An Invitation to Fast From Single-Use Plastics for Lent

Why fast from single-use plastic?

Plastic has made many things possible. It’s saved life in the health sector, facilitated the growth of clean energy (wind turbines and solar panels) and revolutionized safe food storage. “But what makes plastic so convenient in our day-to-day lives – it’s cheap – also makes it ubiquitous, resulting in one of our planet’s greatest environmental challenges.”[1]

While plastic is easy to use, it is not easily disposable. It can take thousands of years to decompose, especially when it sits in landfills. Oceans have also become a primary dumping ground, resulting in marine life becoming entangled or mistaking small plastic for food. The majority of seabirds have plastic in their stomachs. Plastic can also clog drains fostering the spread of disease and causing flooding. We also produce and toss a lot of it! It’s estimated that nearly half of global waste is single-use plastic. Plastic has it’s value, but it is an overused resource.

It may seem impossible to live without single-use plastic. The truth is that we can choose to do differently.  It may be difficult, but it is not impossible, and creation itself, cries out for us to change our behavior. The season of Lent is an opportune time to practice a change of behavior. The journey from Ash Wednesday to Holy Week and Easter, is full of time to reflect, reset and repent.  The season invites us to take up a spiritual practice, often called a fast. The Hebrew origins of the word indicate a“public observance” in which one “abstains from food”, but the deeper intention behind fasting is to “loose the chains of injustice…and set the oppressed free”[2].  By treating our fast as a spiritual practice, we seek to be drawn into closer dependence on God.   We actually practice God’s reign of justice and mercy.

You’re invited to take up a Fast From Single-Use Plastic, both individually and communally.  By committing yourself to such a practice, but also being public and collaborative, we embrace the hope that God can work powerfully through us for change. By engaging together, we stave off isolation and reject obscuring our sin.  Rather than becoming overwhelmed by the problem of climate change, or hiding in the shame of our participation, we are invited to turn from sin and mindless consumption, and reorient ourselves towards our living God, the sacredness of creation and the hope of New Life made possible in Christ Jesus.

How do I fast from single use plastic?

It is true that this may be a difficult fast. There may also be ways in which it is not safe or possible for you, in particular, to go completely single-use plastic free.  Maybe you take medication, for example, that only comes in disposable plastic packaging.  Before deciding to go single-use plastic free, it’s worth taking some time to learn and discern.

Preparing For and Selecting a Specific Fast

In the days leading up to Ash Wednesday, or the initial days of your fast, you can simply notice the single-use plastic in your life.  You could keep a list on the refrigerator, or take quick notes on your phone. You could set aside a box at home for plastic-only waste, and notice what accumulates.  What are the sources of plastic waste that are produced by your way of living in particular?  Perhaps your go-to lunch is a prepared salad, or you blow through a container of cling-wrap every week. This is not about making yourself feel bad, but noticing and being honest.  It will also allow you to select and plan for a fast that is doable and based on your actual practices.

Common single-use plastics:

  • Water bottles and caps
  • Produce bags
  • Food wrappers
  • Plastic cling-wrap
  • Grocery bags *
  • Straws and cutlery *
  • Coffee cup lids
  • Take out containers
  • Grocery packaging (yogurt containers, plastic bread bags, chip bags, etc.)
  • Pill bottles
  • Personal hygiene product packaging (shampoo bottles, toothbrushes,
  • Single use packets (ketchup, soy sauce, etc.)
  • Deli packaging (cheese, lunch meats, etc.)
  • Personal and hygiene care products (shampoo bottles, liquid soap containers, toothbrushes, microbeads, etc.)
  • Shipping plastic (plastic tape, inflatable packing plastic, etc.)
  • Cleaning supplies (squirt bottles, non-sustainable sponges, etc.)

*Did you know that plastic bags and straws and cutlery have already been banned by the City of Seattle?

After observing your particular use, or at least taking a little time to reflect, consider what your specific commitment will be. You’re encouraged to stretch yourself in a way that is challenging, requires intention and will reduce the amount of plastic you waste, but one that will also not be so challenging as to be impossible or dangerous. This is meant to be a journey of learning and transformation, not perfection! For some, giving up all plastic grocery bags will be difficult and worthwhile, while those who already abstain from using plastic grocery bags could aim to abstain from all food and kitchen related plastic packaging.  If fasting from all single-use plastics seems too out of reach, you could choose to refrain from some pastics only.

Personal and Communal

It may be worthwhile to consider what you can do individually and what you could coordinate to accomplish with others communally. Maybe you’d like to go plastic-free when you help with Thursday Soup Supper, but others may not be there yet. We want to create spaces of grace, where we can learn and grow together, rather than make others feel ashamed or pushed away. That will just lead to frustration. For example, you may want to make plastic free meals at home, but your whole family isn’t able to commit.  Consider what you’re willing and able to do personally and then negotiate with others in your life. Maybe your friends will want to work together to host a plastic-free birthday party, or maybe inviting the conversation will itself be a bold first step.

Don’t Just Buy More Stuff

As you live your fast, consider that it can be possible to give up single-use plastics in a way that still contributes to the problem.  Don’t be too quick to buy new things, or think recycling is the best way to get rid of single-use plastics.  Always start by considering how you can reuse something you already have, make something from materials that would otherwise be discarded, or adapt your practices. We’re aiming to reduce both overproduction and waste.

  • Donate plastic food tubs to soup kitchens, so they can be reused as take out containers, or reuse them yourself.  Turn a single use item, into a multi use one.
  • Avoid using plastic bags for your produce, and simply put them directly in your shopping cart and cloth bag, or buy from local farms that don’t package their berries in plastic.
  • Bring a regular coffee mug to the coffee shop when you get your latte, instead of buying a new to-go beverage container.
  • Make adaptations to your diet, baking a favorite treat at home, or swapping out foods. You can still give up chocolate for Lent, in favor of an orange!

Support for the Journey

As we journey through Lent together, there are resources available to you.  These Devotions to Accompany a Fast From Single-Use Plastics are intended to be used as for a daily spiritual practice.  Hang it on your fridge or stick it in your journal.  Consider writing down your reflections or sitting with them in prayer. 

Mark your calendars for our Thursday evening Soup Supper & Vespers series or come a little early to Sunday worship, so you can swap tips with others who are on a similar journey.  You can also participate online. Use these hashtags to find and share content: #NoPlasticforLent #Lent2020 #CreationCare #SJUPlasticFast #SJUbytheZoo.

[1] UNEP (2018). SINGLE-USE PLASTICS: A Roadmap for Sustainability

[2] Isaiah 58:6

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