In my life as a Godless heathen, I’ve never actually fasted or given anything up for Lent. This year however, a friend invited me to join her in the challenge of giving up plastic for Lent – that’s from Wednesday 10th February, through to Thursday 24th March. I agreed, without thinking it through, at all. I had no idea Lent was that long, for starters, I thought it was maybe 2-3 weeks. And then I started thinking about the implications of this challenge.
I like to consider myself reasonably environmentally friendly. Those who’ve seen Cowspiracy can insert their own methane joke there. I recycle pretty studiously, I re-use containers from take-aways and soup/salsa/whatever to store things in the fridge, I take plastic bags to the shops whenever I can. But a life without plastic is something I hadn’t really even countenanced until this was put in front of me as a challenge (which my friend was inspired towards by this post). I’m quite a fan of setting arbitrary boundaries in front of myself to affect my behaviour – I always try to do Dry January and Sober October, as in my line of work (DJing) it’s remarkably hard to maintain a healthy lifestyle without being able to say to people “Sorry, can’t have that shot – Sober October innit?”
2016 started in fine style thanks to Dry January reining in my worst excesses and allowing me to focus on work and wellbeing, so I was keeping an eye out for something to do for Lent. Even the casual observer will surely by now have realised how ludicrous our overuse of plastic packaging has become.
What is less well known (although knowledge does seem to be growing thanks to activists) is what happens to this plastic once it is discarded. A huge amount ends up in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is a staggering size – estimates vary from 270,000 square miles up to 5,800,000 square miles! That high estimate is 8.1% of the Pacific Ocean…
Then you have landfill. The UK uses around 5,000,000 tonnes of plastic per year, of which only 24% is recovered or recycled. Roughly half of all plastic bottles used in the UK are sent to landfill despite recycling being available – around 240,000 tonnes.
This podcast by The Story Of Stuff talks about the issue at a bit more length than I am doing here. For now I am looking at the field of play, and trying to work out the rules. I guess I can use the plastic I already own, that only makes sense, as this is about trying to minimise waste. Then I need to make sure I recycle that which I bin.
And then we get to the tricky stuff – shopping when plastic is off-limits. Do plastic-free bin-liners exist? I like nuts and seeds to snack on – to my knowledge these are sold almost exclusively in plastic containers of various types. Does this mean I have to shred my own veg for stir frys? How do I do that without buying a plastic-based mandolin slicer? Hang on, I’m supposed to buy an iron tomorrow, I haven’t thought this through at all. Irons are largely plastic right?
Basically, I’m fucked. Anyway, join in with me, much like I’ve gone mostly veggie these days, if I can go mostly plastic-free, then that’s a lot better than doing nothing. I’ll probably do some periodic updates about how this is going and what is proving harder and easier. Feel free to comment with questions and suggestions about this idea, it’s something that will test my brainpower and resourcefulness no doubt, so I will need all the help I can get!