by the Rev. Barbara Threet
Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about plastic, and how much of it I use, and how I could use less.
I’ve made some changes long ago – switched to canvas shopping bags (except for when I forget to put them back in the car), stopped buying plastic water bottles (except when I’m traveling overseas and there’s no good water source to refill my metal one), tried to buy drinks in cans rather than in plastic cups (except when I’m feeling too lazy to go into a store and just settle for fast food). You get the picture: all too often, my actions don’t follow my intentions. I drive an 11-year old hybrid car though, I’m careful to turn off lights, my garden is pesticide-free, and my blanketed water heater is set such that I don’t automatically need to add cold water to make the temperature bearable. I try.
I suspect you do too. And I suspect that at least some of you, like me, struggle with how complicated or how inconvenient it is sometimes to do the right thing. And recent news that much of what we’ve so carefully sorted into the recycling bins just winds up in trash anyhow makes it all feel so much more frustrating!
So, once again, I’m trying to pay more attention to creating less trash to begin with. I’m reminded of a video one of my grandsons showed me: There’s No Such Thing as Waste (only stuff in the wrong place). And it’s so easy for things to wind up in the Wrong Place – like the estimated 5 trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean. Over a tenth of our litter comes from drink-related refuse: plastic bottles and coffee cups and straws.
Acrylic and polyester release fibers into the water when you do laundry, which go out with the rinse water and don’t break down. Cotton releases fibers too, but they’re organic: they break down. Plastic spoons and forks don’t break down either, but it’s not difficult to carry a spoon in my purse, rinse it off in a restroom after using it, and stick it back in my purse for the next time. And I’ve gotten lots better at actually writing hard copy letters to companies who send me materials I don’t want, with their mailing label to me attached to a request to stop sending me things.
But there are things for which I haven’t yet found an alternative. I’ve switched from individual yogurts to quart sizes which, I tell myself, create a little less waste. But the obvious recycling sources, like donating them to a pre-school – how many plastic cups do they really use? I have some wonderful woolen socks that I actually do darn, but when lightweight socks wear through in the heels, what else can I do but toss them? Frayed towels can go to an animal shelter, but what about shirts with elbows worn through? It seems disrespectful to pass them on. And frankly, I have limited time and energy to agonize over every article.
I’ll keep trying. There are a few boxes of books to go to the local used book store, and a pile of clothes I no longer wear to donate. But what about the dozens (OK, hundreds) of pretty obscure theological and religious books I have? Anyone who really wants a commentary on Haggai and Zechariah (they’re books in the Old Testament), or a Concise History of the Early Church will probably just go on line. So what do I do with those many, many shelf-feet of books? (Leaving them for my daughters to deal with some day doesn’t seem like a responsible or compassionate option either, and they emphatically agree!)
Living on this earth responsibly is not always easy, and it does require constant evaluation of what works and what doesn’t. Once again this spring, though, I’m going to try to clean up my ecological house, and minimize what I bring to it, and especially what I toss out into it, as if it would disappear. It won’t. What I do matters to our world, and what you do does too. Matter is neither created nor destroyed, but only changes form – and there’s no such thing as waste.
Shalom and Salaam,