A Friend’s Lent Challenge

My friend took up my quick Lent Challenge and this is her experience of it – a great read for people wondering could they do it and at what level:

My lent challenge

So, what did you give up for lent? Chocolate? Alcohol? Cake? Biscuits? Take up reading your Bible or praying more?  On Ash Wednesday I decided to accept a friend’s challenge and give up plastic…

How much it is in.

I did this with a certain amount of apprehension.  My friend has been writing a blog about trying to live without plastic since New Year’s so I had some idea of what I was letting myself in for, but I quickly found out just what a challenge I had set myself.  Plastic is everywhere!

liz supermarket

I used a plastic toothbrush, bottles in the shower, a plastic shower sponge, microbeads in my facewash, plastic bag in my cereal, plastic to hold makeup, plastic in my clothes, plastic pens, disposable cups and lids, chocolate wrappers, crisp wrappers, meat wrappers, plastic round loo roll and toothpaste, sanitary products, milk bottles, yoghurt pots, cheese wrappers, contact lens containers, floss.  In just a few decades plastic has pervaded nearly everything that we use.  Why?

As I was following Claire’s blog I had made some changes.  I began shopping at Lush who refill returned plastic pots of toiletries and cut soap to fit your containers, and I tried a bamboo toothbrush, but now anything that contained plastic was off limits.

Why stop?

The main thing I object to is plastic being used as a disposable item.  Nearly all our foods are wrapped in plastic, which is specifically made to be thrown away or used for just a few hours or even minutes.  This week look at a few of your meals and see how much plastic you send to landfill.  Does each carrot need to be in a plastic bag, within your carrier bag, within your shopping trolley then within your car boot?  True, a lot of plastics can be recycled and that does make a difference but if the packaging was unnecessary in the first place the energy to produce and recycle it is wasted.

liz how long is it until its gone.png


We produce and use twenty times as much plastic as we did 50 years ago.  15 million plastic bottles are used in the UK every day.

Consumerism is the main religion in today’s society.  Consumer goods have become cultural symbols and convenience is the priority.  I have seen images of pre-peeled satsumas in plastic and halved, de-stoned avocados wrapped in plastic film and moulded plastic.  People spend the vast majority of their time working for and spending money on stuff.  How much of what you buy do you intend to still have in 5 years’ time or ten?  Products are designed to be replaced (“planned obsolesce”).  New models come out, which are non-compatible with old ones.  You can’t get replacement parts.  Constant advertising is designed to make you dissatisfied with what you already have (“perceived obsolesce”).  We have a system which takes to world’s resources and turns it into rubbish going to landfill.  Only 1% of materials bought in the US is still in use 6 months after purchase (The Story of Stuff).  This is not sustainable.

How I managed

Trying to live using as little plastic as possible was hard, and it in effect meant I was giving other things up too because there weren’t plastic free ways of buying them.  For example, I have basically cut processed foods out of my diet (except tins), as you generally won’t find them out of plastic (and I think I have lost weight as a result).  I have vastly reduced the amount of cheese, meat and fish I eat.  I am limited to Divine, Green and Blacks and Galaxy chocolate and if I want any biscuits or cake I need to make my own.  I’m eating butter instead of margarine.  I’m also limited to long life cartoned milk and Weetabix or Quaker porridge oats, all other cereals have a plastic bag.  Once I ran out of rice and pasta I couldn’t buy more.  I can’t buy yoghurt.  I can’t buy flowers.  I can’t buy greeting cards.

I have been buying more locally and from independent shops.  I have made friends with my local butcher, baker and green grocer.  I buy bars of soap instead of pump action handwash. I’ve bought a bar of deodorant instead of an aerosol or plastic roll on.  I wash soil off my carrots and potatoes when I get home (I was once surprised to find my ‘sweet potatoes’ were in fact massive carrots). I take my own Tupperware to the butchers. (A friend, also trying to reduce plastic use, took containers to the butcher, “Oh, you’re one of those, are you?”, he commented.)  I hoard containers: I keep the little bags for supermarket pastries that I had before I began the challenge and carry around empty lunchboxes for unexpected market bargains.

Buying from smaller specialist shops has meant I need to plan more or go without when I didn’t plan well enough.  This made me appreciate food more.  The products have been made by people, locally or fairly traded.  I have also had to look at the difference between ‘want’ and ‘need’.  The cartons I have used for long life milk and orange juice do have a thin layer of plastic on the inside, but I put my enjoyment of these foods above being purist about the plastic.  I later learnt that despite the cartons being recyclable the collections where I live didn’t accept them. I would need to take the cartons to a specialist recycling plant.  This begs the question whether it might have been better for me to have carried on using the normal plastic bottles which are recyclable in our local collection.

I’m been much more aware of the plastic being used and discarded around me.  At a picnic at church one Sunday I could have used 3 disposable cups with plastic lids.  I could just see how much waste was being created by a couple of hours of fellowship, but the biggest thing was when I helped at the kids’ church.  The 3-4 year olds had their squash in a disposable cup with a plastic lid, which they used for all of 3 minutes, some of them didn’t even finish.  What a wonderful way to create the next generation of thoughtless consumers.  How many times a week do you get a takeaway coffee with a plastic lid? Times that by 52.  How many lids in landfill are you responsible for each year?  Britain throws away 2.5 billion cups each year.  Each lid and cup takes 50 years to degrade.

I talk to people.  I have been posting on Facebook about what I’m doing, and many people have asked me how it was going, or have been looking at their own plastic habits.

If enough people choose to buy less packaged goods, supermarkets will change their packaging habits and move to more loose produce.  It begins with you.

Choose just one thing to change.  Make one unsustainable thing sustainable.  Then don’t stop, chose the next thing, and then the next…

Other resources:

Can link people to Claire’s blog: ask her

The Clean Bin Project (film)


An Inconvenient Truth

The 11th Hour

The Story of Stuff: https://www.youtub


One comment

  1. Love your passion and share your hatred of plastic. Trying to work out how to reduce further with a limited budget and time and a family of 5. Just Womdering why you don’t have a milkman ? Maybe ther isn’t one in your area? We have had one for years as the plastic milk bottles are vile to see piling up…support your local dairy, fresh milk in recyclable glass bottles that re collected for you? What’s not to love?


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