Giving Up Plastic for Lent in 2022: What Did We Learn?
— During the 2022 Lenten season, many Dumbarton United Methodist Church parishioners pledged to give up as much as possible buying and using plastics designed for a single use before disposal. Here are our lessons learned.
1. Big Picture Lessons:
A. Plastics Production is in Overdrive:
According to a Congressionally-ordered 2021 analysis by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS Report):
- Global plastic production has “dramatically increased,” from 20 million metric tons (MMT) in 1966 to 381 MMT in 2015.
- Plastic production is projected to increase by 200% and 350% by 2035 and 2050, respectively (NAS Report)
B. Plastics Do Not Break Down in the Environment:
- More than 99% of the plastic resin produced globally is made from fossil-based petrochemical feedstocks (e.g. crude oil or natural gas liquids).
- Consequently, the majority of plastics are hydrocarbon molecules with a strong carbon-carbon bond, making them resistant to biodegradation. For more, click here.
C. Plastics are a Major Contributor to Climate:
- Between its reliance on oil and gas extraction and its polluting production process, the U.S. plastics industry emits 232 million tons of greenhouse gases per year—the equivalent of 116 coal-fired power plants. Sierra Magazine, Spring, 2022
D. Plastic Waste Is a Global Problem – Especially for the World’s Oceans:
- An estimated 8 MMT of plastic waste enters the world’s oceans each year – the equivalent of dumping a garbage truck of plastic waste into the ocean every minute, for 525,600 truckloads a year.
- If current practices continue, the amount of plastic waste discharged into the ocean could reach up to 53 MMT per year by 2030 — roughly half the total weight of fish caught from the ocean annually.
- Plastic waste is now found in almost every marine habitat, from the ocean surface to deep sea sediments to the ocean’s vast mid-water region, as well as the Great Lakes. For more, click here.
E. Plastics Aren’t Just in the Environment. They’re in Our:
- Microplastics, which result from the breakdown of larger plastic products in the environment, have now been discovered in the lung tissue of living human beings.
- Out of 13 lung tissue samples taken from patients undergoing routine surgeries in a UK hospital, 11 contained microplastics. Most common were particles of: polyethylene terephthalate (PET), used to make drink bottles and other single-use containers; polypropylene, used for plastic packaging and pipes; and resin, often used as an adhesive or sealant.
- “We did not expect to find the highest number of particles in the lower regions of the lungs, or particles of the sizes we found,” said the study’s lead author. For more, click here.
- Recently, microplastics have been found in human placentas examined after birth, despite a plastic-free birthing protocol. (NAS Report)
- Animal studies have found that endocrine-disrupting effects from plastics-associated compounds, including reproductive disease, sperm epimutations, and obesity, transmit to offspring. (NAS Report)
F. Recycling Isn’t the Solution. It’s the Industry’s Rationale for Perpetuation:
- “As the oil and gas industry searches for new markets as fossil fuels are phased out in the coming decades, it has fixed its hopes on plastics, which use many of the same raw materials,” according to a February 2022 Washington Post report.
- Recycling, which the plastic industry has long promoted to win consumers’ acceptance, can handle only a fraction of the plastic produced. Half of all plastics are designed to be used once, and only 9 percent have ever been recycled. Sierra Magazine, Spring, 2022
- Only some types of plastics are easily recyclable, and many recycling programs create toxins as waste products.
- China, which had been reprocessing much of the world’s plastic waste, ended recycling in 2018, in part because of environmental concerns.
- “Recycling plastics is actually recycling toxins back into the market,” said Bjorn Beeler, international coordinator at the International Pollutants Elimination Network, an advocacy and research group. For more from the Post article, click here.
- “Although recycling will likely always be a component of the strategy to manage plastic waste, today’s U.S. recycling processes and infrastructure are grossly insufficient to manage the diversity, complexity and quantity of plastic waste.” NAS Report Highlights.
