Could you give up single use plastics for Lent?

We know plastic is incredibly useful – but like a bad guest it overstays its welcome. In particular, plastic film and thin plastic, such as low-density polyethylene (LDPE), that contains or covers many of the products we consume, is particularly disastrous for the environment – and us directly – due to its energy-intensive[1] reliance on non-renewable raw materials[2] and the difficulty in recycling these forms of plastic[3].

More than half a billion plastic straws are used every day globally.[4] Almost 2 million plastic bags are used every minute, and the amount of bubble wrap produced annual could wrap around the equator ten times![5]

Plastic packaging is the biggest producer of plastic waste globally.[6] Incinerating plastic produces CO2, and other toxic chemicals, into the environment, so is not a suitable alternative to get rid of our mass plastic waste.[7] Instead, our plastic ends up in landfills, where on average a plastic bottle takes 450 years to biodegrade.[8]

Alternative polymer bags, which are more eco-friendly[9], are being developed, but are currently more expensive to produce and are not widely used in our shops. As a result, despite many of us knowing the dangers of single-use plastic film and bags, almost 12.7 million tonnes of plastic (including half a million tonnes of plastic bags) is finding its way into the world’s oceans every year[10]. The media has increasingly been bringing this to our attention: we have seen the effects of plastic waste in the environment in TV programmes[11] and have heard reports of how tiny particles of plastic have entered the food chain in the water and seafood which people even in the UK consume.[12],[13]

So, what can I do?

Ibid, quoting Professor Richard Thompson, Plymouth University

By taking up the challenge to avoid using single-use plastics during Lent, you will be committing to only buying products which are not packaged with plastic film or bags. Sounds simple? Unfortunately, this is going to be quite a challenge. It may be impossible to buy your usual shopping items without them being surrounded by plastic – so it may call for drastic action: a significant change in your shopping routine.

  • Fruit and vegetables – bring your own paper bags to the shop or get your produce from a local market
  • Take away/bottled drinks – take a travel mug or refill your water bottle – refuse a disposable cup
  • Do a plastic audit of your home – where can you find single-use plastics and can you research a ‘greener’ alternative?

This might mean having to give up things which simply can’t be changed. We might have to let go of our favourite foods, drinks or magazines (they come in plastic wrap too!) in order to make a stand for the climate.

 What difference will this really make?

Forty days of no single-use plastic waste might feel like it will have an imperceptible benefit to the environment in the face of the huge challenge, but it will help us to realise that it is possible to reduce our plastic consumption throughout the year. The average household produces a tonne of waste each year, and every year this increases by 3%.[15]

The amount plastic you will save varies by each individual. You can calculate your plastic consumption on this website.

plastic calculator

See how much you could save!

This commitment is about making a noise too. Retail giants do take notice of their consumers’ spending habits, such that purchasing power, as well as consistent calls for reform of packaging practices will make a huge difference.

In time, plastic waste will have a reduced impact on wildlife (entrapment and ingestion) and reduction in the use of fossil fuels and natural gas as a source material will lessen our carbon footprint, helping us to reach our global goals to cap climate change.

Want to find out more? Explore these articles and websites.

Find out your ‘plastic footprint’

What Plastic? Make it easy to get going, with their starter kits!

Our world in data: FAQs on plastic

Top tips from Plastic Free July

National Geographic: Planet or Plastic?

Plastic in pictures – National Geographic.

Earth Day: How much plastic do we use?

Recycling facts

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[1] http://www.earth-policy.org/press_room/C68/plastic_bags_fact_sheet

[2] http://www.polychem-usa.com/low-density-polyethylene-manufacturing/

[3] http://theconversation.com/why-cant-all-plastic-waste-be-recycled-100857

[4] https://www.earthday.org/2018/04/18/fact-sheet-how-much-disposable-plastic-we-use/

[5] https://www.earthday.org/2018/04/18/fact-sheet-how-much-disposable-plastic-we-use/

[6] https://ourworldindata.org/faq-on-plastics#how-much-plastic-and-waste-do-we-produce

[7] https://ourworldindata.org/faq-on-plastics#how-much-plastic-and-waste-do-we-produce

[8] https://ourworldindata.org/faq-on-plastics#how-much-plastic-and-waste-do-we-produce

[9] http://www.interplas.com/packaging-earth-friendly

[10] https://secure.greenpeace.org.uk/page/content/plastics-calculator/?js=false&source=wb

[11] https://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/latestnews/2018/drowning-in-plastic

[12] https://www.ngi.no/eng/News/NGI-News/When-plastic-is-part-of-the-food-chain

[13] https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/feb/14/sea-to-plate-plastic-got-into-fish

[14] Ibid, quoting Professor Richard Thompson, Plymouth University

[15] https://www.recyclingbins.co.uk/recycling-facts/