Ever wonder what happens to the stuff you recycle?
The average American produces roughly 4.4 pounds of trash every day, according to the EPA. The good news is that you’re recycling or composting a pound and a half – about 34 percent – of the waste products you generate.
But what happens to the 87 millions of tons of materials we recycle in the U.S. every year? Where do those plastic milk jugs go after they leave your curb? What about the empty beer cans you drop off at the recycling center?
Most recycled materials end up right back in your home through a complex (but surprisingly efficient) recycling process. To see what that recycling process looks like, check out this video from SciShow:
What happens to recycled paper?
Paper use in the U.S. has more than doubled over the past 20 years. The average American consumes 500 pounds of paper products per year – the same level of consumption as six people in Asia and more than 30 people in Africa.
Offices continue to be a major source of paper consumption. (So much for the paperless workplace.) But we also burn through tons of paper products in our homes. Everything from newspapers to cardboard boxes to telephone books passes through our lives and eventually lands in our recycling bins.
What happens next varies by the kind of paper you’re recycling. Each type of paper in your home or office is recycled into a unique set of new products:
- Newspapers – Newsprint is the universal donor of the recycling world. It can be manufactured into things like paperboard, building insulation, paper plates, sheetrock, kitty litter, counter tops and of course, more newspapers.
- Paper boxes and cardboard – Most paper and cardboard boxes are used to make more paper and cardboard boxes. But paperboard can also be used in the production of roofing materials.
- Printer paper – Printer and notebook paper are typically used to create other “white” paper products like tissues, toilet paper and napkins as well as more printer and notebook paper.
- Magazines – Magazine paper is tricky. But with the right recycling process, it can be used to make newsprint and paperboard products.
What happens to recycled plastic bottles?
The recycling process for plastics is complicated by the fact that there are several different types of plastics. For example, plastic milk jugs are made from a different material than plastic water bottles. Each type of plastic requires a different recycling process.
Plastic bottle recycling is a big deal. In the U.S., we empty 50 billion plastic water bottles a year. Fortunately, recycling makes it possible for those water bottles and other plastic products to have a second life.
- Plastic beverage containers – Soda and water bottles are often recycled into fabrics. Some of the product categories where your empty Coke or water bottles might reappear include water-resistant outerwear, bags and backpacks, and carpeting.
- Other plastic containers – Heavier plastic containers like detergent bottles or gallon jugs find their way into products made from dense plastics, like buckets, outdoor seating, playground equipment and even Frisbees.
What happens to recycled aluminum cans and glass bottles?
Cans and glass bottles are some of the most commonly recycled items in the home. States with container deposit legislation (like New York) have helped increase the recycling rate for aluminum cans to 67%. That’s almost double the recycling rate for all products in the U.S, according to the Aluminum Association.
The recycling rate for glass bottles is less impressive. In 2013, Americans recycled 41.3% of beer and soda bottles, and 34.5% of wine and liquor bottles. But states with container deposit laws boast a 63% recycling rate, compared to just 23% for states without legislation, according to data from the Glass Packaging Institute.
The takeaway: Container deposit laws work – and that’s a good thing because aluminum cans and glass bottles are 100% recyclable. Here are some of the products recycled cans and bottles end up in.
- Aluminum cans – The recycling process for aluminum doesn’t degrade the quality of the material, so aluminum cans are in an infinite recycling loop. They are usually manufactured into new aluminum cans. Recycling a single aluminum can saves enough energy to listen to a complete album on an iPod and recycled aluminum can reappear on a store shelf in as little as two months.
- Glass bottles – Recycled glass bottles have to be separated by color so manufactures can comply with industry color standards when they manufacture new bottles. In addition to new bottles, the glass bottles you recycle at home are used to make fiberglass for insulation and other glass products. The container and fiberglass industries purchase more than 3 million tons of recycled glass each year.
What happens to recycled tin cans?
The term “tin can” is misleading. Containers for soup and other canned goods are actually steel cans with a thin layer of tin. These materials are separated during the recycling process and used to manufacture a variety of products.
Interesting fact: Steelmaking is one of the most recycling-friendly processes on the plant. In North America, steel products always contain recycled steel, according to the Steel Recycling Institute. So, when you buy something with steel in it, you’re automatically buying a recycled product.
- Tin cans – The steel and tin in “tin cans” are repurposed for a range of products, including cars, construction materials, appliances and new tin cans.
Recycling is more than a good idea. For some people, it’s a spiritual discipline
There are encouraging signs that Americans have started to take the recycling message to heart. But with 66% of the products we consume left non-recycled, there’s definitely room for improvement.
Regular recycling habits are a good start. But for many of us, recycling is about more than remembering to drop empty egg cartons in the recycling bin. It’s a spiritual discipline.
Ultimately, we’re all guests on this planet and we’re called to play a role in caring for creation. By embracing recycling and other environmentally friendly practices as a spiritual practice, we can preserve the environment for future generations, while living our own lives in a more meaningful and intentional way.
Decent weather is finally here, so it’s time to get out our gardening tools and become growers again. But our gardens aren’t the only things that need tending. There are other parts of our lives that need us to become growers again, too.
Your name is Mud.
A few weeks ago I preached a sermon about gardening. (Fair warning: If you heard my sermon, some of this is going to sound familiar.) The sermon was based on a lecture Leonard Sweet gave when he was in town earlier this year, describing the interaction between God and humankind in Genesis 2.
Taking a deep dive into the text, Sweet conjured up an image of God sitting in the dirt, making mud pies. Not coincidentally, the word for humankind in the passage [adam] shares the same root as the Hebrew word that is used for dirt or ground [adamah].
Your name is “mud.” Literally.
Now here’s why all of this matters: In our first encounter with God, we find him working the soil and bringing forth life (us). From day one, you and I and anyone who has ever lived has been closely associated with the process of growing things from the earth.
So, the concept of becoming growers again is in our spiritual DNA.
What we’re seeing here is the birth of the creative process and it’s happening through the union of matter [dirt] and Spirit [God-breathed]. It’s literally at the intersection of heaven and earth.
Why don’t we grow and create things anymore?
You probably know what happens next in the Genesis story. God places Adam and Eve in the garden and tells them to “till it and keep it” (Gen. 2:25). For Sweet, this means that we have been called to do two things: Conceive things (till) and conserve things (keep).