G. Americans Are the Biggest:
The United States accounts for more plastic waste than any other nation. The U.S.:
2. Lessons Closer to Home
Trying to give up plastic for Lent opened a challenge that brought us new awareness. We’re sobered by what we learned, but grateful going forward:
- Our efforts to reduce or eliminate our use of plastics mainly made us hyper-aware of how much plastic is in our lives, and how it easily its ubiquity makes it practically invisible to most consumers.
- It can be easier to give up more plastic if you have the money, but it doesn’t cost that much more. It does cost more time, however, to wash things for re-use, re-order non-plastic consumables like FreshPaper and beeswax wraps, and shop vendors that offer no-plastic or minimally-plasticized products. One the other hand, if you have storage space, you can get lower prices buying in bulk.
- Most of us who participated plan to continue pursuing ways to cut down our purchase of products that come in plastic wrap or containers.
- Many of us made more changes than we thought we could, but realized how much our reduced plastic consumption was still just a drop in the bucket.
3. Actions Recommended by Participating Members
For twenty-five practicable actions you can take to reduce your use of plastics, now and in the future:
- Buy water in reusable aluminum bottles instead of plastic ones.
- Carry groceries in reusable bags instead of store-provided plastic bags designed to be used only once.
- Take your own produce bags to the grocery store instead of using store-provided plastic bags for fruits and vegetables.
- Use reusable containers, including plastic containers that would otherwise be thrown away, instead of plastic wrap for leftovers.
- Wash and reuse plastic wrap whenever possible, along with zip-lock sandwich/bread/produce storage bags.
- Use wax paper instead of plastic wrap for leftovers.
- Give up all use of plastic straws. Use paper or cardboard straws if available — or better, bring your own reusable metal straw.
- Buy frozen orange juice concentrate, or squeezed OJ in a wax carton instead of a plastic jug.
- Buy as many items as possible from the bulk bins at the grocery store and bring your own containers.
- Buy as many fruits and vegetables as possible directly from farmers and/or at farmers markets that don’t sell their produce in plastic bags or containers (although some vendors now use biodegradable plastic bags, which are noticeably thinner).
- Purchase only fruits and vegetables that are sold unwrapped and likely in season, such as apples and pears. Buy heads of lettuce instead of salad mixes in a plastic container.
- Avoid buying eggs in Styrofoam containers when cardboard containers are available.
- Avoid restaurants that only offer Styrofoam doggie boxes.
- Buy laundry and dish detergent powder in a box rather than liquid in a plastic jug.
- Use wet cloth bags to store salad greens; the greens last much longer in damp cloth than in plastic.
- Use “Freshpaper” infused with organic botanicals to keep fruits and veggies fresh two to four times longer. Reuse sheets for up to 30 days.
- Refill and/or reuse plastic containers you already own (e.g., those originally containing food, cleaning supplies, liquid hand or dish soap, or shampoo.)
- So that you don’t buy more plastic containers, shop at a co-op such as the Common Market (there’s one in Frederick MD) or a grocery store like MOM’s that allow you to bring your own or bring back their containers (though make sure that the MOM’s in your area offers this option–not all do.)
- Carry reusable utensils and straws for use with carry-out food, or when you eat away from home. Be sure to decline utensils when you order.
- Keep a steady supply of reusable items in the trunk of your car and/or in your purse for use when you’re out and about (e.g., metal straws, cloth napkins, food containers, fold-up tote bags that expand to a regular-sized shopping bag and are strong enough to carry a lot.)
- Grow a garden — even a teeny, tiny one — this year so you don’t have to buy your fresh herbs in those little plastic containers or bags at the store.
- Use re-usable (dishwasher- & freezer-safe) sandwich bags for food storage or packing lunch — they never wear out!
- Use wax-infused “Bees Wrap” sheets to cover small items or containers for refrigerator storage instead of plastic wrap. Beeswax sheets are excellent for wrapping up leftover cheese, veggies, or bowls that need a cover. They wash in lukewarm water and are reusable.
