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My plastic-free journey

Tearfund supporters share their steps to reducing plastic waste and how their faith has influenced their choices.

Written by Tearfund | 29 Jun 2023

Tearfund supporters tell us about how their reducing their use of plastic.

We talked to students Hannah, Phoebe, Siân and Christine about why reducing plastic was important to them. Image: Tearfund. 

Our world has a rubbish problem and the rapid growth of single-use plastic is making the crisis worse. In the UK, we throw away four double-decker busloads’ worth of plastic every minute! More than half of all plastic produced is only used once, and the plastic industry is the fastest-growing source of industrial greenhouse gas emissions in the world. 

All this plastic is fuelling our throwaway culture, accelerating the climate crisis and impacting people living in poverty the most. But we can take action. By changing our habits we can reduce our own waste and tackle this rubbish problem. We spoke to four Tearfund supporters who are doing just that…

Hannah, Christine, Siân and Phoebe – all students based in the UK – share how they are reducing their use of plastic and how the Bible has inspired them to keep going.

Why did you decide to use less plastic?


It can be very easy to blame big companies for climate change and feel like there is nothing we can do as individuals to help the environment and the people affected. But I believe that God calls all of us to try and make a difference, and that starts with changing your lifestyle. Reducing plastic was one of the first changes I made because there are things you can do differently straightaway in your everyday life.


Caring for the environment was something I learnt about and have been interested in since primary school. I’ve come to realise the effect that climate change is having on our planet and how urgently we need to act to slow this down. Although I know I cannot individually stop climate change, I want to use the little say I have as a consumer by making changes and hopefully encouraging the larger corporations to do the same.


I’ve been really motivated by the issue of climate change to become more plastic-free. The images of plastic-polluted rivers and oceans and of piles of plastic in people’s towns and villages across the world have really motivated me too. I want to look after God’s earth and the animals and people that live in it; I feel it’s my duty as a citizen of the earth and as a Christian.


I grew up by the coast and always saw plastic on the beaches but it was so normal I didn’t think about how bizarre it really was. The profile of plastic pollution increased when I was in school, raising my awareness of the issue. I remember watching one of the BBC Blue Planet episodes and crying at the effects plastic was having on the environment. Reducing my plastic waste was a practical and fairly simple step I could take in response.

Tearfund supporter Phoebe shares her journey to reducing plastic.

Phoebe buys ingredients from a refill shop to help reduce plastic waste. Image: Phoebe Smith / Tearfund.

What changes have you made?


Most of the changes I have made have been in the kitchen, particularly using reusable plastic tubs and dividers when I freeze batch-cooked meals or ingredients. I also have silicone stretch lids to cover food, replacing cling film, and when I can’t help but use plastic food bags, I always wash them out and use them again. When buying fruit and vegetables, I take a net bag with me and try to buy them loose. 


The biggest change I’ve made is using reusable menstrual pads. They require a little extra work to rinse and wash, but overall I’ve found it to be one of the easiest ways to significantly reduce my waste, with the added benefit of being more comfortable than disposable pads! I also try to limit the amount of clothes I buy, and when I do, I try to buy second hand.


Some of the changes that I’ve made are choosing loose fresh products in the supermarket rather than items in bags and making swaps to reusable products such as refillable soap and washing-up bottles. I’ve also started using wax wraps instead of cling film, and reusable shopping bags. Initially, these may only seem like small changes, but together I’ve avoided using a lot of plastic.


One of the biggest plastic-reducing swaps I made was swapping to plastic-free period products after realising how much plastic I was getting through each month. (One plastic pad is estimated to contain up to five plastic bags.) I bought the Dame reusable tampon applicator, Rael reusable pads and pant liners, and the AllMatters cup (formerly OrganiCup). I have also just tried my first pair of period pants: they are so comfy! I try buying some ingredients from refill stores using my own containers and have swapped to a bar of soap rather than shower gel, and to a reusable razor instead of a plastic one.

What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?


