During the month of Ramadan 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.
Last year I shared some insights into the purpose behind the fast, and how our choices can reduce plastic pollution. The production of plastic contributes to climate change, so I’m excited to see that this year’s Ramadan is already looking greener, with mosques across the UK implementing eco-friendly iftars.
Despite this progress, climate change continues to devastate communities around the world. Let me tell you how you can help…
Why go plastic free for Ramadan and Eid?
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?
Let's reduce plastic for Ramadan
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.
Cutting out plastic 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 by telling your friends and family, You might want to share your pledge on social media, and inspire others.
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 delicious, nutritious 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. Find out more about reducing plastic in your kitchen.
9. 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.
10. Plastic and climate change
It might not seem obvious, but our reliance on plastic increases the demand for fossil fuels. This in turn drives dangerous climate change, which is having a devastating impact on the planet and communities around the world. Read more about plastics and climate change.
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.
Ahlyah Ali works in Friends of the Earth's supporter relations team, answering your questions.