Ooh, Lent has been exciting so far.
It started (rather obviously) on Ash Wednesday morning. It was also Valentine’s Day – and that was the thing.
14 February 2018 = the day that everyone broke up with plastics.
Scrolling through my social media feeds, it was a common theme. People were tweeting things like, ‘I’ve never given up anything for Lent but this year I’m having a #PlasticLessLent!’ MPs were popping up with their #GiveUpPlasticForLent hashtag and pledge videos. The Church of England was in on the action too, releasing a #PlasticFreeLent calendar. And Ruth Valerio’s Plastic-Less Lent Facebook group suddenly swelled to over 2,000 members from 35 countries, all excitedly swapping tips.
Jesus - the waste warrior
You may be thinking, ‘So what? Come Easter they’ll all be sipping their post-church coffee from a disposable cup quicker than you can say “He is Risen”. And even if people do change their habits for good, surely it’s just a few teaspoons or toothbrushes less in a vast ocean of plastic?’
We must not undervalue the power of small, intentional acts. As Christians, they are acts of worship to our creator as we seek to value his good gifts to us. Through them we are also following Jesus who declared ‘Let nothing be wasted’ (John 6:12). And they are acts of love towards our neighbours near and far.
That’s right: by acting on waste, we are loving our neighbours living in poverty. We may not have linked the two before. Many of us will have Blue Planet 2 to thank for opening our eyes to the plastic problem in our oceans – the ‘marine litter’ crisis as it is also known. But what you didn’t see on Blue Planet 2 is the devastating impact that plastic waste has on the world’s poorest people.
Moving (waste) mountains
Two billion people living in poverty don’t have access to waste collection, meaning that much of this waste – including plastics – ends up being burned or dumped in rivers and oceans, creating a major health hazard. Uncollected waste increases the likelihood of diarrhoeal and infectious diseases, and toxic fumes from burning waste lead to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths a year.
But waste mountains are on the move.
Each day, a growing plastic-free movement is spreading, and within it are communities armed with solutions. We see it in the UK as together our actions pack a powerful political and economic punch. It’s surely no coincidence that the post-Blue Planet pledges have been followed by a slew of new plastic-free policy announcements, from the Queen to Glastonbury festival, from Theresa May to Pizza Express.
We see it in poorer countries too, as communities come together to solve their waste problems. I love the story of the Green Centre in Jos, Nigeria, set up by a group of young people to help eco-entrepreneurs clear up their city’s waste and educating people on other environmental issues. Tearfund’s partners in Pakistan, Brazil and worldwide report similar stories.
Act now to clear up a rubbish problem
So there are solutions - and what’s more, supporting poor communities to manage their waste could improve health, create jobs AND halve ocean plastics too.
Here’s where you (and all of us) come in.
On 16 April 2018, Commonwealth leaders will meet in the UK to discuss the marine litter crisis. Together we can urge the UK to lead the way on plastics and poverty – first, by putting more of the existing UK aid budget towards waste management, and then by urging Commonwealth countries to agree that tackling waste is a top priority.
But we only have a few weeks to make our voices heard.
Ask the UK government to act – sign our urgent petition now here.
Thank you! Please join me in keeping the faith that together we can move mountains.