Living without plastic: The start of a 40-day, very 21st century challenge

Every year, Country Life's Rosie Paterson issues herself a challenge for Lent. This year she's really got her work cut out: attempting to give up plastic and plastic packaging for the whole 40 days.

‘Your carpet probably has plastic in it… just saying’ announces Giles, Country Life’s esteemed Interiors Editor, in a knowing voice.

‘I’m not eradicating plastic from my life completely’ I reply through increasingly gritted teeth. ‘I just cannot buy anything with plastic in it. Or packaged in plastic.’

A little context perhaps: every Lent, I give up, or take up, something I know I’ll find testing. This year, it’s plastic.

It’s probably my most ridiculous idea to date and that takes some doing. In my final year of university I proudly forsook all processed food and turned a deliberate blind eye to the sudden lack of dinner invitations. Last year it was sugar. I only caved once, in the Maldives. Well, it would have been nonsensical –  perhaps even dangerous, in such heat – not to have eaten the ice-cream.

Once, I vowed to exercise for 30 minutes every day of Lent. I managed to stick to that one. Then there was the year when I vowed to say a gracious ‘thank you’ when someone paid me a compliment, rather than playing it down. And the list goes on, and on…

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I’m the first to admit that I love a — some would say, pointless — challenge (I blame my parents for passing on a double dose of competitiveness) but this year the memory of a baby Albatross regurgitating a plastic bag, fed to it by its unsuspecting mother, and Sir David Attenborough’s chastising voiceover is seared into my conscience.

Make no mistake, I’m not expecting to fix the world. After all, Rome wasn’t built in 40 days and 40 nights. Somewhat selfishly, I’m hoping the exercise might alleviate some of my guilt and, in the long run, open my eyes to an ever-growing problem. There are 6.3 billion tonnes of plastic waste on Earth and, if left unchecked, the plastic in our oceans will outweigh fish by 2050.

So far, support has been a little underwhelming. ‘Have you seen your bathroom?’ asks my flatmate. Admittedly it does resemble a well-stocked French pharmacy.  I march on, undeterred, compiling lists of nearby waste-free shops (you take your own containers and stock up on everything from rice to chocolate-covered almonds), farmers markets and butchers. Next I unearth the bags-for-life from various kitchen cupboards, in such numbers that I suspect they’ve been breeding.

Rosie’s fridge: Full of plastic

Most importantly, I discover that Lush sells shampoo, conditioner and even primer in solid bar form, and quickly banish thoughts of restocking my wash and make-up bags in advance. Jesus didn’t pack a picnic before setting off into the desert after all.

My new plastic-free(ish) life commences on the first day of Lent, Valentine’s Day. According to my diary the evening looks decidedly empty so a trip to my first market probably ensues. Wish me luck.

You can follow Rosie’s progress every Friday at – she’s also on Instagram at @rosielkpaterson

Next time Rosie buys a giant inflatable unicorn it’s going to have be made of… er… well, not plastic, anyway.