It Comes with the Season
Updated: Jan 1
The US generates more municipal waste per person than any other country, and the amount increases during holiday season. That makes December a good time for the spiritual discipline of Living Connected to focus on waste. Today’s blog post reflects on what’s in our trash and recycling bins and offers practices for changing their contents. For more waste-related practices, follow my Facebook page. I’ll post a Living Connected Practice of the Week each Tuesday in December.
Also remember to check my mid-month blog posts for reflections on random topics related to eco-justice. The November post was about the conflicts between human ways and Mother Nature’s ways.
Look inside one of your household trash or recycling bins. Notice the variety of materials, colors, and maybe odors. Most everything in the bin came into your house as something useful to you and your family. Celebrate the service and pleasure these items gave to you.
All household waste starts as part of the earth and its natural systems. Food scraps are from plants and animals. Paper and cardboard are made of trees. Glass, plastic, and metal items are made of sand (glass), petroleum, rocks, or other materials extracted from the earth. Some came from your own bioregion, and some came from far away. In its own way, our trash and recycling bins represent our planet. Take a fresh look at the world within the bin and reflect on where it will end up and who lives (both human and other creatures) near the places where it’ll go.
Focus on one piece of trash, preferably from an item you use a lot. Say a prayer of thanks for the gifts of creation that is represented by this item. How might you change your buying habits for this item, to reduce the amount of the planet that goes into your trash and recycling bins? Or how might you repurpose, reuse, or better recycle what’s left of this item?
Waste is the part of something that we declare worthless or useless to us. It’s not an inherent characteristic of an item. Peter Brown and Geoffrey Garver in their book Right Relationship: Building a Whole Earth Economy, say it in another way. They call waste “an asset that’s out of place.” Here are some practices to help think of waste as a gift of creation, an asset that can be returned to the circle of life for use by other people or life on the planet.
Before discarding an item, give thanks for the gifts of creation that went into it and pray for a time when you’ll have an option other disposal.
Consider the way God’s Word may inform your perspective on the way we turn creation’s gifts into waste: Genesis 1:1-25; Psalm 24:1-2; Psalm 148; Luke 15:11-14, and John 6:1-13.
Read and reflect on Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion-Dollar Trash Trade or Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale, both by Adam Minter
Keep a log of everything you throw into the trash and recycling bins. What 3 things or types of things (e.g., plastic overwrap) do you discard the most? Use the Zero Waste Hierarchy to make changes.
Contact your city or county and ask about options to divert your recyclables, yard trimmings, household hazardous waste, and other wastes from disposal.
Use the Earth 911 item and zip code search to find material recovery places for items not accepted by community recycling programs.
Ask your waste hauler where your waste and recyclables go; then, go see the facilities. Drive the surrounding area. Who lives near the facilities? How are they impacted? How is the landscape impacted?
Buy appliances and electronics based on which manufacturers offer a takeback program and use their program.
Advocate for adoption and implementation of Bottle Bills (e.g., container deposits) like the ones already passed in ten states.
Advocate for the Right to Repair products you’ve purchased.
Start a team to develop an action plan for zero waste where you worship or work. Contact me for help with this practice.
If you're part of a Lutheran congregation, invite your congregation into a creation care covenant.