by Guest Writer Ainsely Herrick
The month before Ash Wednesday, my timeline was suddenly filled with posts encouraging people to give up plastic for Lent. Between articles and graphics explaining why plastic is destroying our environment, and guides such as the Lent Plastic Challenge and the 40-Day Plastic Free Challenge, I couldn’t go a day without being reminded of how much plastic I use in my daily life. It seems like this is the year that people are really starting to jump on the plastic-free bandwagon, so to speak.
But for me, my decision to use Lent to start transitioning to a plastic-free lifestyle was one I’ve been contemplating for nearly two years now. In the past two years I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how much single use plastic I go through, how wasteful my shopping trips are, how many ways I could be more environmentally conscious. And I did start making a few small changes. I switched from plastic razors to a metal safety razor, from pads to a menstrual cup, from ziplocks to reusable snack bags, from plastic wrap to reusable wax food wraps. But I continued using plastic grocery bags, and buying the food that came wrapped in plastic, and buying shampoo and makeup that came in plastic packaging. And I felt guilty the whole time. Every time I threw out another plastic container or bag, I would think about how bad it was for the environment and how much I needed to break this dependency. But the reason it took me two years to finally do something about it is simply that I was overwhelmed.
Going plastic free is overwhelming. Every time I look in my medicine cabinet I get overwhelmed imagining trying to find waste free alternatives for everything. Every time I look in the fridge or pantry I get overwhelmed wondering how I can go without some of my favorite foods that only come in plastic packaging. Every time I walk through the grocery store I get overwhelmed thinking about trying to find foods that don’t come in plastic that I like and know how to cook. Our culture is so dependent on plastic for just about everything that it feels impossible to try to navigate the world without it. And being the perfectionist that I am, I want to get rid of all of it at once. If I switched to reusable grocery bags I have to switch to reusable produce bags, and if I switch to reusable produce bags I have to switch to buying dry goods like rice, beans, and pasta in bulk with my own containers, and if I use my own containers I have to stop buying snack crackers and chips in plastic packaging and find plastic free snacks. And don’t even get me started on cleaning and hygiene products. Making one change without the others seems pointless, insincere, and almost hypocritical, but the prospect of making all of those changes at once has been overwhelming me for the past two years, so I never did any of it.
So in order to go plastic free for Lent, I had to take on another Lenten practice first: learning to be ok with not being perfect.
I can’t instantly give up all plastic in my life. But I can make one small change at a time. I chose six goals, one for each week of Lent: reusable grocery bags, reusable produce bags, find a local source for plastic free meat and cheese, carry my own takeout containers when I eat out, make my own cleaning products, and find a waste free foundation and mascara. My main focus is on grocery shopping and food, but I chose goals that touched on other areas of my life as well so I could feel like I was getting started. And while I still sometimes get overwhelmed, thinking of all the other changes I will have to make, I keep reminding myself that I don’t have to do that yet. For right now, these are my goals. I don’t have to feel guilty right now for only doing these things while continuing to use other types of plastic. When Lent is over, I’ll choose a new set of goals. And when I accomplish those, I’ll choose a new set, and so on until my life is as plastic-free as I can manage.
For those of you who, like me, feel overwhelmed by all of the plastic in your life, pick one thing. Make one change. Don’t feel bad for fill reusable bags with plastic packaging. Take a minute to let yourself feel good for using the reusable bags. And next time you go to the store pick one plastic thing in your bag to cut out or replace. And then another, and another. We don’t have to do it perfectly right off the bat. It takes time and work to give up plastic. Don’t overwhelm yourself, take it o
ne piece of plastic at a time.