Halfway Through Lent

Carton of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, a greeting card, and a package of gum

What do a carton of Ben & Jerry’s, a greeting card, and a pack of chewing gum have in common? I wish I had a funny punch line in response, but I don’t. These three objects are simply the sacrifices I didn’t anticipate when I decided to give up single-use plastic for Lent.  Today is Laetare Sunday, taken from the Latin word for “rejoice” in the entrance antiphon at today’s Mass, and we are halfway through Lent, a good time for me to take stock of my plastic challenge.

Because I’d considered this for a year, I really thought I was prepared. I had braced myself for forty days of no online shopping, knew I would have to give up flower bouquets and salads from Trader Joe’s, but the first week of Lent I bought ice cream to go with the brownies I was baking for company and didn’t notice until I opened the carton that the lid was covered with a plastic seal. A package of gum was likewise wrapped in cellophane. Later in the week when I reached into my desk drawer for one of the birthday cards I keep there, I was horrified to realize that most of them are covered in protective plastic! How had I not noticed it before?

My response to these surprises offer two options for reducing plastic use. One is to look for workarounds. For example, in Santa Cruz I can buy hand-packed pints at Marianne’s or Penny Ice Creamery, and it’s possible to find plastic-free greeting cards; I just have to be mindful about selecting them. The second option is less appealing, to do without, and that’s what I’m trying with gum. The third option is to admit defeat, and now it’s time for a confession.

When I planned for this challenge, I was relieved that my most cherished food group would not be a problem. Alter Eco chocolate bars are wrapped in foil and packaged in cardboard with the motto “enlightened indulgence,” and Dagoba cocoa, the key ingredient in my morning mocha, comes in a can. Phew. Except that like Ben & Jerry’s, that can has a tamper-proof seal. Sigh. I can and do rationalize that the piece of plastic is small and that a single can of cocoa makes about twenty servings, but it is, in fact, only one in a category of items I can’t find a hack for and am not willing to give up. Sometimes, even when I’m trying to do the right thing, I can get in trouble. Last week I contributed compostable plates, cups, and utensils for a party at work, but guess what the plates and cups were packaged in?

To compensate I have imposed my own penance. In the Lenten spirit of almsgiving, I plan to donate 50¢ to charity for every piece of plastic I put in a trashcan and 25¢ for every piece that goes in the recycling. This also helps me account for plastic I acquired before Lent and am using now.

To be fair, I also want to congratulate myself and the friends who have joined me for what we are attempting. The plastic we’re not using is invisible, but it makes a difference.

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Mary Camille Thomas

Mary Camille Thomas is a native of Santa Cruz, California who considers herself lucky to be back after living in Davis, Germany, Los Angeles, Holland, and on the road in a motorhome. She is a librarian by profession, and her poetry has appeared in Sisters Singing: Blessings, Prayers, Art, Songs and Sacred Stories by Women. She is is currently working on a novel called Schatz and a collection of poems of the spirit.

2 thoughts on “Halfway Through Lent”

  1. It really is everywhere. I saw a quote the other day, it was something like, “it’s better if a lot of people do zero waste imperfectly rather than a couple of people doing it perfectly”, which i thought was a good reminder that nobody can do and be everything. Also, in regards to Lent, not a Catholic, but from a philosophical and pentenance perspective, i would personally think that the fact you’ve chosen to give up something so ubiquitous in modern life makes the ‘struggle’ to avoid it more meaningful in a way.

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  2. Oh My Dear! The fact that you are trying SO hard is very commendable and inspiring and making me examine so many of the choices I make so unconsciously.
    Thank you for being committed to something which is proving to be a very important issue in our modern world. And yes, we must consider that undesirable concept of “doing without” which is not very comfortable for many of us so used to living in the lifestyles we have chosen. But it IS time to reconsider and make changes AS and WHEN we can .
    You are so right. “The plastic we are NOT using is invisible but DOES make a difference.”
    Thank you for shining a light on the challenge facing us all.

    Like

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