Day 27: Reuse. Recycle. Compost.
One of the great debates of our society is the impact on our environment from our “use and toss” culture. At times, the debate gets rather heated. As a country some 300 Million people strong, where our garbage ends up should be a discussion that we all take a part of since, as stewards of God’s gift of the Earth, we should take responsibility for our own use of not only the plant’s resources, but also how we as a society deal with junk.
For as long as there has been garbage, it has either been dumped in a landfill or in some body of water or even burned. As our world’s population continues to grow, the issue of how we can best deal with our garbage is something that we must begin to deal with seriously.
Now I must admit – I am not a radical environmentalist. I do not own a hybrid car. I don’t scream at people who don’t recycle, though I chuckle at supposed environmentalists who smoke and throw their cigarette butts on the ground.
However, I do use those expensive lightbulbs instead of incandescent. During the daylight, I rarely turn on the lights either at home or in the church office. I also compost (something new for me). My recycling bins are rather full each week. In the supermarket, I either use the reusable grocery bags I purchased or paper bags. When purchasing fruits and vegetables, I use paper bags (especially at Whole Foods in Paramus) or just shun the plastic bags altogether. And in those times when I need to use plastic bags, I recycle them. My paper towel usage is getting less and less as I have started to use reusable shop towels for everyday cleaning and in those times I spill something.
During the past several months, I have found that with just a few changes to how I shop, my once weekly garbage bag is now bi-weekly. Now that I am composting, I am wondering how much less garbage I will produce.
At church, most of our lighting is fluorescent. We do have a small number of bulbs that have incandescents in them, but in time as they ‘pop,’ we will replace them with energy efficient bulbs. We do recycle paper and commingles. Overall, Saint Matthew’s is getting better on how we deal with our waste.
There are a couple of areas that I believe we need to tackle a little more dramatically: paper and throw away cups and utensils.
First, on paper: Basically, we use a lot of it during the week. Our bulletins — both worship folders and announcements — use a lot of paper. Not only is this costly (it costs the church approximately $53 per 10-ream carton of legal sized copy paper), but honestly, most of us will end up throwing it out in the garbage instead of tossing it in the recycling bin.
There is a great option available to the church: Stop printing a worship folder and use the liturgies right out of the hymnal. This way, our paper costs would spiral downward. While I would not mind this, I believe the printed liturgy with the options we have added (using hymns and portions of hymns in place of pieces of the liturgy; using updated confession and forgiveness; adding additional singing to parts of our liturgy, etc.) are of greater benefit than a strict, point by point following of the hymnal liturgies.
To help compensate, Saint Matthew’s has started digitizing our weekly bulletins and announcements. Outside of our Morning Prayer and Wednesday Worship services, we offer a downloadable option that can be used on an iPad or other tablet. These downloadable worship folders include all the portions of the liturgies, including the hymns. For our Morning Prayer services, you can go to the page on our website and follow along, clicking the reading links out to a third-party site. A growing number of the membership of Saint Matthew’s has access to a tablet and are using them in church. This option is also available for you at home — you can print out your own copies and bring them with you to church (and after church, if you toss them in our recycling bin, you’ll get a gold star!).
The main purpose of digitizing the services is not just to use new technologies, but to reduce our paper footprint at church. The less paper we need to purchase saves the church money. It may not make a great dent in our annual expenditure budget, but when churches are trying to find ways to reduce spending without hurting the spiritual service we offer, any small reduction is good.
Saint Matthew’s is also beginning a new email communications service through Constant Contact. This has been a long time in coming — we’ve had several false starts. But this week, I will be talking it over with our administrative assistant to begin using this tool. By using our church website and the internet email service more often, we will be able to also reduce our paper usage once again.
Of course, there is another larger step that the church can take to greatly reduce our carbon footprint: We could install HD screens or TVs in the church sanctuary and stream our worship service bulletins and announcements on them each week. This would require a great expenditure of funds, something no one at Saint Matthew’s wants to do right now.
By making small steps in how we can reduce our paper usage we will take a larger step towards keeping junk out of the landfill.
Second, on utensils and other items: Several years ago, Saint Matthew’s donated the vast amount of plates and cups to a Vietnam Veterans’ organization. The weight of these unused plates was destroying the shelves in our cabinets. While a good idea, we’ve become very reliant upon throw away cups, plates, forks and spoons.
I am making a suggestion: in the Upper Classroom, let’s set aside an area where we can offer ceramic cups for use during the coffee hour. This would be optional — we will still have paper cups for those who want to use them. But when we consider the cost of the styrofoam cups in our landfills, we can begin to reduce our waste by using ceramic mugs. We can pick up some of these cups at the dollar store in town or at the Christmas Tree Shoppe. Or even we can bring a mug from home and use it at church. Yes, I understand that these mugs will need to be washed each week — but this is a tiny issue (I am offering to wash them).
On forks, spoons, and knives — we are already beginning to deal with this issue by using non-plastic alternatives (read: the knives and spoons and forks we kept).