On Quitting Plastic

Ash Wednesday, and spring, snuck up on me. My kneejerk reaction? “I should give something up for Lent.”

Not that I’m practicing Catholicism, the religion in which I was raised. But I still practice learned guilt and shame. Whether motivated by a lingering sense of obligation or spirituality, I am drawn to the challenge of Lent. I always wonder what I could do and whether I can actually do it.

So, I thought: Candy! I’ll give up candy. It doesn’t serve me. Well, except for yesterday.

Maybe just, like, chocolate? That would be particularly grueling in the season of Cadbury mini eggs.

Tortilla chips? Hmm. Mmm.

Then, I read an(other) article about plastic. Last week, I learned about the deepest of sea-dwelling creatures consuming plastic. Before that, NPR’s impressive reporting on “The Plastic Tide” boggled my mind.

XjphBhx1Qm2FXfbt6iaK4gBut this article, “The best thing to give up this Lent is plastic, not chocolate,” written by Miranda Larbi, was different. She writes: “Lent shouldn’t be about going on a diet masquerading as piety. It’s a season of reflection, of dedicating time to God – and by proxy, our fellow beings.”


Our fellow beings include humans living on islands overrun by plastic trash as well as those itty-bitty shrimp at the bottom of the ocean, our families, and neighbors. Plastic and microplastics, the bits and pieces of plastic’s breakdown, are everywhere: soil, rivers, even beer.

So I decided to give up plastic.

As I sat in my kitchen, I looked around. I saw it: Dish soap bottle, coffee maker components, bread bag. OK, I will give up buying new plastic, I thought, and went to bed.

One of the first things I do after waking up is put in my contacts, aka dime-sized, hydrogel plastic discs, onto my eyeballs. Once they were in I could see the contact solution, toothpaste container, toothbrushes, a loofah, lotion dispensers. Plastic was everywhere. Laptop cover, phone case, pens, light switch, cat toys. Hang tags, frozen berry bags, new-shirt bag, store-bought yogurt.

Whether I would need to replace or replenish those things in the next 40 days, it felt like cheating. The morning had barely begun and yet it defeated me. I gave up. Kind of.

After additional reading and discussion, I have committed to the following action plan:

  • Use Stasher bags, beeswax wrappers, and glass jars for food storage (which, admittedly, my husband and I have been doing for about a year and which has kept us from buying plastic baggies).
  • Pack my travel mug, steel straw, water bottle, and recycled or bamboo utensils when I’m out and about, avoiding single-use (and/or non-compostable) carry-out containers.
  • Continue to use Imperfect Produce, which delivers rescued veggies and fruits in minimal, recyclable packaging.
  • Shop more consciously, always toting a plethora of reusable shopping bags (my friend Courtney recommended Ecobags), including at farmer’s markets and in the bulk section with my own containers.
  • Avoid packaged foods. (I love chips and frozen veggies, but thank you Trader Joe’s for listening to the people and reducing single-use plastic!)
  • Make our own household cleaner with vinegar, water, and essential oils. (And stop buying disinfectant wipes and plastic-wrapped paper towels. Reusable hand towels and/or cut-up old cotton tees will do. Plus I hear baking soda works wonders.)
  • Consider more environmentally friendly options for shampoo, deodorant, dental floss, and other personal care items.

I realize trying to ditch plastic takes time and money, at least at the outset. But I want to believe that every bit counts. So I’ll keep trying.

Do you have any tips for ditching plastic? Please share!

Update: This article in FastCo has some great actionable tips and product recommendations. Also, the more I read and hear about this issue, the more I understand that our plastic problem is not one that an individual bears alone. It’ll take collective action to solve. And multi-national corporations are some of the biggest offenders in that they create and produce plastic-centric commodities. So, perhaps, we need to put more pressure on them and vote, carefully, with our dollars.

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