A Lenten Fast from Plastic 2: Going Plastic Free

Since 1950, 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic have been produced, and 4 billion of that was in just the last 15 years. Only about 9 percent of all plastic ever produced has been recycled and about 12 percent has been incinerated. 79 percent has ended up in landfills, lakes, streams and the ocean. Today, half of all plastic goods produced is for single use consumer goods, a lot of it for convenience food. The U.S. is the largest plastic polluter in the world. At this point, being totally plastic free is not possible for most of us. Even if you prepare all your meals at home, many of the ingredients you find at the grocery store are going to be wrapped in plastic. But all of us can make a start at gaining plastic freedom by avoiding it and reusing it.

Let’s start with shopping. You can replace using the plastic bags at the store with totes. However, once you have enough totes, don’t get anymore, even if they are free! Canvas totes are less environmentally friendly even than plastic bags because of the energy needed to produce them. So use canvas totes until they wear out. Totes of recycled material are a much better choice. I keep four large totes in the car that I’ve been using for years, one of them insulated. If I forget to take them in with me, I just put the items back in the cart and pack the totes when I get to the car. On the rare occasion I do get a plastic shopping bag, I save it until there are enough bags to make it worthwhile to drop them off at a collection point at a supermarket.

The next thing is to focus in on the “single use” issue. If something comes in a plastic tub, save the tub when it’s empty to store leftovers. (Though, actually, you can now recycle the plastic tubs that many dairy products come in.) My daughter-in-law pointed out to me that you should avoid buying “food storage bags” and only buy “freezer bags” because the freezer bags are thicker. You can wash them and reuse them again and again. I have been using the same box of freezer bags for three years. Got plastic storage around the house—freezer containers, tubs, bins? Don’t throw them out in a fit of anti-plastic purity. Use them until they fall apart and then dispose of them properly. Use cardboard boxes to replace the tubs and bins.

Alternatives to plastic wraps are a different matter. Most of the likely alternatives you might find at a supermarket won’t work. Aluminum foil is not recyclable. “Waxed paper” has a plastic coating, as does “freezer wrap.” Parchment paper is plastic free, but it doesn’t cling. There are a couple of solutions. One is beeswax coated cloth. It comes in different sizes. It clings because the heat of your hands softens the wax so it sticks and seals as you wrap. There are a number of brands, Beeswax, Bee’s Wrap, Bee Care Free. You can easily find vendors online or at Reuse Revolution and Koko the Shop. After each use you wipe it off with cool water, let it dry and use it again. It doesn’t last forever, but it is all natural and breaks down easily in landfills.

Another solution is silicon covers. If you are storing your food in a bowl or pan, you can cover it with a silicon cover that either stretches to cling or is heavy enough to form a seal. You can find both varieties online, in the stores above, and at some kitchen or home goods stores.

My last suggestion for this week is to gradually shift to glass, silicone and metal storage containers for your food items. I’ve found a lot of good substitutes at second-hand stores: popcorn tins to store flour and dog food, big glass canning jars to store pasta, small ones for leftovers. I like salsa, and most of the brands come in wonderful two-cup glass jars with wide mouths. The jars are great for food storage. You can even freeze food in them as long as you leave a little space at the top for expansion. You can also buy larger glass containers with silicone lids that make a good seal. More and more manufacturers are producing sealable silicone bags in different sizes. They can be washed and used again and again. If they do wear out, they can be landfilled, and they break down into sand, unlike plastic which takes millennia to break down even if it is disposed of properly. I’ve been using my silicon bags for five years an haven’t had to throw one away yet.

So, if you haven’t done so already, please help God’s creation by getting away from plastic, because not only is it polluting, it may be dangerous. That’s for next week’s article.

Thanks for your commitment to praying and caring for God’s creation!

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