Some give up chocolate, others give up crisps, and some stop putting sugar in their tea. But, for Lent this year, lots of people are giving up something a little bit different: plastic.
People in the UK are attempting #PlasticFreeLent, a challenge that requires giving up plastic packaging for forty days. And, it’s all because of Blue Planet II.
Izzy Crouch, an open water swimmer and founder of the No Plastic Shop, has given up plastic completely for Lent. She spends a great deal of time at the beach, so she says she’s “very aware” of plastic pollution in “our seas and coastlines.”
“I have been trying to gradually reduce the amount of plastic I buy and throw away,” says Crouch. She says that watching Blue Planet II “cemented” this need, in her mind. The most recent series of Blue Planet explored the devastating impact of plastic on the environment, and showed scenes of dolphins, whales, sea birds being killed as a result of plastic pollution.
Crouch says that after watching Blue Planet II, she found it very hard to find plastic-free products, so she started No Plastic Shop, an online store that’s 100 percent plastic-free, including packaging.
For Lent, she’s decided to go all-out, and has given up buying anything that comes packaged in plastic; something that’s proving difficult for certain food items.
“For me the most challenging aspect are things that in my town I can’t buy out of plastic, such as pasta, rice, ham and cheese,” says Crouch. It is also things you have no control over, such as things people give you.”
Journalist Rosie Paterson always gives up something for Lent. “Last year it was sugar, a few years ago it was all processed food, and once I made myself do 30 mins sweaty exercise every day,” she says. But, this year, one documentary has made her give up plastic instead.
“I’m a big David Attenborough fan, so I think this year’s challenge came about partly because of the Blue Planet series,” she says.
Paterson did plenty of research before undertaking the challenge, so she has lists of vendors where she can buy meat, vegetables, toiletries, and household products in non-plastic packaging. But, she’s found that going plastic-free is most challenge when she’s tired or really busy, and doesn’t have time to go to a specialist shop.
“On my way back to London from Norfolk last night, I stopped at an M&S garage for an apple but they didn’t have any loose fruit or veg available to buy,” says Paterson. And, when she tried to stock up on vegetables for the week in a supermarket near her flat, the only plastic-free items she could buy were a grapefruit, aubergine, and spring onions.
But, it’s not just buying food that’s hard. Paterson’s love of cosmetics and toiletries is also feeling the effect. “As someone who is obsessed with Space NK-style shops and skin products, it’s probably been the bit I’ve enjoyed least,” she says. “I’ve made my own sugar scrub to use as an exfoliator but it’s definitely not the same.”
Given that 79 percent of plastic waste ends up in landfills or in the natural environment in the UK, this goal of ditching plastic packaging is laudable to say the least. According to Greenpeace, an estimated 12.7 million tonnes of plastic enters our oceans each year, which equates to a “truck load of rubbish” per minute. And, approximately 5,000 items of marine plastic pollution are found per mile of beach in the UK, per Surfers Against Sewage.
Ali Ribchester, who runs sustainable clothing company Tutti Frutti, also decided to give up plastic for Lent after watching Blue Planet II. She says she’s finding #PlasticFreeLent hard, and that doing the weekly shopping is tough because, in her experience, “all the meat is in plastic packaging.”
Ribchester has sadly already broken the plastic-free promise by accident. “Yesterday I went to a trade show. I packed my coffee cup, my own lunch in boxes rather than buy a takeaway coffee and sandwich,” she says. “But, when I was flagging half way round I bought a fizzy drink in a plastic bottle without thinking.” She says that even though she’s already broken the promise, she thinks that “recognising that it isn’t easy is half the battle.” Ribchester plans to take a juice in a re-usable bottle next time so she doesn’t need to buy one.
Ribchester has also encountered difficulties with internet purchases. “I’m discovering that it is really difficult to buy most things online without getting plastic packaging,” says Ribchester. “This week I have had fabric deliveries that have arrived in great, thick non-recyclable packaging, other things arrive in bubble wrap and plastic poly-mailers.”
“I’m discovering that it is really difficult to buy most things online without getting plastic packaging.”
Leon Emirali, an entrepreneur and investor, is taking part in the plastic-free challenge because he believes that humans can’t “go on treating the world’s oceans like a rubbish dump.” “It’s so sad when it comes to the impact that has on the environment and the habitats of marine animals,” says Emirali.
So far, Emirali has been trying to be “careful” about what he buys and how he consumes things. “Little things like recognising there’s no need to buy bottled water so I’ll make sure I drink out of the tap instead,” he says. But, he’s still finding it challenging.
His lunch choices have been impacted by his Lent challenge. Before, Emirali would buy pre-prepared salads for lunch, he now buys the ingredients fresh and makes the salads himself. “I have to admit, it’s quite hard to eradicate the use of plastic entirely but hopefully if enough people reduce the amount of plastic they consume, it’ll make retailers recognise they need to change how they package and sell goods,” says Emirali.
Giving up plastic isn’t just for Lent, though. Once the forty days are up, all four people interviewed pledge to drastically reduce their use of plastic packaging. A pledge that we should all consider taking.