But have you noticed that we don’t conceive and conserve nearly as many things as we used to? Here’s what we do instead:
- Criticize – From offhand remarks in conversations to tearing down other people and their work on social media, we’ve raised criticism to an art form.
- Consume – We live in the most materialistic society in the history of the planet. We measure success based on the things we accumulate. The American dream isn’t self-sufficiency and service – it’s to fill or garages and bank accounts to overflowing. It’s consumption run amok.
- Capitalize – We don’t nurture things, we capitalize on opportunities for our own gain. We even do it with relationships when we choose our friends based on what they can do for us.
We weren’t created to do any of these things. From the very moment humankind came into existence, we were created to be growers. God placed us in the garden to conceive and conserve — to create, grow, cultivate and nurture things.
Here’s how we become growers again.
We’ve been designed to bring forth new things, to be creative. Ever felt the urge to write/paint/sing/dance/etc.? That’s your creative impulse sending a reminder that you were created for a life beyond the office cubicle.
It’s time to become growers again and there are many ways that we can make that happen in our lives.
In our relationships.
Relationships represent the fabric of our lives. It’s important to grow and tend your relationships with family and friends investing your time, talent and energy in the people around you. Instead of criticizing them, go out of your way to find opportunities to encourage them and build them up.
In your community.
The world is full of vacant lots — people and places that have been abandoned, ignored and neglected. As growers and gardeners in the world, it’s up to you and me to seek out “vacant lots” and partner with God to bring them back to life. If you don’t know where to begin, start by volunteering and working alongside others who are active in the local community.
In your own life.
Life is hard. Every day brings a new set of challenges. We want to be growers again, but what happens when we’re the barren ground in need of a gardener? Remember that none of us have arrived — we’re all works in progress. Give God the best of yourself (your time, your energy, your passion) and he will do the rest, turning the dry places in your soul into a garden that is full of life.
Food Waste Reduction? Seriously?
Remember when your mother told you to finish your dinner because there are starving kids in Africa? As it turns out, your mom was onto something important. Food waste is at an all-time high in the U.S. and other industrialized countries, creating an urgent need for food waste reduction efforts.
Food waste reduction goes much deeper than finishing the last couple of green beans on your dinner plate. From food items that go bad in our refrigerators to produce that’s left to rot on the vine because it’s not cosmetically perfect, it’s mind-blowing how much edible food goes unused in the U.S.
Still not convinced that food waste is a problem? Then consider this:
According to the USDA and other sources, approximately one-third of the available food in the U.S. is thrown away.
For every two pounds of food that we consume, another pound of food is sent to the landfill. As it decomposes, discarded food creates massive amounts of methane — a greenhouse gas that is a primary contributor to climate change.
Here are some other food waste facts to think about:
- 133 billion pounds of food are wasted each year in the U.S. — that’s more than 20 pounds of food per person per month.
- Each year, consumers in industrialized nations waste an amount equal to the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (roughly 230 million tons).
- Food is the single largest source of waste in landfills, outpacing both paper and plastic.
- The annual cost of food waste totals $165 million — approximately the same amount of money it would take to end extreme poverty worldwide.
The numbers don’t lie. We have a food waste problem and whether you want to admit it or not, it’s not just restaurants and grocery stores that are to blame. We’re all responsible for wasting food — and that means we’re all responsible for food waste reduction.
What Does Food Waste Reduction Have to Do With Faith?
The issue of food waste reduction has spiritual and ethical implications, especially for Christians. Why? Because in addition to encouraging us to be good stewards of our resources, scripture invites us to lead lives characterized by of gratitude and humility.
Food waste reduction honors God and is part of a Jesus-centered life:
- When we waste food, we willingly discard God’s gift of provision and devalue the work of the farmers and laborers who fill our cupboards. By reducing the amount food we waste, we restore dignity, respect and gratitude to the cycle of production and consumption.
- Food waste is a symptom of a consumer culture run amok. When it’s done for the right reasons, food waste reduction is an act of defiance against consumerism and a prophetic choice for a simpler, more intentional way of being.
- Discarded food has an environmental impact. There’s a clear biblical case for environmental action and food waste reduction is another way to practice responsible stewardship toward creation.
But one of the most compelling reasons for Christians to practice food waste reduction is that it allows us to stand in solidarity with the poor. Frankly, it’s unconscionable that we waste a third of the available food in the U.S., while thousands of children and adults are still starving to death in Africa, Syria and other countries.
Here’s what Pope Francis said about the issue of food waste in 2013:
This culture of waste has made us insensitive even to the waste and disposal of food, which is even more despicable when all over the world, unfortunately, many individuals and families are suffering from hunger and malnutrition.
Once our grandparents were very careful not to throw away any leftover food. Consumerism has led us to become used to an excess and daily waste of food, to which, at times we are no longer able to give a just value.
Throwing away food is like stealing from the table of the poor and the hungry.
Intentional food waste is a sin, pure and simple. Food waste reduction a redemptive act — a spiritual practice through which we share the light and life of Christ with the world.
7 Simple Ways to Reduce Food Waste at Home
There are lots of ways to practice food waste reduction in your everyday life. To help you get started, the EPA offers a list of practical tips for reducing food waste in your home, including:
- Plan ahead. Weekly meal planning reduces waste and lowers grocery costs by limiting unnecessary food purchases.
- Use it up. To avoid buying new ingredients, try to focus on recipes with ingredients that are already in your pantry or refrigerator.
- Buy strategically. Buying bulk is fine — but only if you actually use the food you purchase. Many of us buy bulk and end up throwing most of it away because we bought more than we needed.
- Invest in proper storage containers. Consider ramping up your food storage game by investing in containers to keep food fresh for longer periods of time.
- Eat leftovers. Think you’re too good to eat leftovers? You’re not. If you aren’t excited about eating leftovers for lunch, consider designating one night a week as a “leftover dinner” to clean out the fridge.
- Donate extra food. If you have food that you know you can’t consume, consider donating it to a local food cupboard or soup kitchen.
- Compost. Think about composting kitchen scraps to reduce the amount of food waste at the local landfill.
How to Lower Your Energy Costs During the Christmas Season
Around here, we’re big believers in the idea that energy stewardship is part of living an authentic Christian life. But during the holiday season, energy costs can skyrocket. (Just ask Clark Griswold.)
