From First UMC Earth Care Committee
The Christian season of Lent is a season of forty days, not counting Sundays, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday. It is intended to help us prepare for the Resurrection Feast of Easter.
The season of Lent recalls the 40 days Jesus fasted in the wilderness before taking up his ministry. In some traditions Lent has been a time of fasting and penitence, characterized by giving up some vice or pleasure, such as chocolate, alcohol, or tobacco. However, fasting can also be interpreted in the light of Isaiah 58:6, which declares: “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke.”
This year, First Church’s Earth Care Committee has been invited to lead our Lent journey. We, in turn, are extending an INVITATION to everyone in the congregation, to change harmful actions related to a particular area of collective and individual injustice – not as an action goal. We are not interested in a Lenten discipline that emphasizes sin and guilt, except as it brings us to acknowledge that we are ALL guilty, in the same manner we confess before receiving communion. In our Lenten journey we want to emphasize that the actions of fasting we propose have a HEALING aim.
Our Plastic Challenge
We enter Lent as a 40-day journey of breaking our addiction, individually and collectively, to single-use plastic which devastates God’s earth and inhabitants. It will not be an easy journey because the items that we casually discard have become “indispensable” in food service, packaging, and transporting goods of every kind. While we give thanks for plastic as a miracle product that has become essential to modern life, its inability to decompose makes it a threat to life and health when it is discarded. Ensnaring wildlife, polluting water and landfills, it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, ingested by fish and other creatures, and now penetrating human cells. We therefore propose a Lenten fast that combines actions of self-denial with actions for justice by focusing on practices that lessen and repair the devastation of God’s earth and its inhabitants caused by our addiction to single-use plastics.
During the season of Lent 2023, we are asking you to choose one type of disposable plastic to refrain from using and/or adopt one new practice that replaces use of disposable plastic items. We have provided examples of harmful items and practices, and suggested alternatives. And while we aim to eliminate all harmful products and practices, we know how difficult it is to change habits and find reasonable alternatives to objects and practices that have become part of our everyday life. We recognize that individual actions alone will not achieve the healing we seek. But we can make a beginning, as the Church of England did in 2018, when it issued its Lenten Plastic Challenge. We invite you to take up that challenge during Lent 2023.
ACTION: Take steps to learn more about the impacts of plastic use on our environment. Do your own online research or make plans to attend an Earth Day event or online seminar.
- Knowledge is power and can lead to changes in your daily life that create positive impacts in our environment.
- Sharing what you learn in conversations with friends, family members and neighbors can lead to more people making intentional choices to reduce plastic use.
ACTION: We all want to recycle as much as possible, but recycle correctly and avoid “wish-cycling”.
- Putting non-recyclable items in your curbside recycling bin could contaminate everything in your bin, and maybe your neighbors’ bins as well, sending everything straight to landfill!
- Things that cannot be recycled curbside in Evanston include: anything contaminated with food or liquid, #6 plastic, styrofoam, toys, wires, hoses, hangers, string lights, plastic bags, electronics, paper towels, tissue paper, photos, ceramics, light bulbs, and shredded paper.
- Even some glass can’t be curbside recycled, including baking glass, mirrors, and windows. · For more information on correct recycling, visit www.cityofevanston.org/recycling and www.swancc.org/recycling
ACTION: When ordering takeout food, request no plastic cutlery or straws. When eating at restaurants, carry your own reusable containers for leftover food.
- Plastic utensils and straws are not recyclable and end up in landfills and bodies of water. Many takeout containers are not curbside-recyclable either.
- Plastic or foam “doggy bag” containers are greenhouse gas-intensive to produce. Bring your own reusable containers when you go to a restaurant, and enjoy guilt-free leftovers!
ACTION: When shopping, try to reduce overall consumption, minimize plastic film and styrofoam packaging, and look for glass or “clamshell” plastic containers.
- Glass containers can be used over and over, and are also highly recyclable. “Clamshell” plastic containers are also highly recyclable and in demand by recycling companies.
- So, bypass those veggies on styrofoam covered in plastic wrap and buy loose produce, produce in clamshells, bulk products in your reusable containers, or groceries in glass when you can!
ACTION: Avoid single-use grocery bags, shopping bags, and lunch bags. Carry your own reusable shopping bags, and pack lunches in reusable containers.
- Plastic bags cannot be put in curbside recycling because they tangle the machines. They can be returned to grocery stores, but are still greenhouse gas-intensive to produce and recycle, and are made from petroleum. Paper grocery bags are also greenhouse gas-intensive to produce.
- Plastic bags make up a large percentage of waste entering landfills. They clog drains, snag in bushes, and pile up on beaches. The costs of cleaning up plastic bag pollution are significant for municipal governments.
- Carrying your own reusable bags and using them many times will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and landfill waste. Keep them in your car so you don’t forget them!
ACTION: Avoid single-use water bottles, coffee cups, and cold drink containers. Carry your own refillable water bottle, and bring your own mug to your favorite coffeehouse.
- Only about 14% of plastic water bottles are actually recycled. Each year 38 billion water bottles end up in U.S. landfills, and water bottling releases 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide annually.
- If 400 member households of FUMC each reduced water bottle consumption by just one bottle per day, we could reduce annual CO2 emissions by over 8 tons!
