Bike as planter - excellent example of "reuse"!

By Cindy Haverkamp, Creation Care Connector

There’s a great little song by Hawaii’s Lava Jam Band that I used to sing with my kids to teach them about the 3 Rs – “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”.  Maybe you’ve heard those three words together? The idea is that we should reduce the amount of stuff we bring into our homes, reuse those things as many times as possible and then recycle them when we’re done with them. Despite the catchy jingle, though, people around the world are increasing, not reducing, the amount of waste they produce per day. Americans have the dubious honor of standing at the top of this refuse heap, creating approximately 4.5 pounds of trash per person per day.

Compounding our trash problem is that while we may feel good about our recycling and composting efforts – Americans have increased the amount of recycled or composted paper, cardboard and yard clippings almost five-fold since 1990 – the market for recycled items is way down.  China, the main importer of our garbage, reduced their import of American scrap plastic by 90% this year, causing many of the items we believe we’re recycling to end up in American landfills.

Your plastic recycling, awaiting a market.

While reducing, reusing and recycling were noble goals, it appears that more needs to be done to curb the tide of trash. A new movement, calling itself “Zero Waste”, adds the words “Refuse” (the verb, not the noun) and “Rot” (or “compost”) to the original 3Rs, challenges people to be like Lauren Singer, who claims she has fit all of her trash each of the last four years into a 16-ounce jar.

A full year’s trash in a jar!

Now, I just cleaned out my car yesterday and I can assure you that, after carting around two busy teens (and their friends) who often eat on the go, I had more than enough trash to put in a 16-ounce jar – and that’s just my car after approximately one month. I wondered how in the world Zero Waste folks do it?

My interest in Zero Waste was piqued in November during the General Board of Global Ministries Earthkeepers Training in Salt Lake City, Utah. A fellow trainee and member of the First United Methodist Church in Cary, North Carolina, Leigh Williams, was using a variety of interesting Zero Waste products (this was my favorite: and brought a mason jar along with her so that she could collect all of her food waste and take it home with her to North Carolina. Leigh, co-founder and blogger at Toward Zero Waste, says, “It’s not about the jar!”, but is, instead, about making conscious efforts to reduce waste however we can individually, in our workplaces and in our churches. Inspired by the book, Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson, Leigh and co-founder Dargan Gilmore, created Toward Zero Waste, to “help individuals, families and communities move toward zero waste by minimizing waste of all kinds, one step at a time.”

Many of you have probably already taken that first step by bringing your own bags to the grocery store or taking a refillable drink container to the coffee shop or the gym. Many of you probably also recycle as much as your town or city allows and some of you may even compost.

All of these are steps in the right direction, but I’d like to challenge you (and myself) to see if there isn’t a bit more we can do personally and in our churches (visit Zero Waste Church for ideas) to reduce our waste footprint further.

The United Methodist Social Principles remind us in ¶160 that “All creation is the Lord’s and we are responsible for the ways in which we use and abuse it.” It also calls us to place a high priority on changing our lifestyles to support “a more ecologically … sustainable world leading to a higher quality of life for all of God’s creation.”

Exploring and embracing one, two or all five Zero Waste principles – Refuse, Reduce, Reuse (or Repair), Recycle and Rot – in our homes, workplaces and churches, allows us to move toward a world more in line with the one God originally created for us.

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