Fortunately, you don’t have to choose between energy conservation and holiday celebrations. Here’s how to live it up during the Christmas season and lower your energy costs at the same time.
1. Use LED Christmas lights.
If you haven’t made the switch yet, it’s time to replace your antiquated Christmas lights with LED lights. LED lights use less energy than traditional lights. But the big savings are found in the fact that LEDs last up to 20 years. With LEDs, you can finally stop making your annual pilgrimage to Walmart to replace burned out light strings.
2. Fire up the microwave and slow cooker.
Food and Christmas go hand in hand. By using the microwave whenever possible, you can save serious energy dollars. Microwaves cook food faster (obviously) and reduce energy use by as much as 75 percent compared to traditional ovens. Even better, plug in the slow cooker. According to energy experts, you can cook a complete meal in a slow cooker for less than 17 cents.
3. Use your dishwasher.
Dishwashing is the downside of holiday foods and feasts. No one wants to be stuck at the sink and the good news is that you can save money by using your dishwasher instead of washing dishes by hand. The California Energy Commission says that dishwashers use 17 percent less water than washing by hand — savings that can be extended if you wait to do full loads and use your machine’s energy-saving cycles.
4. Check your thermostat.
Thermostats are low-hanging fruit for energy savings. Installing a programmable thermostat that lowers the temperature when you’re not home is common sense. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, turning back your thermostat 10-15 degrees for 8 hours each day can reduce your annual heating and cooling costs by 10 percent. When the heat is on, the ideal thermostat setting is 66 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
Extra Tip: On south-facing windows, keep the curtains open during the day and closed at night to further lower your energy costs.
5. Service your furnace and adjust your hot water heater.
By replacing your furnace filter each month, you can maximize heating efficiency. Annual service appointments also help ensure that your furnace is operating at peak levels. For even more savings, set your hot water heater to 120 degrees and lower water heating costs by 10 percent or more.
It’s inevitable that your costs (including energy) will increase during the Christmas season and that’s okay. If you can’t splurge a little bit to celebrate the birth of Christ, then what’s the point?
But wasting energy for no good reason? That’s another story.
Do yourself and the earth a favor this Christmas. Have fun and celebrate the season, but be proactive about findings way to lower your energy costs.
For everything there is a season, and this is the season for fall leaves. Raking and bagging leaves has to be one of the worst autumn chores. Just when you think the job is done, a windstorm inevitably brings down more leaves or transfers your neighbors’ leaves to your front door.
What do you do with all those fall leaves?
If you live in a town that picks up loose leaves and has a composting program, consider yourself lucky. Unfortunately, we don’t live in your town.
In the past, we’ve either paid a lawn service to pick up the leaves and cart them away (hopefully to compost), or we hauled dozens of bags of leaves to the curb. Neither option made us very happy. The lawn service cost money. But bagging our leaves always felt wrong because of the sheer volume of plastic bags that we sent to the landfill. (One year, we filled eighty-four bags!)
Despite composting efforts in many communities, the EPA estimates that we still send over 34 million tons of yard debris to landfills each year. The ridiculous thing about putting our leaves in a landfill is that they can actually be really good for your lawn and for the environment.
Fall leaves can help your lawn.
If you want a traditional green lawn, you can’t just leave thick piles of leaves on your lawn. Mold and moisture will kill the grass. However, mowing over the leaves with a mulching mower is an environmentally sound way to reduce yard waste and fertilize your lawn naturally.
Mulching your fall leaves has several benefits, including:
- Leaves are full of nitrogen and other nutrients that are good for your lawn and tree growth.
- Some leaves naturally prevent weed growth, which means fewer chemicals to kill weeds and a naturally healthier lawn.
- Dry, fallen leaves are part of the natural habitat for many types of insects. Leaving the leaves where they are is less disruptive to the natural ecosystem.
- It’s less backbreaking to walk behind a self-propelled lawn mower several times than to rake and rake and rake some more.
If the mulch left behind is too deep and covers the grass, consider starting a compost pile or adding it to your garden beds. You can also pile leaf mulch up around the base of the trees to help strengthen their roots.
Being good stewards of fall leaves.
It might sound silly to spend so much time thinking about fall leaves. But it’s the small, simple things that make a difference.
For the first time ever, we avoided taking any plastic bags to the curb this year. And we didn’t pay anyone a dime to do our fall cleanup. Sure, we walked behind a mower more frequently than we were used to. But it was a much more enjoyable fall cleanup for the whole family.
Still have fall leaves that need to be cleaned up? Try mulching your leaves this year. You’ll be stewarding a God-given resource in a responsible way that helps your lawn, your pocketbook, and the environment.
Pope Francis is headed to the U.S. in a matter of days. And when he arrives in the land of purple mountain majesties, he’ll find a Church that is deeply divided over environmental action.
But while conservatives and progressives squabble over the science and the politics of climate change, arguments about greenhouse gases and sea levels will likely drown out the most important point in the conversation …
The fact that environmental action isn’t a political or ideological issue. It’s a biblical one.
The Biblical Case for Environmental Action
With enough effort, you can make the Bible say almost anything. Pluck a verse from here, mash it up with another verse from there and voila!, you’ve supported your point with scripture. It’s called proof-texting and at best, it’s lazy theology.
So, instead of rehashing a list of passages, consider some of the themes that appear over and over in scripture:
God is the Creator.
Sincere, Jesus-loving people have different opinions about how it happened, but most Christians agree that God created the world and everything in it. The earth, the seas, the atmosphere, creatures of all shapes and sizes — God made it all. Through the act of creating, God sanctified creation and declared it to be good. God blessed creation and that alone should be enough to convince us that environmental action is a worthwhile concept.
Human beings are part of God’s creation.
You can’t opt out of creation. Again and again, the Bible makes it clear that we’re part of this world God has created — an intricately designed world in which every creature and ecosystem depends on others for its own survival. God hardwired interdependence into creation. Like it or not, your life and the lives of your descendants are connected to the health of the planet.
We’re called to be good stewards of creation.
Good stewardship is a major theme in both the Old and New Testaments. From God’s interactions with Adam and Eve to the parables of Jesus, we’re repeatedly told that God holds us responsible for the care and welfare of the gifts that have been entrusted to us — including this planet that we call our home.