- Single-use coffee cups, even paper ones, are not recyclable because they are lined with polyethylene. Paper cup production also results in loss of 20 million trees per year! If 400 members reduced disposable cup use by just one per day, we could save 56 trees per year!
Why is reducing our plastic use so important?
Everyone knows that plastic is everywhere. At the grocery store, plastic packages your food. At the coffee shop, it lines your cup. Plastic forms your toothbrush, holds your liquid soap, makes up part of the barrier in your paper face masks. Disposable plastic use has become increasingly common in the last 50 years and has doubled in the past 15 years. In that short space of time, humans have used and thrown out so much plastic that it is being found in every environment on Earth. Plastic really is everywhere.
How does plastic pollution spread so far?
How does plastic find its way into deep ocean trenches and up to mountains in the Himalaya? Much of the plastic we bring into our homes, we use once and throw away, which is easy and convenient. But the idea that once plastic goes in the garbage it is “gone” is a fiction. Research shows that plastic does not break down over time the way food or paper does into simpler molecules that can eventually become part of the soil. Instead, plastic–whether it’s lying on the roadside or buried in a landfill–wears down slowly into smaller and smaller pieces. Eventually, the pieces get small enough that they can be carried away in water or even in air. These microplastics have been transported by winds and waters all over the globe and into our own bodies. People living closer to landfills risk higher exposure to microplastics.
What are the Impacts?
Producing plastic uses a great deal of energy and toxic chemicals in its processes. Production facilities produce greenhouse gasses, contributing to climate change. Further, we are only starting to understand the dangers of microplastics for our health and the health of the environment. Many plastics, researchers now know, have effects on human hormones, which play many important and complex roles in our bodies. Some evidence also suggests that plastic particles may contribute to cancers and promote antibiotic resistance among bacteria. Although fairly little is known now about how living systems respond to plastics, microplastics likely will disrupt our environment and our health.
Recycling Is Not the Whole Solution
Plastic recycling fails to address the vast amounts of plastic that humans use. If your family tries to recycle, you may know that the recycling rules for plastic are complex and constantly changing. Less than 10 percent of the plastic people use in the U.S. gets recycled. According to the organization Beyond Plastics, the plastics recycling industry is not sustainable, and even when recycled, plastics still eventually break down, contributing to widespread microplastic pollution.
During this Lenten season, we ask that you explore reducing the amount of single use plastic your family uses. Reducing our consumption of these plastics has a bigger impact than reuse or recycling. As you begin to change your habits, we believe you will see that larger scale action needs to happen, perhaps including legislation that addresses plastic pollution and the scale of plastic production. – First UMC Earth Care Committee
Notes and Resources
Healing the Earth – Ideas for reducing use of plastic during Lent
Plastic touches modern life in so many ways, but that means there are an equal number of ways to reduce its consumption. Here are some ideas that have been proposed by environmental and faith communities to begin reducing use of plastics.
- Avoid single-use water bottles, coffee cups, and cold drink containers. Carry your own refillable water bottle, and bring your own mug to your favorite coffeehouse.
- Check labels on toiletries, and avoid products like facial scrubs with micro-plastic beads or polyethylene ingredients.
- If you carry your lunch, avoid plastic bags, and carry your food in reusable (preferably glass or metal) containers.
- Decline cheap plastic trinkets (free pens and “swag” giveaways, cheap party favors, etc.).
- Discontinue use of straws, especially plastic straws (recognizing that straws are sometimes necessary in cases of disability).
- Avoid single-use grocery bags and shopping bags. Carry your own reusable shopping bags, and keep them in your car so you don’t forget them.
- Buy synthetic fabric clothing or plastic items second-hand if possible, to reduce demand for new plastic.
- When shopping, try to reduce overall plastic consumption, minimize plastic film and styrofoam packaging, and look for products packaged in glass or easily recyclable “clamshell” plastic containers. Even better, purchase produce at farmers’ markets or produce markets without packaging, and buy foods in bulk and fill your own glass containers.
- Think about whether ordering products online or purchasing in the store will result in less plastic and less overall environmental impact. Better yet, think about whether you really need the product at all!
- Contact suppliers and manufacturers to ask them to reduce or eliminate plastic and foam packaging.
- When ordering takeout food, request no plastic cutlery or straws. Keep non-plastic reusable utensils in your car for takeout food “on the go”.
- When eating at restaurants, carry your own reusable containers for leftover food.
- We all want to recycle as much as possible, but recycle correctly and avoid “wish-cycling”. Putting incorrect items in your curbside recycling bin can contaminate the contents of your bin so none of it gets recycled, and can even contaminate your neighbors’ recycling.
- Use razors with replaceable blades rather than disposable razors.
- When traveling, bring your own toiletries in reusable containers to eliminate the need to use small hotel toiletries packaged in plastic.
- Use bar soap rather than liquid soap in plastic bottles.
- Buy fresh produce when possible, rather than frozen packed in plastic, and store produce at home in reusable containers. Eat produce that is in season when possible, so that it comes from farms closer to Evanston.
Check out these websites to learn more about single-use plastics. plastic waste, and proper recycling.
Get Involved This Season
Interested in making connections but not sure where to start? Contact us using the button below and provide your email or phone number; we’ll reach out to hear about your interests and identify opportunities that might be a good fit. We look forward to chatting with you!