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For Lent, Why Not Make This a Fantastic (Less Plastic) World?

Popular comedian and musician Tim Minchin sings and raps his way through a plea against the use of plastic bags:

“Just think about the world
and how the world would be fantastic
if we could get rid of all the plastic:
we just need to get enthusiastic.”

We are increasingly being exposed to evidence of the harmful effects of our dependence on plastic, through TV programs and newspaper articles, which have horrified audiences, prompted government legislation and to some degree changed how people in the United Kingdom go about their grocery shopping.

Yet, Minchin’s lyrics hit upon one of the key issues we face if we are to stem the scourge of plastic waste in our environment: our enthusiasm.

Feelings, as we have all experienced, can at times seem to vary with the wind. Our passion for saving the world can often wane in the face of inconvenience, cost and confusion.

This year, during the period of Lent (March 6 to April 18), my plan is to use those 40 days of focused preparation for Easter as an opportunity to take part in the Living Lent campaign, by committing to living without single-use plastic.

I’ve already done the research: It will be inconvenient (finding items not wrapped in plastic in the supermarket is becoming an almost impossible dream), it is going to cost more (I will be providing my own paper bags and avoiding the shrink-wrapped bargain bulk buys), and it is a real head-spinner working out just how to go about the daily routine while keeping clear of any single-use plastic whatsoever.

So perhaps enthusiasm isn’t enough. A colleague shared with me recently some wisdom from Richard Rohr: “We do not think ourselves into new ways of living, we live ourselves into new ways of thinking.”

Lent is often seen as a chance to break “bad habits.” Depending on who you ask, it is said that habits take two weeks to form and six weeks to break.

One study suggests it can even take as much as 254 days (more than eight months) for habits to become routine.

By changing my lifestyle for Lent, my aim is to form new patterns of behavior that will last for much longer.

I’ve done it before (my unintended veganism having begun six years ago with a 21-day “Daniel Fast”), so I have some confidence I can do it again, with a bit of determination and discipline – two attributes that are encouraged and supported during the season of Lent perhaps more than at any other time in our churches.

Practically speaking, you can do some simple things to make an immediate change.

I found a “10 Easy Ways to Reduce Plastic Consumption” article from the Guardian with a Google search.

Another site I discovered was particularly helpful when trying to find dishwasher tablets that didn’t come in a plastic nonsoluble wrapper.

But, acknowledging the cold, hard reality that in our current consumer environment this will be an almost impossible task, it is important that we don’t lose heart when we fail.

You can find a way to put those apparently unrecyclable plastic wrappers and bags to better use than languishing on a landfill site or being washed into the ocean: make an eco-brick – such an astonishingly simple idea that I wonder why it still has yet to catch on.

By participating in Living Lent this year, you could also make this commitment while receiving support, advice and encouragement.

Living Lent is an opportunity to change our lifestyles for the climate as a community and to develop deeper ways of thinking about the environment as we do so.

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. God created this planet and declared it very good.

The creation – and everyone in it – is precious to God, and this should be reflected in the way we treat it too.

I would encourage you to have a go at living without single-use plastic even for a short time.

Or if giving up single-use plastic doesn’t seem like the challenge for you, why not change your lifestyle in one of the five other ways suggested as part of Living Lent, which will reduce your impact on the environment and begin building up new ways of thinking.

Our environment and our own health are at risk if society continues as it has been; yet you can make a positive difference to the world around you, however slight.

And when you feel that your enthusiasm for the cause might be running out, you might even discover you’ve ended up forming a good habit.

Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in The Baptist Times, the online newspaper of the Baptist Union of Great Britain. It is used with permission. Lent begins on March 6 this year. Living Lent is an initiative of the Joint Public Issues Team and is supported by the Baptist Union, The United Reformed Church, The Methodist Church and the Church of Scotland. For more information or to sign up to “Living Lent,” visit LivingLent.org.

Roo Stewart

Roo Stewart works for the United Reform Church, and a member of the Joint Public Issues Team.