Living Sustainably: Reconsider the disposable culture for Lent

By Peter Boogaart, Macatawa Creation Care
There was a time when grown men rhapsodized over “that new car smell.” Ahh, the ambrosia of success!
The experience went unchallenged. Nobody asked where the smell came from, or why it went away.
Likely, it came from off-gassing of the plasticized interior components. Could this be a problem? Nobody asked.
Plastics have come a long way since the days of Bel Air Coupes. Toys, shopping bags, furniture, medical equipment, fabrics – you name it, plastics are everywhere. They took over without anybody really noticing. In the nine years since 2011, the industry cranked out 28 million tons of plastic. Is there a problem? This time people are asking.
Methane, extracted from deep underground reservoirs by a process known as hydraulic fracturing, is the raw material from which most plastics are created. Diversion of scarce water supply, wastewater disposal, and toxic chemical dispersion are some of the problems with this process. Leaked methane, which in turn accelerates global warming, is another. The raw material for plastics is itself the source of multiple environmental problems.
Durability is plastic’s virtue and bane. Plastic debris turns up everywhere, even in the deepest ocean trenches. Plastic clogs waterways and is ingested by marine life. Biologists tell us that plastic never breaks down, it just breaks up, eventually forming a stew of plastic micro-particles which, in turn, bond to toxins. When mistaken for food, these particles can be fatal to marine life. Recycling has not been the answer either. Only about 8 percent of plastics are actually recycled.
Sasha Adkins, in a recent Sojourners magazine article, points out that single-use plastics are both cause and metaphor for a deeper spiritual problem. We’ve drifted into a form of disposable culture. Jobs, clothing, relationships, pleasures – everything is single-use and disposable. Use it once and throw it away.
The oceans can’t go on this way. We can’t go on this way. We need to turn back to the wholeness and interrelationships which God built into the natural order.
This Lenten season may be a good time to ponder that turning back. Lent is traditionally the season when the faithful are asked to give something up – not as penance or self-flagellation, but as a way of clearing the mind and focusing on what God is calling you to be.

So, how about giving up plastic for Lent, or at least working at it? Michigan Interfaith Power & Light has created a “Plastic Fast for Lent calendar.” Each day takes you deeper into the discussion. The calendar can be found at
 Macatawa Creation Care is a Holland-based association of persons across denominational lines who believe and act on their understanding of environmental care as a willful expression of faith. Peter Boogaart plays the role of group coordinator.

This Week’s Sustainability Framework Theme
Environmental Awareness/Action: Environmental education and integrating environmental practices into our planning will change negative outcomes of the past and improve our future.

Living Sustainably is a collection of community voices sharing updates about local sustainability initiatives. It is presented by the Holland-Hope College Sustainability Institute, a joint project of Hope College, the City of Holland and Holland Board of Public Works. Go to for more information.

Plastic’s durability is its virtue but also its bane – as seen where it collects in waterways locally and around the world.
Plastic trash amounts to a large share of the materials cleaned up along local waterways every year.