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Church of England backs plastic-less Lent campaign to reduce environmental waste

16 February 2018


Taking Shrove Tuesday to new heights, stuntman Ben Sparrow, 29, flips pancakes 85 feet up in the air at the Smoo Caves, in the Scottish Highlands

Taking Shrove Tuesday to new heights, stuntman Ben Sparrow, 29, flips pancakes 85 feet up in the air at the Smoo Caves, in the Scottish Highlands

GIVING up sweet treats and alcohol has become part of modern “fasting” during Lent — with the added benefit of reducing waistlines. But one theologian is urging people to reduce environmental waste, instead, by ditching plastic for the 40 days.

The theologian and environmentalist Dr Ruth Valerio, who is also global advocacy and influencing director at the Christian charity Tearfund, launched a campaign on social media last week, #plasticlesslent, to encourage people to give up — or at least reduce — the consumption of plastic during the season.

This might be as simple as refraining from buying single-use water bottles, or disposable coffee cups, she writes on her website. Or it might be giving up buying plastic food packaging or bags. “Lent is a really good opportunity to focus on a particular discipline for a set period.

The campaign has been backed by ChurchCare, part of the Archbishop’s Council of the Church of England, which looks afters its cathedrals and church buildings. A guide, produced by the Council, has been added to the Facebook page created by Ms Valerio. It lists a different way of reducing plastic waste for each day of Lent, including choosing lotions and lip balms in plastic-free containers, and using a bamboo toothbrush.

The Environmental Policy Officer for the C of E, Ruth Knight, who drew up the guide, told BBC Radio 4, on Thursday: “Everyone is aware that plastic is causing a huge amount of damage, as we’ve seen in [the BBC programme] Blue Planet II, and various bits of government action; but this is becoming more and more important and relevant.

“It is a global challenge, but people often feel paralysed with something of this scale and we are aiming to give day to day actions. . . We are starting off with some of the things that are fairly straight-forward, like using your own cups, or bringing your own bag [to the shop]. But then progressing onto things that are maybe slightly more challenging.”

The Bishop of Dudley, the Rt Revd Graham Usher is among the bishops taking up the challenge. “More than 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic has been produced since the 1950s,” he posted on Twitter. “That’s enough plastic to cover every inch of the UK ankle-deep more than 10 [times] over.
Just nine per cent was recycled.”

The choir of St Bride’s, Fleet Street, are among the more than 1200 people to have signed up to the campaign so far. The choir members Nina Bennet and Neil Bellingham, who are organising the endeavour, explained on Wednesday: “Each week we are going to focus on one area rather than just one item. Week one — ‘Time for a cuppa’ will look at single-use coffee cups, tea bags (which contain plastic), and [advocating] the return of the milk bottle.”

ST BRIDE’S, FLEET STREETThe choir of St Bride’s, Fleet Street, at the launch of their Plastic-Less Lent

Other weeks will focus on the supermarket (shopping bags and food packaging), and “Cleanliness is next to godliness” (soap, shampoo bottles, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and makeup).

Cathedrals are also using social media to promote a Lent campaign #WindowOnLent, which will showcase a new image on themes, such as doubt, stillness, and wonder, each day of Lent. A short promotion film was released on Shrove Tuesday, and the first “window” — on Ash Wednesday — was an image of an installation in Southwark Cathedral by the artist Susie MacMurray.

The Bishop of Stockport, the Rt Revd Libby Lane, meanwhile, is encouraging people to pray for a different cause each day of Lent to “give voices to the voiceless”, including refugees, victims of abuse, Dementia patients, and human-rights victims. The list of intentions can be seen on the diocesan Facebook page, or downloaded at: chester.anglican.org.

And the Christian charity Stewardship has relaunched its annual campaign 40acts which encourages people to be more generous and kind to others, instead of giving up a habit. For the first time in eight years, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York are contributing to the challenge. To subscribe to the daily challenges, visit 40acts.org.uk.

UN: “break up” with plastic this St Valentine’s Day. Ash Wednesday fell on Valentine’s Day for the first time since the Second World War this week. The United Nations Environment Programme chose the saints day to release a short film — It’s Not Me, It’s You — to encourage people to end their “toxic relationship” with single-use plastic and find “new love” with more sustainable options. The video was released as part of its longer-term #CleanSeas campaign.

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