This lent, many will give up indulgences such as chocolate, social media, or drinking. But this year, why not challenge yourself to be more intentional with what you are giving up?

Single-use plastics have become the focus of many who are trying to lead a more sustainable lifestyle. It may be challenging to imagine life without them, but abstaining from plastics may be easier than you think.

Why should we be concerned about single-use plastics? Single-use plastics are made primarily from fossil fuel based chemicals and are meant to be disposed of right after use but remain in our environment for hundreds of years.

Single-use plastics are everywhere: water bottles, toiletries, produce bags, cutlery, straws, food packaging, and much more. Our reliance on the short-term convenience of plastics means we are accumulating waste at a staggering rate: we produce about 300 million tons of plastic waste annually. That is close to the weight of the entire human population! 

“But I recycle, so I’m not part of the problem, right?” Unfortunately, the reality is that recycling does not come near to solving our plastic problem. 91% of all plastic waste isn't recycled at all, and instead the waste ends up in landfills or in the natural environment. Single-use plastics are often not accepted by recycling facilities, so tossing them in the recycling bin may feel good but only delays their journey to the landfill. 

Plastic waste and watershed health are deeply connected. Rivers carry plastic waste from deep inland to the sea, making them major contributors to ocean pollution. Once plastic enters our waterways and oceans, it will stay there for centuries. Most plastics never break down and instead get smaller and smaller. These tiny plastic particles are swallowed by animals who mistake them for food and can also be found in the majority of the world’s tap water. 

The good news is that humans have lived for thousands of years without plastic and there are ways for each of us to reduce our plastic use today. Something as simple as investing in a reusable water bottle or bringing reusable bags to the grocery store is a great starting point. Some other single-use alternatives include:

  • Swap out disposable storage options for reusable alternatives: Ziplock bags seem like an essential in the kitchen (where else are we supposed to store our half-eaten avocados?), but there are reusable replacements that will make you forget all about them. Try using reusable sandwich bags or reusable beeswax wraps. Don’t want to buy something new? Glass jars make great storage containers. Simply hold onto your old pasta sauce or jam jars and repurpose them for your various storage needs. 
  • Try solid instead of liquid: We often buy our soaps in liquid form, which leaves us with a disposable plastic bottle at the end of their life. Bar soap is a great alternative because it requires very little packaging and often lasts longer than liquid soap. Additionally, plastic bottles of liquid soap are much heavier than soap bars due to the increased water content. That means they’re also more difficult to move around, and use more energy in transportation. These days there’s a bar for everything: Shampoo bars, conditioner bars, dish soap bars, lotion bars, and the classic hand wash and body wash bars. 
  • Bring your own: Many of us are ordering more takeout than we normally would now that restaurants are closed to indoor dining. Takeout unfortunately produces a good amount of plastic waste, but there is usually an easy way to avoid this. When ordering takeout, simply note in the comments section of your order (if ordering online or through an app) that you don’t want cutlery to be included in your order. When we go back to eating out, get into the habit of bringing your own takeaway containers and reusable straws. 

Is there more I can do? The Maryland Plastic Bag Reduction Act of 2021 aims to Ban plastic bags with a thickness of less than 4 mils at all retail establishments in Maryland. While this bill wouldn’t fully ban plastic bags, it sets up the infrastructure for how a ban could work down the road. To learn more about this bill and the actions you can take to support it, check out our advocacy page

Want to learn more about using less plastic? Check out our “Reduce Use of Plastic Bags”, “Reduce Use of Plastic Bottles”, and “Reduce Use of Plastic Utensils”  modules in our Power to Motivate course made in partnership with the Anne Arundel Watershed Stewards Academy. 

For more Lenten inspiration, check out our Lenten Calendar made in partnership with Interfaith Power and Light. 

Sources: 

Talya Kravitz

About

Partner Congregation Coordinator, AmeriCorps Member, Volunteer Maryland