Plastic-free items aren’t necessarily the most convenient; they are going against a fast-paced, convenience culture. Having to make an extra trip to fill up my handwash at the refill store, instead of buying a plastic bottle at the supermarket when I’m there, is inconvenient. Taking a coffee cup when I go out is one extra thing to remember. But I’m trying. Something that has helped has been finding a way to fit these things into my routine, for example, making the trip to the refill store on lunch break.


For me, some of the biggest challenges have been the cost of making the transition from disposable to reusable products. I also feel the pressure to make them quickly. When I feel like this, I remind myself that small changes over time are beneficial. I also remind myself that I’m still a student and have a limited budget!


One change I’ve tried but have not been able to make is using shampoo and conditioner bars. Unfortunately, my hair has not been able to adjust to this, despite giving it time. Instead, I try to buy the largest bottles of shampoo possible to reduce the plastic. The Body Shop now offers shampoo refills, so I hope to try this in the future! Don’t feel you have to do everything perfectly: even trying to make a change is better than not at all!


I think that maybe I haven’t faced many major challenges because I haven’t pushed myself enough. Without meaning to, I have become a little complacent because of the things I’m already doing, and forget to keep trying to make new changes, even if they are more inconvenient. There is always more we can do!

‘These may only seem like small changes, but together I’ve avoided using a lot of plastic’
Siân Connolly, Tearfund supporter.

What verses in the Bible have inspired you?


God makes it very clear that we are to steward his perfect creation. Genesis 2:15 tells us that we were put on the earth to ‘work it and take care of it’. Not only do we have a responsibility to look after creation, we are also to care for those in need, and we as Christians could achieve so much if we decided to work together to limit the negative impact we have.


Throughout the Bible are stories of social justice. Right at the beginning God asks us to care for the world he created. I feel that as Christians it is so important that we take climate change seriously and do all we can to achieve climate justice. Climate change is having a direct impact on our brothers and sisters around the world so it is essential that we do all that we can to help them.


I’m especially inspired by Leviticus 26:3–4 (ESV) when it says: ‘If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, then I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit.’ For me, this makes it clear that there is a direct correlation between our relationship with Christ and the environment. By trying to go plastic-free I feel like I’m honouring and fulfilling my responsibility as a Christian.


The biggest thing I reflect on is that God made the world, and each living and non-living thing he made was called ‘good’ in Genesis. In the instructions God gives to Israel, he says, ‘For six years you shall sow your field… but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land’ (Leviticus 25:3–4 ESV); he orders rest for the natural environment! Jesus continued this work: Tearfund explains that he came to restore not just our broken relationship with God, but our broken relationship with ourselves, others and the natural environment.

Sian uses reusable shopping bags instead of plastic carrier bags.

Siân uses a reusable shopping bag instead of plastic carrier bags. Image: Siân Connolly.

How would you encourage others starting out on their plastic-free journey?


Trying to become more environmentally friendly can seem very daunting at first, but there are so many ways to make small changes. Reducing plastic in particular doesn’t require a lot of effort and money, and you can easily build up how much you do.  Never think that the small, everyday actions you take can’t make a difference, because the more everyone does, and the more corporations see this is important to us, the more can change.


My biggest encouragement is that you do not need to be perfect. Making a few changes or only remembering to use reusable products occasionally is better than making no changes at all. It is ok to not be able to make certain changes due to the financial cost or the inconvenience, as there are other ways you can make a difference. Remember that by working together and encouraging the people in power to do the same, we can have a large impact!


Remember however great or small your contribution is, it will have an impact! Start small and go from there. Focus on what you can do and what you’re doing well, rather than what you can’t do!


Start with the easier swaps and make them part of your routine before moving on to others. I became so overwhelmed trying to do it all at once that I almost gave up completely; I just need to go back to the simple things like choosing the peppers that aren’t plastic-wrapped. Finding someone to do it with is so important in order to normalise it and make it fun, and remembering that the reason for doing it is to help look after God’s beloved creation.

By Hannah Causebrook, Christine Meyer, Siân Connolly and Phoebe Smith.

Take action on plastic for Plastic Free July, with our Rubbish Bin-go challenge!

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