. I couldn’t justify going plastic free/less and still unwrap multiple tampons a day and discard that film of single-use plastic every time.
WEEK 4: MANICURES & MAKE UP
Having made it halfway, I am on a fast-track to kicking this plastic-free/less Lent challenge in the butt – though I’m dreading Week 4. Getting my nails done is a monthly ritual I have come to need. Every four weeks, I do all but skip into my nail technicians salon; I get plastic nail extensions and a fresh coat of nail varnish, and I glide out feeling like a new woman. My monthly appointment is fast approaching and I’d love to keep this single-use plastic profligacy, but I can’t. My fake nails make my hands look pretty for 31 days; the damage they cause lasts much longer.
WEEK 5: TAKE OUT
Eating out is something I generally loathe. Having worked in my fare share of restaurants, I’ve come to understand that the cleanliness of a kitchen is something you can never be too sure of.
But I have an impressive Rolodex of restaurants with an open-kitchen policy, I frequent these restaurants often. Not only is it the plastic packaging they place my food into, it’s the plastic packets of condiments, wrapped in a plastic packet, the restaurant includes in the plastic bag they give you when your order is up. That’s enough plastic to make my head spin. TIP OR TRICK for anyone trying this while using UberEats or OrderIn; under “Special Instructions” make sure you make a note to the server NOT to add any plastic cutlery to your order.
WEEK 6: REFLECTION
Having given up as much single-use plastic in my bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and social life, Week 6 is all about reflection. Plastic is a material used in many things we all use on a daily basis. Most pens, phone cases and car air-fresheners are made using plastic. You rarely find food that isn’t wrapped in plastic, or tea bags that are individually sealed in a holder made from plastic. Tupperware is plastic; refuse bags are plastic; some rubbish bins are plastic. Most cleaning products are sold in plastic containers for heaven’s sake!
Once you start monitoring your use of anything, especially something as popular yet damaging as plastic, it’s inevitable that you will become horrified by how prevalent it is. It’s proved to be extremely effective shock therapy.
Lent is a great time to break bad habits and replace them with practices that are healthy for both you and the environment. Because so many people are doing it, you’ll find it easy to motivate yourself and those around you. The plastic-free/less Lent challenge is great time to limit our waste and pollution. But it doesn’t have to be Lent only – plastic free needs to be a lifestyle that we start adopting.
See how Robyn Smith, our founder, feels about this issue: Plastic free shopping and why distribution is necessary.
Not sure what to do with your plastic waste? Have a look at this incredible solution: The Eco Brick.
Find out how to add to a plastic free lifestyle change.