February 2018

Plastics

When I was at Middle School in Leeds the 1st years used to take it in turns to be on litter duty for the week. This involved using playtimes to go around the school grounds in twos, one child holding a bucket, and another a long pair of tongs, picking up every bit of litter that had blown into school grounds. It was fun but it also helped to instil the importance of caring for the environment and the difference we can each make. This was reinforced by the annual assembly given by the ‘litter man’, as we called him. I always remember some slides he showed picturing how litter could harm wildlife, including a little dormouse trapped in a bottle and a red squirrel entangled in the plastic from a set of drinks cans.  

Recently David Attenborough’s ‘Blue Planet II’ has brought the problem of plastic waste back into the public consciousness as viewers learnt of the enormous damage being done to the world’s oceans and marine life by the plastic litter that is continually pumped into the sea. Viewers were heartbroken by images such as the albatross chicks who were unwittingly being fed plastic by their parents. 

It’s been great to have more plastics accepted for recycling by Richmondshire District Council. But we might wonder how all this plastic will be recycled since hearing of China’s ‘New Year’s resolution’ to stop accepting imports of plastic waste for recycling. Somehow the UK has to find something else to do approximately 540,000 tonnes of plastic waste each year.

In January, Theresa May set out her ambition to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste within 25 years (‘why not sooner?’, some of us ask). The Prime Minister called plastic waste ‘one of the great environmental scourges of our time’.  We can, we hope, look forward to ‘plastic-free’ supermarket aisles and moves such as the 25p ‘latte levy’ on disposable drinks cups recommended by the cross-party green watchdog, the Environmental Audit Committee.  In Scotland, at least, a deposit return scheme covering plastic bottles will hopefully be put in place too. I know from the years that Chris spent living in Norway, taking your plastic bottles back to the supermarket and putting them in the little machine is really quite satisfying, but also for the Norwegians just a part of routine life. 

As I write, today’s ‘You and Yours' on Radio 4 is asking listeners the question: ‘have you changed what you buy because of fears over waste plastics?’ I wonder, perhaps this is a question we could each ask ourselves as we approach Lent. Normally we think about giving up chocolates or alcohol or other excesses for Lent, but perhaps, this year, we could try to give up plastic, or just a little bit of plastic.

Giving up plastic isn’t easy. So much has to change, and there are so many complicating factors and interrelated issues such as hygiene, and keeping food fresh and products protected (especially on long journeys), and the demand for convenience because of hectic lives. And then there is cost. Generally, I’d say it’s easier to shop ethically if money isn’t a worry. But we can all try to make a little bit of difference, in the same way that two ten year olds picking up a bit of litter from the school grounds made a difference day by day, and helped formed habits for a lifetime.

This year the beginning of Lent, Ash Wednesday, falls on 14th February, St Valentine’s Day. St Valentine’s Day may, if you’re lucky, bring more plastic packaging around the chocolates you may have forbidden yourself to eat, but this special day also reminds us of Love. Yes, romantic love and desire, but also agape love (unconditional, self-giving, ‘God’ love). Caring about the impact we have on the environment and therefore on other people and other creatures and other generations, is all part of the fundamental commandment that Jesus gave us, to love: ‘I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.’ (John 13 vs 34)

Sometimes we can feel helpless and hopeless, inconsistent and hypocritical in the face of environmental issues and the not very eco-choices we make each day. But I certainly believe that in the grand scheme of things, every bit of love matters, everything we do with love in our heart matters. For ‘God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.’ (1John 4.16) And even more than plastic, love is here to stay. In the words of St Paul, love ‘bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.’ (1 Corinthians 13vs7-8)

Some days we may do better at loving than others. Some days the choices may be harder or even impossible. But there is a great deal that can be achieved if we each do our best to least sometimes stop and think (and pray) and make different choices out of love for people, this beautiful world, and the Creator God who made all that is out of Love.

God bless,

Camilla


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