Plastic Free July
Plastic Free July
by Peregrin Campbell-Osgood | Project Officer, Advocacy Commissions
Across the world, millions of people each July take a pledge to reduce their use of consumer plastic. This is an ideal opportunity for your parish, school or agency to take the pledge together as an act of Christian witness.
It’s a common misconception that plastic takes a long time to decompose. When organic material is sent to landfill, bacteria get to work and begin the process of biodegradation, transforming waste into useful compounds which in turn serve to enrich the soil. Those bacteria don’t have the same appetite when it comes to plastic, and so that process of returning nutrients to the earth doesn’t happen.
What does happen, is that plastics break down. They become brittle and fragment with age, particularly thanks to a process called photodegradation. This kind of decomposition requires sunlight, not bacteria. And this kind of decomposition does not mean a release of trapped nutrients back into the earth, but instead leads to smaller and smaller pieces of plastic.
Plastic buried in landfill rarely sees the light of day; but at sea, where a lot of discarded shopping bags, soft drink bottles and six-pack rings end up, plastic is bathed in as much light as water. Plastic in warm ocean water can degrade in as little as a year, which sounds like a marvellous thing until we realise that these ‘microplastics’ (remember, plastic just breaks down into smaller and smaller bits of the same material) end up in the guts of animals or wash up on shorelines, where humans are most likely to come into direct contact with the toxins.
Every single piece of plastic ever made still exists.
Plastic, as its name indicates, can be molded and manipulated by human will and creativity into limitless forms. Our personal creative powers are gifts from the Triune God, who is an eternally relational community of Three Persons, each giving one to the other. This image of a self-giving community is what we, as human people and human societies, are called to be.
Our plastic use however is generally individualistic and opportunistic, even before we consider the damage done to Creation. Plastic production and consumption often hinders and harms the communion and interpersonal connectedness God created us for, as those who bear God’s image. Disposable bags, replacement heart valves, novelty plastic toys and hearing aids are all products of human creativity. For all of these forms, plastic is the vehicle but our creativity and our will is the cause.
This creativity is a gift from God. We may choose to use it for service, as in the examples of heart valves and hearing aids, or to satisfy our individual human wills and desires. This malleability of plastic to our will means it can become a temptation to express our will over that of God’s, satisfying our desires over God’s
Plastic misuse and disposal then is not simply an environmental or economic problem. It is a spiritual and theological one: it speaks of the way we understand the God we claim to worship. From a Christian view, it stems from not applying our tradition, which views the world and our lives Eucharistically, into all realms of human endeavour. A Eucharistic view of life is one where we engage in thanksgiving to God and Creation, allowing our thankfulness to inform our decisions and actions that impact upon Creation.
Self-focused, individualised use of the gifts of Creation, such as plastic, is contrary to the personhood God calls each of us to inhabit. We are called to be in communion with Creation and in communion with all people, full of the spiritual knowledge that our actions and non-actions affect everyone in Creation and Creation itself. By engaging more deeply in our Christian faith, with the knowledge of whom God calls us to be – a relational person with creatures and Creation – we are moved to change our actions which harm that relationship.
By viewing and engaging the world through a eucharistic lens, we begin to discern those actions and non-actions we participate in which are not eucharistic, which do not offer thanksgiving to God, and which attempt to keep benefit within the human realm and limited to individuals or individual groups. This may inform our choice to refuse or limit purchasing single-use plastic.
To help us reduce our plastic use, EcoCare has produced its annual ‘Plastic Free July’ e-resource.
Here you will find more information, patterns to make shopping bags, prayers, a hymn by The Revd Dr Elizabeth Smith AM and a theological reflection on plastic use. Let us know how you are reducing plastic use by joining us on our Facebook page.