The Transformative Power of Plastic Fasting for Lent.
This will be a bit of an inconvenience for the next forty days, but it is the right thing to do for our planet and, therefore, it is the right thing to do by God, our life force. We are, after all, supposed to be the caretakers of the earth and, frankly, we are not doing a very good job at it, to say the least. How hard can it be to give up plastic for forty days?
That was my train of thought when I started on this journey of sacrificing my use of plastic for Lent.
I’m not Catholic, or Christian, or part of any organized religion for that matter.
I was not raised in a family that went to church or practiced any religious traditions outside of celebrating Christmas and Easter.
However, I am absolutely fascinated by religion. All of them. Religion is a powerful force, regardless of how we feel about at it or how we practice it. It has the power to heal and lift spirits. It has the power to start war and cause horrific deaths. Religion moves people like nothing else can, for better or for worse.
I grew up around many Catholic friends and married into a semi-practicing Catholic family. My entire life I watched from the sidelines as they gave up something that they valued for Lent. I watched them struggle with wanting what they could not have. I watched them get through it and I shared in their joy of success and accomplishment. I watched them fail, too, sometimes. They would acknowledge their weakness, pick themselves up, and move on.
There was always an awareness of the sacrifice and its larger purpose of simulating Jesus Christ’s stay in the desert for forty days and forty nights. Historically, it was a time when evil, in the form of temptation challenged him and he had to resist. So, too, during Lent my friends and family were tempted by something that was a negative influence on their lives. In this way, Lent replicated the challenge of the strengths and weaknesses of the human condition.
A forty day meditation on the human spirit, if you will. As for me, I didn’t have the desire to try. I couldn’t be bothered with the disruption in my life. I was perfectly happy living the way I was, thank you very much.
Besides, why should I?
It’s not my religion.
But this year, something was different.
I was feeling a calling to participate in the practice. Like many things in life, the reason why was a great mystery. No one around me in my current inner circle of friends was participating. Family all lives far away, so that wasn’t an influence. Nor was I suddenly having a religious epiphany pulling me to the church, any more than my natural curiosity always did. It was something that I needed to do for me and for the planet I love so much. I was fed up with seeing images of islands of plastic waste floating in our oceans and littering the beaches. I was sick to my stomach watching birds and sea life dying because they have been consuming plastic. Worst of all, I was horrified by the fact that I was part of the problem, not the solution. Taking my cloth grocery bags to the store was no longer enough. I needed to eliminate plastic from my life. Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me. Amen.
The rules for my Lent journey were simple.
Plastic that is recyclable is fair game. Plastic I had already purchased was exempt and therefore usable. New purchases of forever plastic is not allowed. Using plastic unnecessarily is frowned upon.
The first day or two…started out great. I had recently stocked up on groceries, so it was quite simple not to break any of my own rules. The one time I did go to the store to get a deli sandwich, I proudly requested that he only wrap it in paper and to not put it in a plastic bag. Plastic warrior victory for me. I was somewhat disappointed that this lent thing wasn’t more challenging.
Then I started noticing how much of what I was using at home in everyday life was packaged in plastic. Pretty much everything. Most of it wasn’t even recyclable. And we are just one household. I thought of all the billions of households in this world, throwing away the same amount of forever plastic.It was like a veil had been lifted from my eyes. The lyrics, I once was blind, but now I see, came to mind. It put a knot in my stomach the size of the island of plastic floating in our ocean.
Already feeling hopeless, the time came for me to go to the grocery store for a big shop. Have you ever paid attention to how much food is packaged in plastic in the grocery stores? Have you ever thought about how all of the plastic is going to litter the world forever? Berries. Unrecyclable plastic. Cheese. Unrecyclable plastic. Snacks. Don’t even get me started. My warrior status deflated. I felt powerless. My no-plastic journey was an impossibility. My seemingly-simple rules had set myself up for failure.
But, Lent is about developing a deeper understanding of the human condition—the good, the bad, and the ugly.
So, I picked my ugly habitual self up by my sustainable bootstraps and did the best I could with the resources available to me.
The produce section was relatively easy. I had already started the practice of not putting my produce in plastic bags, berries being the exception. I didn’t buy any meat; there’s just way too much waste there. In the bakery department, I bought a baguette and donuts in paper bags.
So far, so good. Then I got to the processed foods. Snacks, pasta, cereals, yogurt, cheese, etc. This was a losing battle. These things were staples in my house and surely my family would draw the line.
Sometimes I lucked out and there were products with alternate packaging available. One particular brand of tortilla chips, for example is packaged in paper [Editor’s Note: if you’re talking Que Pasa, it’s lined with plastic] and is affordable. Local honey came in glass, but was significantly more expensive! Unfortunately, alternate packaging can put a hit on your pocketbook. Products packaged in glass or paper can be much more expensive. Drats. Money was certainly going to be a hindrance to the success of my journey in the long run.
As if that experience wasn’t disheartening enough, then we needed to travel as a family. That experience sure took the wind out of my plastic waste warrior sails. How did I not notice before how much waste traveling produces? Eating out, a plethora of hotel plastic in the form of cups, lotions, shampoos and more. It would take a significant amount of pre-planning to travel plastic free and I was far from prepared. Now in addition to money, convenience was a forever plastic culprit creating a roadblock on my plastic free journey.
It was becoming easy to see how the global addiction to plastic has spread to this point. Using plastic supports our ability to save time and money—two things humans value greatly.
Sadly, for me it went even deeper than time and money.
It didn’t take too long for me to begin unraveling my greatest plastic weakness of all: vanity.
My intent to not wear contacts or makeup, because they are packaged in plastic, failed very early on [Editor’s Note: contacts are generally plastic, too]. Mascara, blush, foundation, eyeshadow, hair products—all landfill or ocean bound. My deeper understanding of my human condition was staring at me in the mirror, literally. I’m too prideful of appearance to sacrifice for the good of the world. Vanity takes precedence, apparently, and that is a sad reflection of my human condition. That has been a tough reality to choke down—a burden I’ve been carrying with me since I uncovered it.
That being said, there is no sense wallowing in hopelessness. I refuse to envision a world being swallowed by plastic. Addiction is a disease that requires awareness to treat. Conquering our global plastic addiction may not happen in my lifetime, but I can be a little force for getting the ball rolling by building awareness for myself and for others.
Each step is one step in the right direction, where I am the solution and not the problem. Each step is one less animal dying from consuming plastic waste. Each step is one less polluted beach. Each step is cleaner water without microplastics.
We cannot keep destroying our planet with waste, and especially not plastic waste. It will not end well for us or any of the other inhabitants of our beautiful planet, either.
As the forty days of Lent come to an end and Easter weekend aligns with Earth Day, I’m walking away from the practice of Lent with light and clarity for what I need to continue to do. I need to be the change that I want to see in order for that change to occur.
Maybe I am only one, but there is power in one.