None of these themes should be controversial for anyone who has cracked the spine of a Bible. If anything, they represent common ground that all Christians can unite behind when it comes to environmental action — a biblical basis for combatting overconsumption, environmental waste and blatant disregard for natural resources.
What Does Environmental Action Look Like?
Taking environmental action doesn’t mean that you have to stop using toilet paper or march topless in an environmental protest rally. But it does mean that you have to allow your conscience to be formed by the biblical call for environmental action and somehow respond to the spiritual urgency of caring for God’s creation.
Some common sense ways to take environmental action include:
- Lower your thermostat
- Switch to LEDs
- Walking or taking public transportation to the store
- Eat more vegetables
- Buy local
- Turn off lights and appliances
- Reuse and/or donate
On a larger scale, one of the best things Christians can do to respond to the biblical call for environmental action is to maintain an open mind and an open heart about creation care.
Francis and others have called attention to the fact that environmental concerns disproportionately impact the poor and marginalized in developing nations. By allowing our environmental responses to be formed by the Bible (rather than the politics of division), we stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters around the globe and demonstrate the kingdom of God to the world.
Why Conserving Water Is a Spiritual Discipline
This past weekend we took a day trip to Niagara Falls. One of the benefits of living in western New York is that we live within easy driving distance of a natural wonder. Given the number of times that we’ve visited the Falls, we sometimes take its beauty for granted, but it’s a great reminder that conserving water should be a spiritual discipline.
After watching over 750,000 gallons of water pour over the Falls every second, I was reminded that we are fortunate to live in a part of the world where we have fresh water in abundance. But there are many places throughout the world where water is scarce and clean drinking water is even scarcer. Life can be challenging and precarious in these places.
One benefit of getting over 100 inches of snow a year is that our region rarely experiences droughts. However, there are still good reasons to be more intentional about conserving water, even here in Western New York.
First, using less water conserves the water itself as well as the energy that it takes to clean and provide pure drinking water. Secondly, even when water is available in abundance, we need to protect our water sources to ensure that they remain clean and pure enough for good health.
We have been entrusted to care for God’s creation in all its forms. It’s time to stop allowing politicians, businesses and lobbyists decide what is best for creation and live up to our God-given responsibility by becoming more international about conserving water.
Practicing the Spiritual Discipline of Conserving Water
There are many ways to practice the spiritual discipline of conserving water and ensure that the water supply remains clean and pure. Here are just a few simple tips to help you get started.
Turn off the water while you brush your teeth.
Hopefully you’re brushing for the recommended 2 minutes or more. But you don’t have to run the water the entire time you’re brushing. A family of four can save over 800 gallons of water a month with this one simple discipline.
If you drop an ice cube, don’t throw it in the sink.
The ice cube may be too dirty to eat, but you can give it to your indoor plants. They don’t care whether the water they consume is cold or warm.
Men: Stop up the sink when you shave.
Rinsing your razor in the sink instead of running water will save up to 300 gallons of water a month.
Reuse your bath towels.
You just got out of the shower. How dirty can you be? Reusing towels will reduce water used for laundry, while also reducing the use of potentially harmful detergents.
Take shorter showers and use a water saving shower head.
You may love long, hot showers. But shorter showers will save time, money, and possibly your relationship. (Haven’t we all fought over who used up all the hot water?)
Wait until your dishwasher is full before you run it.
Seems simple enough. Who wants to unload the dishwasher more often than necessary anyways?
Exchange your hose for a broom.
Sweep or use a blower after mowing. Did you know that a hose uses 8-12 gallons of water a minute?
Water Conservation and the Christian Life
This list is just a start. Even a simple awareness of how much water we use every day can help us to be more careful about how long we run the tap.
God has entrusted us with the care of this awesome life-giving resource. Let’s not forget that at the end of the day, conserving water is a spiritual discipline.
Some fly. Some crawl. Some buzz. For a lot of people, insects are the most disturbing part of spending time in nature. But whether you hate bugs or just find them mildly annoying, you somehow have to come to terms with the fact that they’re part of God’s creation.
Why You Shouldn’t Hate Bugs
Insects stir up all kinds of negative emotions, from disgust to total fear. Believe me, I completely understand why you hate bugs. Just thinking about millipedes make me hate bugs, too.
But there are at least three really good reasons why you should learn how to make peace with bugs for your own good and for the good of the planet.
1. Every bug serves a purpose.
God created insects for a reason. In fact, every bug — even the really creepy ones — has a purpose. Bees pollinate crops. Ants clean up waste. Lady bugs protect your garden by feeding on insects that are hell bent on consuming your produce. Whether you like it or not, bugs exist by design and if they disappeared, life as you know it would no longer exist.
2. Pesticides are hazardous to people and the environment.
Getting rid of bugs usually involves the use of pesticides. More than 1 billion pounds of pesticide are used in the U.S. each year. That’s a problem because pesticides disrupt ecosystems and create health problems in people. Want proof? According to the latest research, honeybee populations are dying off at a faster rate in areas with the heaviest pesticide use.
3. Bugs are an important food source.
If you hate bugs, prepare to be really grossed out. Crickets, ants, termites and other bugs are important food sources for people around the globe. Combined with the central role that insects play in nature’s food chain, the caloric and nutritional benefits of bugs (for both humans and animals) are further proof that insects aren’t so bad after all.
In Psalm 96, the psalmist extols the virtues of the natural world and identifies the inhabitants of the field (including bugs) as things that are pleasing to God:
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
Let the field exult, and everything in it.
It’s not strange to hate bugs. On some level, insects intimidate all of us. But instead of allowing insects to ruin the time you spend in nature, recognize that every bug you encounter is fulfilling a God-given purpose.
Just like you.
Did you know that 40% of food produced in the U.S. gets wasted? While many households are considered food insecure, the rest of us are throwing out 25% of what comes into our kitchens. Food waste is a bigger problem than you may think.
What causes food waste?
In developing countries, food waste usually happens on the production side because farmers lack the technology, transportation, infrastructure, refrigeration, etc. that we have the in the U.S. Food spoils before it gets to the consumer. But in the U.S., the blame for food waste largely falls on consumers.
Thanks to first world technology, U.S. farmers can produce food more cheaply than it’s produced in other countries. And because food is relatively cheap in the U.S., we tend to value it less. We buy more than we need and throw out what we don’t use or want.