- Use bar soap instead of liquid soap in plastic bottles. (Why did we ever switch to liquid?).
- Opt out of receiving plastic packaging with your Amazon orders. While this option won’t be available for every item you find on Amazon, the company will ship certain products in recyclable packaging as part of its “frustration-free” program.
4. Plastic Substitutes & Where to Buy Them
To learn about vendors of plastic-free or minimally-plasticized products:
- Beeswax Wraps (cotton cloth coated with beeswax) is worth trying as a substitute for plastic wrap, though it doesn’t seal quite as well. Used on cool or cold food and washed in cold water, it’s reusable for up to a year. Available in Whole Foods and other grocery stores. Also available from many sources online – here’s a link to one of many turned up by searching on “beeswax wrap” on Etsy.com, for example.
- FreshPaper sheets for wrapping food and leftovers are available here at FreshGlow.com, and here on Amazon.
- Storage containers with no plastic—glass and wooden tops ($39 for 4 different sized ones on Amazon).
- Stronger bamboo-based dental floss with no plastic container can be ordered from Etsy.
- FreshGlow products, made by a company in Columbia, MD and available on Amazon, provide reusable paper and beeswax wraps for food storage and other uses.
- For an alternative with minimum packaging, laundry detergent strips can be ordered at tru.earth/
- Dishwasher detergent tablets in a refillable metal tin can be ordered at blueland.com
- Dish soap as a solid in a refillable metal tin can be ordered at theearthlingco.com, which also makes bodywash, shampoo, and other types of soap.
- As an alternative to plastic- and rubber-based cleaning products, all-natural vegetable cellulose sponges and scrubbers and scouring pads with a walnut-based abrasive can be ordered at publicgoods.com. Interestingly, the company claims that its bottles are made from sugarcane, its paper products are tree-free, and it sources biodegradable alternatives to single-use plastic. It also promises that every shipment to a customer is carbon offset, and it says it plants a tree for every order.
- Bar Shampoo and Conditioner without plastic containers are available at Trader Joe’s, theearthlingco.com, J.R. LIggetts, and Love Beauty And Planet
- Mason & Greens, a zero waste shop in Old Town Alexandria VA, is full of plastic-free alternatives to help support a more sustainable planet. It sells vegan and eco-friendly items for a minimalist lifestyle.
- Who Gives a Crap, and Lovely Poo-Poo –soft bamboo, tree-free, and 100% recycled paper toilet paper
- Grove Company – sustainable, ethically-sourced cleaning, home & pantry, gardening, personal care, baby care, pet care, and paper products. Plastic-neutral now, to be plastic-free by 2025.
5. Resources: Videos, Websites, Articles, Books, and Reports:
- The Story of Plastic: An excellent, disturbing video that describes what happens in the global production, use, and disposal of plastic – and the enormous corporate investment in producing more to reposition the oil and gas industry. The church scheduled a “Movie Night” on Zoom to show this video and discuss it. It impressed us all.
- Baltimore/Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church “Creation Care” website
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Marine Debris Program website on plastics in the oceans.
- Sierra Club website on plastic pollution and what you can do about it
- United Nations Environment Programme website on the resolution to end plastic pollution and forge an international legally-binding agreement by 2024.
- “How to (Really) Bid Good Riddance to Plastic,” Sierra Magazine, Spring, 2022
- “U.S. is top contributor to plastic waste, report shows,” Washington Post 12/1/21
- “Plastics Production is Skyrocketing. A New UN Effort Could Cap It,” Washington Post 2/9/22
- “Microplastics Found In Live Human Lung Tissue For The First Time,” IFL Science, 4/6/22
- Books and Reports
- Zero Waste Living the 80/20 Way by Stephanie J. Miller, and other books on this theme available on Amazon .
- Reckoning with the US Role in Global Ocean Plastic Waste, National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine