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A different kind of fasting

Avoiding packaging and protecting the environment

Lara Heckmann presenting her accumulated plastic

"From knowing comes caring, and from caring comes change" – I have never been able to get this quote from journalist Craig Leeson in the poignant documentary "A Plastic Ocean" out of my head. The film brought to light the devastating impact that plastic has on our oceans. While working as a student intern at KfW Development Bank, I had the opportunity to see the film in relation to my work there. It made me aware of how my personal lifestyle – more specifically my daily plastic consumption – plays a role. I felt compelled to change it, ideally right away. Lent seemed to be a fitting time for my test phase which I dubbed "package-free shopping". So I fasted for six and a half weeks – too long for it to be easy and long enough to get used to it. I had already suspected that it would be difficult. But it was really difficult: It was not until my plastic fast that it became crystal clear that the search for plastic-free alternatives also takes a lot more time and money in addition to causing considerable headaches.

The rules were simple. In a nutshell: don't buy and consume any new plastic. I was already drinking tap water when I started my study so that I didn't have to reduce the plastic bottles I needed for mineral water. I bought juice, most other drinks and things like yogurt in glass bottles. I bought vegetables with no packaging at the supermarket, the organic shop or the weekly market. My solution for plastic-free cheese and spreads was to bring my own cans and jars to the shop or market. I thought this was going to be a lot more complicated than it actually turned out to be: a friendly request to put the cheese in my container without plastic wrap was all it took. Long explanations weren't necessary. The employees had apparently already seen other customers do this. One other added effect was that new tastes and aromas appeared on the dinner table. This was because plastic fasting for me – due to packaging – went hand-in-hand with pasta fasting, frozen pizza fasting, rice fasting and no pureed tomatoes; it was certainly an incentive to get creative with my cooking. I also had to pay attention when snacking or drinking during the day not to take a plastic chip fork or use a plastic straw in the soda bottle or iced coffee.

Still around 430 grams of plastic accumulated in six and a half weeks. It came from tissue packaging, shampoo bottles that became empty during the time, laundry detergent packaging or the plastic packaging for new lint rolls that were definitely indispensable for work. A glance at the statistics of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) showed me, however, this was still roughly 70 grams less plastic than an average German consumes per day.

Admittedly, I was happy when the fasting period came to an end. I first bought cheese from the supermarket counter, where at least the amount of plastic packaging is normally reduced. I also looked forward to pasta and cheaper feta cheese. But I still don't buy a lot of plastic items that used to be part of my everyday – toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, shower gel, washing-up liquid, laundry detergent, etc. For these and other things I am still using plastic-free alternatives. They exist, they just have to be found. And I baked, cooked or prepared a lot on my own. It was really fun but it was also time-consuming. I can generally recommend plastic fasting to everyone. Even if you don't want to get rid of plastic forever, you at least become aware of the huge quantities of plastic we use on a daily basis and how it defines our day-to-day lives. And then maybe the last step in the chain "Knowledge – Caring – Change" isn't as far off as Craig Leeson predicts in "A Plastic Ocean".

Lara Heckmann was a student intern at KfW from January to May 2017 and has significantly reduced her plastic consumption since then.