Cheap food also means that we can be pickier. The U.S. consumer wants food that looks pristine — perfectly round tomatoes and long, straight carrots. Supermarkets aim to please and give us what we demand.
So, farmers often leave up to 30% of irregularly shaped produce to rot in the field because consumers won’t buy it. Some of it makes it into other processed food like soups and ketchup, but most of it gets wasted.
Keep in mind that there’s nothing wrong with the food — it just looks a little funny.
Why is food waste a problem?
In the U.S., food waste a symptom of overconsumption. Food that is thrown away (even cheap food) represents wasted resources. Water, fuel, energy, chemicals, and soil — all of these resources are used in excess when we don’t actually eat the food that is being produced.
As people of faith, we need to remember that we don’t own the earth. We are just the stewards of it and we should steward it well. That means finding ways to create more ecologically sound and sustainable means of food production, especially when farming communities in places like California are struggling with water shortages.
What steps can you take to reduce food waste?
How do you think you’re doing in your own kitchen? This short quiz from ivaluefood.com will make you think about some everyday steps that you can take to reduce food waste. Here are just a few thoughts to get started:
- Plan meals.
- Take an inventory of your pantry before you shop.
- If an item is close to its expiration date, plan a meal using that item.
- Only buy and cook what you and your family will actually eat.
- Store leftovers and then eat them for lunches.
- When eating out, order small plates or box up the leftovers and eat them later.
These are not complicated choices. Reducing food waste just requires a little more awareness, planning and gratitude for the food that we buy and consume.
Last weekend I came face to face with a dirty little secret of the fracking boom — the deep divisions it creates between locals and out-of-towners.
“It’s how we pay the bills.”
When the calendar rolls around to the third weekend in June, it’s Laurel Festival time in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania. Maybe I’m biased (I grew up there), but Wellsboro is one of those quaint small towns that looks like it fell straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting.
It’s also a fracking boom town.
Since 1938, the Laurel Festival has brought thousands of locals and tourists together in a multi-day celebration of nothing in particular. There are food vendors. An arts and crafts show. A parade. Standard festival fare.
At this year’s festival, I met a woman in her late thirties or early forties. She was accompanied by her son, a junior high-aged kid with a hot dog in one hand and a snow cone in the other. Just an average, middle-class family enjoying the sights and sounds of a relatively obscure piece of Americana.
After a little small talk, I asked her where she was from. She said she was from down south somewhere. Virginia maybe. Then she leaned close and in a half-whispered, half-embarrassed voice she added:
“My husband works for an energy company. I know people around here don’t like us very much, but it’s how we pay the bills.”
Fractures in the Fracking Boom
In 2014, a documentary called The Overnighters won the Special Jury Award at the Sundance Film Festival. It’s a movie about the hostility a North Dakota pastor faced when he opened the doors of his church to give out-of-town oil field workers a place to sleep. In return for his acts of kindness, he found himself caught up in the conflict between local residents and a rising tide of non-resident laborers.
Although the divisions may not run as deep as they do in North Dakota, the conflict between locals and out-of-town energy workers has repeated itself in Wellsboro and hundreds of other small communities impacted by the fracking boom.
Here’s how the fracking boom scenario plays out:
Big energy moves into an area and pays local residents for mineral rights to their properties. The energy companies usually promise that the fracking boom will also mean jobs for opportunity-deprived local residents.
As activity heats up, the energy companies may hire some local workers to help meet production quotas. But many of the jobs are filled by industry professionals — out-of-town energy workers who come into town for a limited time and relocate when the energy companies move on to the next gas or oil field.
The sudden influx of out-of-town workers places enormous stress on small local communities. Infrastructure is stretched thin, rents go through the roof and marginalized local residents become homeless because they can’t find affordable housing.
You can see why locals and out-of-towners find themselves at odds with each other in fracking boom towns. A combination of competing interests and limited resources makes conflict inevitable.
The energy companies, on the other hand, walk away unscathed. At the end of the day, high rents, growing homeless populations and inter-group conflicts don’t matter as long as the company’s coffers are full. Sooner or later (usually sooner), they just move on and repeat the entire process in the next fracking boom town.
Fracking Boom Divisions and the Kingdom of God
I’ll be honest. There’s a part of me that wants to grab the locals and the out-of-towners by the shoulders and remind them that they’re on the same team. They’re all hardworking people trying to provide for their families the best way they can.
But I know it’s not that simple. And I think Jesus knew that, too.
Samaritans were the outcasts of the New Testament world. They were the outsiders. The people no self-respecting Jew would have anything to do with.
Yet, on several occasions, Jesus went out of his way to either reach out to Samaritans (the Samaritan woman at the well) or to use Samaritans as a model of godly behavior (the good Samaritan).
The point Jesus was making and the lesson we need to hear is that divisions between groups of people can be illusory. Jews and Samaritans, locals and out-of-towners — the dividing lines that separate us feel real. But they’re often false constructs created by powers with a vested interest in keeping us apart.
When a Samaritan helps a hurting Jew along the side of the road, or when a local North Dakota pastor gives out-of-towners a place to sleep, it’s disruptive. An act of rebellion that turns the whole system upside down. And it frustrates the powers. Why?
Because it reframes the conversation in the language of the kingdom of God.
In God’s kingdom, we may not all be the same, but we all have equal value. Through empathy, respect and understanding, we see other people the way God sees them. Eventually, we even begin to appreciate the challenges they’re up against.
Fracking boom towns come and go. Eventually, the out-of-town workers leave and the local community stabilizes. But unfortunately, new divisions will always rise up to take the old divisions’ place.
And we’ll have new opportunities to disrupt the status quo with the kingdom of God.
Caring for creation has suddenly become a hot button issue since the release of the Pope’s encyclical, Laudato Si. But should it be that controversial for Christians?
Pope Francis has been lauded by people from a range of denominations and faiths for his direct approach to real-world issues, his compassion and his humor.
In fact, a March 2015 Pew Research Survey showed that Francis is viewed favorably by 90% of U.S. Catholics, 70% of all Americans and 68% of those who are unaffiliated with any faith.
With approval ratings like these, why is the Pope’s latest Encyclical Laudato Si suddenly causing people to change their tune? Apparently, some politicians and pundits think it’s fine for the Pope to talk about any number of moral issues, but discredit him when he talks about caring for creation.
