Subscribe for 33¢ / day

I happened across an interesting story about how the Church of England has challenged its members to give up single-use plastic for Lent.

"I think it might well be a first for us, to have an entire Lent program on an environmental issue, but it is very much an integral part of what the church is about," Ruth Knight, the church's environmental policy officer told the New York Times.

Environmental stewardship "to safeguard the integrity of creation" is one of the five "marks of mission" the church lists in describing its purpose, she said.

Naturally, I think this single-use plastics challenge is a great idea, both in terms of reducing consumption — hopefully forever in the formation of new habits — and raising consciousness about other ways we can reduce our consumption of ... well, just about everything.

The Church of England created a calendar, with each square of Lent bearing either an environmentally themed Bible verse or a suggestion on how to avoid buying single-use plastic.

• Take your own reusable bags with you to the store. (To me, this is a given. Yet every Saturday I watch people leaving the grocery store with plastic bags that literally are in use for minutes before being discarded. It makes me crazy!)

• Give up disposable cups and drinks in plastic bottles. Carry a travel mug or water bottle. Fill it up before leaving your house and refill it wherever you happen to be.

• Carry your own reusable container for leftover food at restaurants.

• Carry your own non-plastic cutlery. Plastic disposable cutlery and straws are among the worst plastic pollution culprits. Get in the habit of carrying your own with you in the car.

• Check labels of toiletries such as toothpaste and facial scrubs. Anything with "polyethylene" listed as an ingredient means the product contains tiny plastic beads that never really go away. They just go down the drain and become part of the world's water.

So that's five.

After that, the church's list of suggestions becomes more difficult. Who sells dental floss in anything but a plastic container?

And that is part of the curse of plastic. It's so versatile, so ubiquitous, that there's no getting away from most of it. It has become vital to the functioning of life as we know it.

But it's very difficult, if not impossible, to ever really get rid of, and that is the other part of the curse.

A large part of the world's plastic waste — estimates range from five million to 13 million tons per year — ends up in the oceans, according to the New York Times' article. Circulating currents have created immense rotating patches of waste, mostly plastic, in subtropical regions.

Wave action and sunlight break floating plastics down in smaller pieces, but some of them are very slow to degrade chemically, and are toxic. Animals (including birds and fish) eat bits of plastic, with ill effects on them.

And then we — that is, humans — eat some of these animals and fish and so we, too, get plastic in our systems. The effects this might have are only beginning to be researched and understood.

Meantime, we do what we can do. During Lent and beyond.