Plastic Free July
Plastic is bad, we all know that. The UN has found that there are 13000 chemicals in plastics – of which 3,200 have one or more hazardous properties of concern that can be released into the environment at any stage in its lifecycle.
But plastic can also be very useful. Shrink-wrapped cucumber lasts three times as long as it would otherwise do, meaning, perhaps, that it isn’t landfilled, releasing methane.
So, going plastic-free, as suggested by Plastic Free July, is good – so long as we think carefully about what alternative we go with.
Eco-alternatives are often not the answer. Cotton carrier bags need to be used 50-150 times to be better for the environment than a single use plastic bag. And a paper or bioplastic drinking straw is not the answer as they can be worse for climate change than a plastic straw. Glass, rather than plastic bottles, will weigh more and increase the carbon cost of transport. So what do we do? The best eco-alternative has got to be nothing. Home-grown cucumbers don’t need any packaging, use the shopping bag you already have at home and do you need that drinking straw? (However, see “don’t sweat the small stuff” below)
I’d always thought that using recyclable plastic was acceptable, but recent studies on plastic recycling challenge this assumption. There seem to be some very good reasons why recycling is the last of the 3 Rs (and also of our 7Rs). The recycling process releases toxic chemicals and microplastics into waste water, from where they can enter the food system So if you are planning to try to do Plastic-free July, it needs to include single-use plastic.
Don’t sweat the small stuff
One of the phrases Plastic Free July uses is “small steps, big difference”. This is just not true. If you’ve ever done a carbon footprint calculation you will know that how much plastic you use is unlikely to be one of the questions, and also that you have used up your carbon allowance for today before you get out of bed in the morning. We cannot, living in this country, live within the limits of this planet. We cannot live ‘holy’ lives that do not harm God’s world and people. After repentance and acceptance of God’s gracious forgiveness we must then look at the things over which we have control and try to live as gently on the earth as we can. And we may as well pick the big stuff that makes a difference, rather than sweating the small stuff. This isn’t penance, it is our worship and joy to do so.
Do I bother with Plastic Free July?
Trying to go plastic-free is still a good thing to do. But while doing so, why not chat about why and how you try to live gently on God’s earth. Widen the conversation from drinking straws to holidays, banking and campaigning. The motivation is the same – to protect people and creation. How much better to make a difference as well!
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Comments on "Plastic Free July"
Thank you Ruth Good ideas to share plastic free July and at the same time help in how put into words how urgent it is to take big steps too. We had a lovely weekend in Thanet with friends who opted to take a break in the UK. They enjoyed some of our favourite places... Westgate on Sea and the seafront walk along to Margate, days our in Ramsgate and Broadstairs. HS2 and Southeast rail provides a fantastic train service from London and around all the towns. A hug in a comment!
Really good point! Plastic takes us further from where our society should be.
Yes, I agree with that!
Thinking about the cucumber, would it be better if we only bought cucumbers that had been grown locally (and therefore only in season) and had gone quickly from plant to greengrocer and had been bought when it was going to be eaten? Then there would have been no need for a plastic wrapper to prolong its life. Plastic Packaging encourages/ enables products to be shipped long distances and via various transit points where products maybe temporarily stored, rather than a fast from plant to plate journey.
I agree completely with all that has been said above - but what I think is missing is an acknowledgement that opting for alternatives to plastic may well be motivated by a desire to avoid anything that may release microplastics and contaminate the environment (and especially the oceans). On this basis I will still choose glass/paper over plastic while trying to minimise packaging altogether.