One of my politically minded friends summed up the attitude this way:
“The Pope should stick to moral issues, talk about salvation and work to save as many people as possible.”
But isn’t caring for the environment a moral issue? And don’t people need to be saved from their circumstances here and now?
The Moral Imperative of Caring for Creation
Issues of moral concern are more complex than simply defining “right” and “wrong.” They are defined by their potential to help or harm people. When it comes to the environment, what gets lost in the shuffle is that pollution and waste don’t just harm the environment — they harm people as well.
The Pope’s encyclical is much more comprehensive than the controversial issue of climate change. It addresses access to clean drinking water, the loss of biodiversity due to the overuse of the earth’s resources, the quality of human life and global inequality.
Can we deny that wealthy countries like the U.S. are using more than our fair share of the world’s resources? Or that our modern conveniences are creating harmful e-waste that impacts the lives of the poor in developing nations?
Laudato Si reminds us that caring for creation is a moral imperative. Let’s not be too quick to let political or economic interests prevent us from examining environmental issues more closely. Or from allowing our faith to inform our environmental choices.
When politicians say things like, “I don’t get my economic or environmental advice from the Pope,” we should remember that taking moral advice from politicians is a much riskier proposition.
The Pope’s climate change encyclical Laudato Si was leaked four days before its scheduled release. Here’s what to look for as the world prepares to debate a spiritual response to environmental change.
What to Expect from the Pope’s Climate Change Encyclical
Few unpublished documents have generated as much criticism and enthusiasm as Laudato Si — the Pope’s climate change encyclical. Literally translated as “Be Praised,” Laudato Si was leaked four days early.
Although the details of the document are still emerging, here are several things to look for in what promises to be one of the most historic spiritual documents of the past several centuries.
1. Care for creation is a moral and spiritual imperative.
For months, climate change critics have been clamoring that the Pope has no business talking about the climate — that the voice of the Pope (and by extension, the voices of people of faith) have no authority in conversations about the environment.
In true Francis fashion, expect the Pope to ignore his critics and state that care for creation is both a moral and spiritual imperative. In Psalm 24:1, it says:
The earth is the Lord’s, and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.
If we truly believe that the earth belongs to God, then we can no longer ignore our spiritual and ethical responsibility to care for the environment.
Whether you want to hear it or not, the climate is changing. The Pope’s climate change encyclical will call us to wake up and respond with the voice of spiritual and moral authority.
2. We all have a role to play in solving the problem of climate change.
We’ve known for several months that the Pope’s climate change encyclical will not be a scientific treatise. But it will affirm that climate change has been largely caused by human behavior.
For too long, the Christian community has remained silent (or worse yet, been complicit) in the overconsumption of the earth’s resources for profit or personal gain. While corporations have often ignored the planet for the sake of their shareholders, consumers have developed lifestyles that are incompatible with our responsibility to care for creation.
It’s likely that Francis will call us to evaluate our role as consumers of creation and adopt a more biblical role of stewards of creation. Good stewardship begins with change (which incidentally, is the call of the gospel). It’s time to change our behaviors and attitudes about the environment — and pressure corporations to do the same.
3. Global climate change is connected to global poverty.
The Pope’s climate change encyclical reportedly draws a direct line between climate change and living conditions for the planet’s poorest inhabitants.
It makes sense. Nations in the Global North profit much more from the misuse of creation than those in the Global South. But in a cruel twist, the day-to-day lives of residents of the Global South (e.g. Africa, Latin America, developing Asia) are more closely tied to creation and natural resources that are being harmed by exploitation of the environment.
The bottom line is that you should expect Francis to call out climate change as a justice issue — making it even more important for Jesus’ followers to take a more active role in reversing current trends.
The Pope’s climate change encyclical proves that Francis has no interest in avoiding controversy when serious issues need to be addressed. Laudato Si will undoubtedly have both detractors and advocates inside the Church and in society at large.
Whether you accept Francis’ invitation to help reverse climate change or not is up to you. But if you’re a follower of Jesus …
The real sin is to allow your political or ideological allegiances stop you from approaching the Pope’s climate change encyclical with an open heart and an open mind.
Because at the end of the day, it’s not about your political bent or your ideological persuasion. It’s about your willingness to consider how all of us can work together to care for the world God created.
Recently, I ran across a Japanese practice called “forest bathing.” Don’t get too excited — it’s not as racy as it sounds. It’s a simple remedy for anxiety, stress and other modern maladies.
What Is “Forest Bathing?”
Shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing” helps people reconnect with the natural world and unleashes the restorative power of God’s creation. On the surface, it looks a lot like spending time in nature. But dig a little deeper and you’ll discover that it’s not a typical weekend hike.
For starters, the idea isn’t to see how far or fast you can go. Forest bathing is about walking through nature in a leisurely, relaxed and contemplative kind of way. One of the instructional guides I found said that if you walk more than three miles in four hours, you’re going too fast. That’s a lot slower than the average walking pace of about three miles per hour.
Instead of approaching a nature outing like a wilderness race, you might walk a little bit and then stop to read a few chapters of a good book. After a while, you may meander further down the trail and then stop to soak in the sounds of the forest. You get the idea.
The Benefits of Forest Bathing
God looked at his creation and called it good — a concept that has been affirmed by writers and thinkers throughout the centuries. It turns out that nature is more than good. In fact, time spent in nature has restorative properties for our mental and even physical selves.
In Walden, Thoreau said, “We need the tonic of wilderness.” The Japanese have discovered that forest bathing really does serve as a tonic for our minds and bodies. According to the Japanese, the benefits of forest bathing include:
- Reduced blood pressure
- Lower stress
- Increased energy levels
- Improved sleep
- Greater focus
Now here’s where it gets kind of weird. Citing environmental immunology research conducted by the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, proponents of forest bathing claim that the practice changes the human immune system.
Blood tests taken before and after forest bathing “sessions” show a boost in the types of cells that help the body fight off illnesses — including cancer. It’s believed that forest air contains compounds from the surrounding trees, flooding our bodies with substances that have both anti-microbial and immune-boosting properties.
