Have you ever read an article titled something like “50 Tips to Sustainable Living” or “12 Ways to Go Green”? Even when you read the “quick tips,” it seems like they are asking you to walk everywhere, cook by fire, live without air conditioning and grow all your own food! These articles make you feel like you will need to make some drastic life changes to achieve any of these “sustainable ideas.”
Sometimes the tips for a sustainable life do not feel so sustainable after all. Adding the weight of caring for the earth to our already long lists of responsibilities can seem daunting.
Here at Intersect, we’ve talked before about the importance of caring for the earth as part of our Christian stewardship. Laura Thigpen explained both why and how Christians should be engaged in the environment, and David W. Jones offered reasons Christians care for creation.
How, then, can you practically live out your care for creation — without getting bogged down in an impractical list of overwhelming do’s and don’t?
In this series, I will share three sustainable ways you can easily adjust your daily choices to love God and love your neighbor through creation care. Hopefully, this will be a fresh start to something you have tried and felt like was an unattainable lifestyle. Or, maybe creation care is something you have never considered before. The bottom line is our Christian ecology is — at its foundation — married to Christian theology. Steven Bouma-Prediger asserts,
Because of who Christ is and what Christ does, there is gospel for us and the earth. Because Christ is the one in whom all things hang together, we know that the world is a cosmos and not chaos. Because Christ died on a cross, we eschew domination and, by contrast, rule by serving others, including the earth. Because the resurrection is the vindication not only of Christ’s work but of creation’s goodness, we fearlessly bear witness to the way of the cross and affirm the goodness of earthly life. Because Christ is the first fruits of the harvest, we are confident that God’s good future has begun, we yearn as aching visionaries for that day when God’s good future of shalom will be fully realized.” (For the Beauty of the Earth, 117)
Our union with Jesus Christ as the maker and restorer of all things is the basis for our desire to create a sustainable life.
If you are still skeptical about creation care as a whole and you’re afraid that recycling your milk carton might turn you into a hippie tree hugger or worse—an environmental Chicken Little—fear not! Creation care is just one more area where the gospel intersects with our daily life.
So, without further ado, here’s the first sustainable way to live a sustainable life.
Sustainable Choice # 1: Recycling
I remember the night my college pastor at the time looked me straight in the face and scoffed, ”It all goes to the same place anyway, right? Just put them in the trash.” I had asked if he wanted to recycle the 20+ plastic water bottles we just drank in their basement as we had our summer Bible study. I was shocked at the assumptions behind his comment. Nevertheless, his comments are a fair representation of the evangelical understanding of creation care today.
Why does it matter? Do recycled materials end up in landfills just like waste? Doesn’t recycling cost more money and use more energy than waste management, defeating the purpose of recycling altogether?
These are some of the questions and assumptions that can keep us from recycling. Although they are good to consider, these questions should not keep up from making recycling a habit of our sustainable life. Recycling does matter because it is doing exactly what is claims to do: re-cycling the same products and materials so that they can be used again — instead of all the materials ending up in landfills and requiring completely new materials to be made, endlessly adding to the number of manufactured products.
This process of recycling is more consequential and important than we can probably dare to imagine. Think about if every material that has ever been recycled was added to a landfill somewhere, would there be enough space in landfills? The Recycling Coalition of Utah estimates that “of the garbage Americans throw out, half could be recycled, which is enough to fill a football stadium from top to bottom everyday.” The effects of waste without recycling would be devastating.
Taking a closer look at only plastic waste, the Recycling Coalition of Utah asserts that “one ton of recycled plastic saves:
- 5,774 kWh of electricity.
- 685 gallons of oil.
- 98 million Btu’s of energy.
- 30 cubic yards of landfill space.”
Not to mention, plastic takes up to 1,000 years to degrade in a landfill while releasing toxic chemicals into the ground through decomposition. Yet it takes 88% less energy to recycle plastic than it does to make new plastic. Even so, we only recycle about 25% of America plastic. “If we recycled the other 75%,” claims the Recycling Coalition, “we could save 1 billion gallons of oil and 44 million cubic yards of landfill space annually.”
This is just the impact of plastic waste, which is one of the easiest items to recycle! It is evident that recycling is extremely important, and in the long run actually saves money, energy and resources compared to the resources used to create new materials.
As for the question about the integrity of recycling: do recycled materials end up in landfills just like waste? There have been reports of some cities just dumping recycled materials in with their waste to save the effort of sorting and transporting. This is not what usually happens, but an unusual and disappointing exception. This assumption should not keep you from recycling because it is just that: an assumption, and an exception to the norm.
I like to think of this situation much like I think of giving money to my homeless neighbors. Some people fear that if they give money to homeless people, it will be spent irresponsibly; as a result, it is irresponsible to provide people with opportunities for poor choices. I believe this misses the point. As Christians, we are not commanded to give to the poor and love our neighbor only if they do things the way we would do them— we are just called to love. We are commanded to be obedient on our end, regardless of the outcome.
The same is true with recycling. The Lord has given us a simple, daily way we can reduce our waste, care for the earth and love our neighbor through recycling. Again, we should be obedient on our end, regardless of the outcome.
Recycling in your home can be as easy as choosing to place recycled materials in a different garbage can. To make this easy, in my home I have a small garbage can under my kitchen sink that I put all recycled materials in. When it is full, I take it out and dump it in the recycling bin. This eliminates any piled-up stacks of recyclables waiting to go outside, gets the mess out of sight and it is as easy as throwing something away—by just placing it in a different garbage can!
Below is a pretty comprehensive list of what can and cannot be recycled. One quip tip: if it is a plastic container or you are unsure whether something can be recycled just look for the recyclable symbol on the product:
You might be surprised at how many things are recyclable just by paying attention!
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Image Credit: Maarten van den Heuvel / Unsplash