You might have noticed excitement building among your Muslim colleagues, friends or neighbours over the past few weeks, as we've been counting down to Ramadan – which this year takes place from mid-May to mid-June.
During this month Muslims fast during the day. You might think 30 days of not eating or drinking anything from dawn to sunset sounds difficult – and it can be. But, for me, it's one of the most beautiful acts of worship.
And I’m excited to share some insights into the purpose behind the fast, how that relates to tackling the plastics crisis, and some practical actions we can take to break the plastic habit in a 30-day #FastFromPlastic.
Why go plastic free for Ramadan?
During Ramadan, Muslims eat a pre-dawn meal called suhoor to sustain ourselves through the long fasting hours ahead. Just after the sun sets we break the fast – called iftar – traditionally with dates and water.
But fasting goes beyond experiencing hunger and thirst for a short period. The purpose is to attain taqwa or consciousness of God, resulting in being more mindful of the impact of our behaviour on ourselves, others, and our environment.
This heightened state of self-awareness causes me to ask myself a question: as I break my fast, am I preventing another creature from filling its stomach with food because it’s full of plastic – for example the packaging on the food I’m about to prepare?
We’ve all seen the images of birds and whales full of plastic. They're a testament to our single-use, throwaway culture and the lack of suitable infrastructure to deal with plastic waste. Crisps or fresh salad, everything is wrapped in plastic – the cucumber, those cherry tomatoes, that bag of mixed greens.
Government and industry action is essential because of the scale of the problem and the difficulty we as consumers face in avoiding plastic. From the Arctic to the Mariana Trench, the remotest places on Earth can’t escape from plastic pollution. We know we have an immense issue before us.
Action on plastic
However, in this month of Ramadan my focus shifts to my own actions and the simple lifestyle changes I can make to reduce my negative impact on the environment. I can't fully appreciate the sweetness of fasting if the food I use to break it (all wrapped in plastic) might end up harming the beautiful, diverse life in our oceans.
I've decided that there's no better time to start taking action than the month designed to facilitate positive and lasting change. And I hope everyone - from all faiths or none - would agree that there's no better time to start tackling the plastics crisis than now. For me, that coincides with the month of Ramadan, but I hope you'll join me in working towards a #PlasticFreeFuture, wherever you are in your journey.
I've been inspired by our #PlasticFreeFriday campaign – the idea of pledging to give up single-use plastics for one day a week. And I've decided to extend that to 30 days for a #PlasticFreeRamadan.
Join me in a 30-day #FastFromPlastic
30 days is a great time for forming new habits and breaking bad ones. Small changes you can sustain are the key. I know I’m not going to be able to cut out all single-use plastics in one go. Instead, I’m focusing on the plastics wrapping my food and drink, along with some other simple changes we can all take to help us tread lightly on the Earth this Ramadan.
Even if you're not fasting from food and drink, will you join me in a 30-day #FastFromPlastic? It sounds difficult – after all, from the plastic film wrapping our fruit and veg to plastic cutlery, single-use plastics are everywhere. The key is to commit to some of the simple swaps below instead of getting overwhelmed – it all adds up.
10 top tips for reducing plastic waste this Ramadan
1. Make your intention public
For Muslims, intention is key – the essence of worship. The first step we take is an 'action of the heart'. Start by wanting to make a change, then make your pledge public: inspiring others to join you in a 30-day #FastFromPlastic.
2. Brush up on the facts
Help raise awareness about the harms caused by our plastic waste. Knowledge can lead to action.
3. (Nearly) plastic-free dates
It's traditional to close and break the fast with dates. I’ve tried (and failed) to find dates that are entirely plastic-free. Part of the challenge is in realising just how difficult it is to get away from single-use plastics. While the cardboard boxes containing the dates are recyclable, I’ve been unable to source any dates that don’t come in some plastic film.
My solution? Buy in bulk to reduce plastic waste – and share the sweetness (and plastic-free pledge) with friends and family.
4. Miswak smile
For a plastic-free smile, use miswak. It is highly recommended in Islam to clean one’s teeth using a miswak, a teeth-cleaning twig made from the Salvadora persica (arak) tree. It’s plastic-free, entirely compostable, and a beautiful reason to revive a tradition for a guilt-free smile. You can use a compostable bamboo toothbrush in addition to the miswak – and reduce the amount of plastic ending up in landfill as part of our daily routine.
5. Plastic-free groceries are key
You can find loose fruit and veg at local greengrocers and farmers markets, or get them delivered straight to your door through schemes like Abel & Cole. If shopping in store, don’t forget your reusable bag.
6. Drink up
After 18 hours in the heat without any drink, nothing tastes sweeter than that first sip of water. When out in the night, attending taraweeh prayers in the mosque for example, don’t forget your reusable water bottle. And encourage everyone you greet to do the same.
7. Plate up and serve with style
Honour your guests and safeguard the environment by using reusable cutlery for large community iftars at family gatherings or in the mosque. Serve refreshingly cold water using glass jugs rather than bottled drinks. If you don’t have stacks of dishes lying around the house for everyone, ask guests to bring in their own. Wash up together at the end of the meal – it's an opportunity to talk to them about why you’ve opted out of plastics this Ramadan.
8. Cover it up
Swap cling film for silicone covers, beeswax wrap, upturned plates or even foil to keep leftovers fresh.
9. Keep up that #PlasticFreeFriday feeling
Encourage people to sign our #PlasticFreeFriday pledge. Jummah (Friday) is traditionally considered the best day in the week for Muslims on a spiritual level. Let’s make it the best day in the week for the planet, our oceans, and marine environment by creating a #PlasticFreeJummah pledge which we can sustain after Ramadan for a lasting positive impact.
10. Plastic-free pact
Like schools and supermarkets, encourage your mosque, or home or other community organisation, to sign a plastic-free pact to ban single-use plastics this Ramadan and beyond. Speak to the Imam, tag them on social media and gently remind iftar organisers of the impact of plastic pollution –and how to avoid it.
I hope we can use this time of Ramadan to be more mindful of treading lightly on the Earth by phasing out all but the most essential single-use plastics in our own lives. You can urge the government and manufacturers to do their bit.
I wish you all a blessed, plastic-free Ramadan, and hope you join us in a 30-day #FastFromPlastic for a #PlasticFreeFuture.
Ahlyah Ali works in Friends of the Earth's supporter relations team, answering your questions.