First Lutheran’s Creation Care Team suggests that congregation members and their families work to avoid single-use plastic for the 40 days of Lent. In the AfterWord each week during Lent, we will include specific tips toward achieving this goal.

First, a Request: Do you have a surplus of reusable shopping bags? The Creation Care team is collecting extra bags to be available to those who need them. Please bring extra newly-laundered bags to the church Fellowship Hall and deposit them in the bin provided.

Second, the Background: Prompted by synod resolutions and by the group Lutherans Restoring Creation, the ELCA Churchwide Assembly last year committed to seriously work for restoration of God’s earth, encouraging and equipping individual congregations to reduce harmful consumption habits. In response, the church’s young adults proposed a Lenten relinquishing, the #NoplasticsforLent initiative, calling us to pray for creation, to lament how we are all complicit
in the earth’s degradation, and, in caring for our neighbor, to “fast” from the things that are significantly harming our planet.

Third, the Plastic Problem: Many of us are really disciplined about collecting recyclables and taking them to recycling receptacles. But in fact 91 percent of all plastic isn’t recycled at all. Single-use plastics in particular—thin plastic bags and small items like plastic straws, bags, and cutlery—are hard to recycle and often are not accepted by recycling centers. We produce 300 million tons of plastic each year worldwide, half of which is for single-use items: plastic packaging, beverage bottles, produce bags, shipping envelopes, and customer shopping bags.

Although plastic was invented in the nineteenth century, production and use of plastics—as a cheap and adaptable substance which can be either soft and pliable or hard and durable—has exploded and revolutionized modern life since the 1970s. Plastic is produced from the earth’s organic materials (mostly crude oil). The problem is that plastic is a nearly permanent substance. Bacteria normally cause decomposition or biodegradation, but plastic contains chemicals that bacteria cannot eat. Theoretically, plastic could decompose, but it would take up to 450 years and only if it’s exposed to the sun. Landfills typically cover each day’s deposited waste with a layer of soil, so landfill plastics are exposed to the sun so briefly that they cannot break down.

Plastics that do break down simply become smaller and smaller pieces, called microplastics or nanoplastics, which end up in rivers and streams and eventually in the ocean, causing serious damage to marine animals and seabirds; when animals eat plastic, thinking it is food, it gets tangled up in their digestive system and often causes death. Every 45 seconds, a garbage truck’s worth of plastic waste is deposited in our oceans — killing over 1 million marine animals every year. Much of this plastic from the past and into the present ends up in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the North Pacific Ocean, made up of large plastic items (such plastic things as lighters, toothbrushes and pens, water bottles, baby bottles, and cell phones) and microplastics. This large patch of trash spans 620 square miles. And research suggests that it has increased ten-fold each decade since 1945.

Such a huge problem needs political action by governments on a large scale—and a couple of bills have been introduced in the US Congress—Break Free from Single-Use Plastics Act (2020 and 2021) and the Protecting Communities from Plastics Act (2022)—but neither has yet passed. But we as consumers are a crucial part of the problem, and we as individuals can do a lot to highlight and reduce the problem. As Christians, we believe it is our divine charge to steward—protect and preserve—God’s Creation for the future of living things.

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