Nature as a Tonic for the Soul
Although I’m not a scientist, I suppose it’s possible that nature could have a positive impact on our immune systems. But here’s what I know for sure:
Time spent in nature is a healing tonic for the soul.
I’ve never regretted the time I’ve spent in nature. Not one minute.
Still, I recognize that a lot of the time I spend in nature is devoted to getting from Point A to Point B (and back to Point A). Hiking is great exercise, but it focuses on the destination at the expense of the journey. Too often, it’s about achieving a goal, rather than simply enjoying the process.
And that’s what appeals to me about the forest bathing concept. The ability to luxuriate and soak in God’s creation is a spiritual skill — a skill that we need to learn if we have any chance of preserving our sanity and our souls in an increasingly complex and fragmented world.
God has a green thumb. Planting flowers and vegetables is more than a spring ritual — gardening benefits the planet and your soul in several important ways.
Gardening benefits more than the appearance of your yard.
Some people love planting gardens and flower beds; others tolerate it as an annual rite of spring. But love it or hate it, gardening benefits more than the appearance of your backyard.
Believe it or not, gardening was once considered to be a patriotic duty.
During WWI and WWII, citizens of the U.S. and other countries were encouraged to grow gardens to assist with food production. These residential food plots came to be known as “victory gardens.”
By 1943, there were 18 million victory gardens in the U.S. and they were credited with helping the Allied Forces win the war.
Residential gardening benefits the earth.
We all have a part to play in caring for creation. Although most of us want to get involved, we struggle to find ways to make a meaningful difference when it comes to problems like climate change.
Obviously, your little tomato garden won’t save the planet by itself. But it’s a step in the right direction because there are several ways that gardening benefits the earth:
1. Cleaner air.
Plants are nature’s air filters. In addition to absorbing CO2, the vegetables and flowers you plant in your home gardens filter air pollutants and inject fresh, clean air into the world.
2. Reduced erosion.
Plants and mulch reduce wind and water erosion by holding soil in place. Erosion pumps sediment into storm drains and streams. And sediment contains bacteria and other substances that can kill aquatic life, raise water temperatures and damage water quality.
3. Lower energy use.
The right environmental landscaping strategy can reduce the amount of energy it takes to heat and cool your house. According to some estimates, intentional landscaping and a well-positioned tree can reduce home energy costs for heating and cooling by as much as 25 percent.
4. More sustainable food production.
One of the most important gardening benefits relates to sustainability. Organic vegetable gardens are sustainable food systems because they are healthy for your body, society and the planet. Every food item you grow takes money away from industrial food systems that prioritize profit over God’s creation and your physical health.
Gardening benefits your soul, too.
The book of Genesis proves that God has a green thumb.
But whether you have a green thumb or not, gardening benefits your soul and helps you live a more intentional spiritual lifestyle. Here’s how …
5. Less stress.
Gardening is a proven stress reliever. In fact, research shows that gardening is more effective in reducing stress than reading and other leisure activities.
6. Closer relationship with creation.
Most of us work in jobs that limit our exposure to nature. Gardening benefits our souls by calling us away from our cubicles and electronic screens to get our hands dirty and experience direct contact with God’s creation.
7. Greater simplicity.
The most important way gardening benefits your soul is that it forces you to step away from your hectic schedule and experience a slower pace of life. Very few things compare to the elegant simplicity of planting a seed or seedling and nurturing it to full maturity.
Gardening is an opportunity to connect with the vibrancy and beauty of God’s creation. It’s good for the planet and good for your pocketbook.
But even more importantly, it’s good for your soul.
The latest battleground in the debate over fracked gas is Seneca Lake, New York’s largest Finger Lake. What’s happening at Seneca Lake is more than the birth of an environmental disaster — it’s a sin.
Seneca Lake is slated to become a major storage hub for natural gas in the Northeast.
If you live in upstate New York, you’ve heard of Seneca Lake. At more than 600 feet deep, it’s one of New York’s largest lakes and home to many of the region’s best wineries. It’s also a source of drinking water for more than 100,000 local residents.
The lives of thousands of people hinge on the ecological integrity of Seneca Lake. With so much at stake, you would think that the lake and the surrounding area would be legally insulated from obvious environmental threats.
But apparently not.
In December 2014, Governor Andrew Cuomo banned fracking — the practice of injecting water and (undisclosed) chemicals into the ground at high pressure to mine natural gas.
Despite the ban on fracking in New York state, a ruling by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) cleared the way for Texas-based Crestwood Midstream to make Seneca Lake a central storage and transportation hub for natural gas in the Northeast.
If Crestwood Midstream gets its way, the company will use salt caverns located beneath and around Seneca Lake to store compressed natural gas (methane) and millions of barrels of liquified petroleum gas, making Seneca Lake one of the largest storage facilities in the country.
Storing LPG and methane at Seneca Lake is a terrible idea.
The salt caverns are unlined and were created in the late 1800s. They are inherently leaky, unstable and were never intended to store gas or petroleum products. The people who built them didn’t have cars or electricity, let alone the technological know-how to design an advanced energy containment facility.
As you might expect, petroleum and natural gas don’t play well with drinking water. In areas of the country where fracking is permitted, water contamination is so bad that residents can reportedly light the drinking water coming out of their kitchen faucets with a match.
Maybe I’m missing something …
But storing unprecedented amounts of petroleum and methane in dilapidated salt caverns beneath one of New York state’s most important lakes seem like an incredibly ignorant thing to do.
According to We Are Seneca Lake, a group established to block Crestwood Midstream’s plans, LPG and methane gas will be stored in caverns that are less than a quarter mile away from each other, creating a serious safety issue in addition to the environmental concerns.
Although Seneca Lake and Crestwood Midstream have been the focus of unprecedented anti-fracking protests, it’s uncertain whether New York State and environmental groups will be able to prevent the company from moving forward.
What’s happening at Seneca Lake is a sin.
Sin is a big word. It refers to any act or behavior that offends God and the divine order. Call me crazy, but I think the exploitation of the environment for profit falls into the category of sinful. And I’m not alone.
Speaking off the cuff, in an address he gave at the University of Molise (an agricultural region in Italy) in 2014, Pope Francis said:
“When I look at America, also my own homeland (South America), so many forests, all cut, that have become land … that can no longer give life. This is our sin, exploiting the Earth and not allowing her to her give us what she has within her.”
