“The Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth…once beautiful landscapes are now covered with rubbish.”
– Pope Francis, Laudato Si
These rather harsh words from Laudato Si come to mind every time I go for a walk in my neighbourhood. Actually, wherever I’ve travelled in this province I’ve always been taken aback by the incredible amount of litter I see. Much of it is a result of inadequately-secured trashcans and dumpsters or uncovered garbage bags. Much of it has simply been tossed by individuals with no moral qualms about treating our land as a trash heap. Regardless of its source, litter is more than a thoughtless desecration of the earth entrusted to our care. It is an outward and visible sign of a deeper brokenness that afflicts much of the human family – our unwillingness to accept full and personal responsibility for the waste we create. This brokenness goes much deeper than failing to ensure the waste we create winds up in our municipal landfill and not in our soil, forests and waterways. Indeed, addressing it requires an intentional decision to create the smallest amount of waste possible and finding tangible ways to live out that decision.
We have become much more intentional about recycling as a means of reducing the waste we create. While this is a step in the right direction, it should be seen as a least-worst option. First of all, just because something is “recyclable” doesn’t mean it will be accepted by municipal recycling programs. Often, there is no viable market for a particular “recyclable”; consequently, such items wind up in the landfill. There are also times when recycling is actually down-cycling. This is especially true of plastics. While glass, steel and aluminum can be recycled repeatedly, plastics can only be recycled a few times, and even then as a lower-value product. That plastic water bottle you recycled does not become a new water bottle. So, there are times when recycling simply delays waste entering the waste stream.
A better way to reduce waste is to reuse items, finding new uses for items that no longer serve their original purpose and repairing items that can still serve their original purpose. We can also re-gift items we no longer need by giving them to someone else who can use them (Home Again Furniture Bank comes to mind). As long as there is a use for something it shouldn’t wind up in the waste stream. However, much of what we consume today is disposable, difficult to use in another way, and cost-prohibitive to repair (intentionally so, to get us to consume more). Taking creation care seriously demands that we become thoughtful – indeed, reluctant – consumers.
When it comes down to it, the most effective way to care for creation is to reduce the waste we create in the first place. If we refuse to buy, accept or otherwise consume something we really don’t need, that something will not enter the waste stream. If we gave as much consideration to the impact a purchase will have on our planet as to the impact it will have on our wallet, a lot less would enter our waste stream. “Reduce” is the first of the three R’s for good reason.
Quite frankly, our planet cannot sustain the debauchery of unbridled consumerism that plagues our society. In this province we produce more than sixteen hundred pounds of waste per person annually. If there ever was a time to accept full and personal responsibility for the waste we create, it is now. This requires that we walk a path of counter-cultural intentionality. So, too, does our baptismal covenant.
Father Mark Nichols is the Associate Priest of St. Mark’s.
Originally published in the January 2019 issue of Anglican Life.