As part of his message for ‘World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation’, Pope Francis highlighted some of the troubling developments over recent decades that have contributed to the ecological crisis and the signs of the crisis unfolding. He mentions among things: ‘the melting of glaciers, scarcity of water, neglect of water basins and the considerable presence of plastic and microplastics in the oceans…testify to the urgent need for interventions that can no longer be postponed’.
Picking up on one of those issues is our use of and disposal of plastic. Experts estimate that of all the plastics ever made, about 72% of it is lying around or dumped. That means that because plastic is not biodegradable, more and more plastic is being produced with less space to store it. This means that plastic makes its way into rivers, seas and the oceans. Up to 13 million tonnes of plastic leaks into the world’s oceans each year, including plastic microbeads from toothpaste, cosmetics and laundry products. Recent discoveries have found fish caught in the oceans and seas to contain within them traces of this plastic. This is indeed worrying for humanity for it means that plastic is making its way into the food-chain (For a very interesting video on ‘Are you Eating Plastic?’, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IpXgI-Nq8QY).
It is a question of each of us taking personal responsibility and to consider humbler lifestyles that impact less on the environment. For if we use less of something then the market for it will be reduced which means that less will be produced. In ‘Laudato Si’, Pope Francis encourages us to think along these lines when he wrote: ‘A change in lifestyle could bring healthy pressure to bear on those who wield political, economic and social power. This is what consumer movements accomplish by boycotting certain products. They prove successful in changing the way businesses operate, forcing them to consider their environmental footprint and their patterns of production’ (para. 206).
So what then can we do? Globally, Ireland is the top producer of plastic waste in Europe, producing 61kgs of plastic waste per person per year. That means that I am producing 61 kilos of plastic. How can I reduce this? A start is to eliminate single use plastic from my life. This would mean refusing to use plastic cutlery, plastic drinking straws and vegetable, fruit and meat that is packaged by plastics. We could use dishes or jars to store food instead of using cling film. We could drink coffee and tea in cups that are not plastic. We could re-fill water bottles with tap water instead of buying new bottles every time. Some 480 billion plastic bottles were sold globally in 2016 – that’s a million bottles per minute. Of these, 110 billion were made by the drinks giant Coca-Cola. Less than 50% of these were collected for recycling and only 7% were turned into new bottles.
We could follow the 3 R’s guideline – recycle, reduce, reuse. We could read labels and choose products like toothpaste, beauty products and household goods that do not contain microbeads or the plastics from which they are made, i.e., polyethylene and polypropylene. We can pick up rubbish, especially plastic rubbish from ponds, streams, rivers and beaches. We could join the global anti-plastic campaign by signing the pledge and encouraging family and friends to do the same (go to www.plasticfreepledge.com).
Friends, these are just some of the urgent interventions that we can do by way of response to the call of Pope Francis to do all we can to consume less and conserve more. These are just some ideas that qualify as ‘prophetic actions’ for our time by moving us towards a future free of plastic. Concluding with the words of Pope Francis: ‘Each Christian man and woman, every member of the human family, can act as a thin yet unique and indispensable thread in weaving a network of life that embraces everyone. May we feel challenged to assume, with prayer and commitment, our responsibility for the care of creation. May God, “the lover of life” (Wis 11:26), grant us the courage to do good without waiting for someone else to begin, or until it is too late’.