In John 10:10, Jesus said that he came so that we would have life and “have it abundantly.” But abundant life feels more and more like a pipe dream these days.
Too often, the pursuit of profit has been used as an excuse for the exploitation of people and the planet.
When corporate interests and shareholder interests are allowed to decide what’s right and wrong, they usually decide against the interests of Jesus and his desire to bring abundant life into the world.
Proponents of Crestwood Midstream argue that the company’s plan will bring jobs to the Finger Lakes. According to the NYS DEC, the project will bring fewer than 10 jobs to Schuyler County. But the price for those few, meager jobs could be the health and safety of the families who call Seneca Lake home.
Any third-grader can tell you that what’s happening at Seneca Lake is borderline evil. It won’t create or sustain life. If anything, it will destroy it.
By preventing abundant life, Crestwood Midstream has positioned itself in direct opposition to Jesus’ work.
That’s offensive to God. And in my book, that’s a sin.
This past weekend, Tim and I biked to the season opening of our local farmers’ market to enjoy the sights and celebrate the end of a long winter. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, the market ended up reminding me how important it is to recognize a season of peace when I see it.
What the heck is a ramp?
At the farmers’ market, one of the booths featured a large, handwritten sign that said, “Ramps! Get them while you can!” Neither of us knew what ramps were. Honestly, they just looked like sad, floppy greens. So we kept walking.
But curiosity got the best of us, so we ran a quick Google search on our smartphones and discovered that ramps, or “wild onions,” are one of the first springtime vegetables to rise from the frost-free earth. Foraged from nature, they have a short growing season which makes them a rare commodity.
Apparently, ramps are all the rage with chefs like Mario Batali and Emeril Lagasse for farm-to-table recipes. We figured if these sad looking greens are good enough for Mario and Emeril, we ought to try them. We bought two bunches and headed home to see what we could make.
We need to pay closer attention to the seasons of life.
In the U.S., many of us are out of touch with the seasonality of fruits and vegetables. Cold storage and the global economy give us year-round access to apples, oranges and strawberries, as well as more exotic produce like pineapples, avocados, and kiwi.
I just heard that honeydew melons are being harvested. I can get them whenever I want them, so I never really thought about their growing season and when they naturally ripen.
Sometimes we can be just as inattentive when it comes to the seasons in our lives. There are some seasons that are cyclical, like the start of the school year. But there are other seasons that only come once, and if we aren’t paying attention to them, they pass us by and are never seen again.
Raising children makes you more aware of how quickly those kinds of seasons come and go. With any luck, these realizations cause us to slow down and be present in the moment. Rather than racing to the next season, we enjoy the one we are in and savor the joys that come with it.
Don’t ignore a season of peace.
The wisdom of Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is a season for everything (Ecclesiastes 3:1), including a season of peace. The seasonality of our relationships creates some urgency to be fully present to the people in our lives.
Personal conflicts are a fact of life. Whether it’s family members or friends or co-workers, we’re bound to have disagreements that have the potential to fester and create rifts that are never fully healed.
When hurts or disagreements exist in our relationships, we need to look for a season of peace–an opportunity to reconcile and overcome our divisions. Like the ramps of spring, the season of peace in which it’s possible to strengthen a relationship or make amends may be short–lived. So quick, in fact, that Ephesians 4:26 tells us to not even let the sun go down on our anger.
Consumer culture encourages us to live virtual lives that are very disconnected from the concept of seasons. And in a culture of violence, a season of peace can go unnoticed and hidden from view by voices that tell us to stand our ground and justify our positions.
It took a sad-looking, wild plant to jolt me back to “real life” – a life that is filled with all kinds of seasons that are mine to live.
By the way, the ramps were delicious. We used this recipe to make ramp and mushroom crostinis!
I love grilling with charcoal vs. propane. The smoke, the smell, the taste – there’s nothing better than cooking with lumps of pure carbon.
But as someone who thinks that my relationship with the planet is somehow wrapped up in my relationship with God, I’ve wrestled with the possibility that burning charcoal vs. propane might be a spiritually inconvenient habit.
It’s tempting to think that our little charcoal grill doesn’t make much difference one way or the other. The earth is a big place and my family’s choice of grilling fuel is a little thing. But the spiritual life isn’t about grand gestures. It’s about the hundreds of little things we do every day.
And that means our decision to stick with charcoal or make the switch to propane matters. So we did some research …
The problem with charcoal vs. propane is CO2.
It turns out that the carbon impact of charcoal dwarfs propane.
According to the experts, the carbon footprint of charcoal is about 3 times greater than the carbon footprint of propane and charcoal emits about twice as much carbon dioxide as propane.
Every time I fill up my Weber kettle grill with charcoal instead of turning a knob and grilling with propane, I’m doubling the amount of CO2 I pump into the atmosphere.
But wait, charcoal may still be more eco-friendly than propane.
In the battle of charcoal vs. propane, it looked like our charcoal grilling days were numbered. But CO2 emissions don’t tell the whole story. To really understand the environmental consequences of charcoal grilling, you have to take a look at the total carbon cycle.
When it comes to the total carbon cycle, charcoal (a bio fuel) beats propane (a fossil fuel) because it can be replaced.
Although charcoal has a larger carbon footprint, propane (and other petroleum-based fuels) are non-renewable resources. When they’re removed from the environment, they’re gone forever.
Charcoal, on the other hand, is made from wood–a renewable energy source. In a relatively short period of time, new trees grow and absorb the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and that makes charcoal a more carbon-neutral cooking fuel.
In the end, it really isn’t about charcoal vs. propane at all.
Now here’s the kicker: the fuel you cook with isn’t nearly as important as the food you cook.
The average charcoal grill emits about 11 lbs. of CO2 per hour. Sounds like a lot, right? Consider the CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) that is generated by the production and processing of just 4 pounds of the foods that typically land on our backyard grills:
- Beef (steaks or hamburgers): 54 lbs. CO2e
- Pork Loin: 24 lbs. CO2e
- Farm-raised Salmon Steaks: 24 lbs. CO2e
- Turkey Sausage: 22 lbs. CO2e
- Chicken: 14 lbs. CO2e
- Grilled Vegetables: < 5 lbs. CO2e
Notice a theme? The healthier the food, the lower the CO2e emissions. What’s good for the planet is good for you.
If love to grill steaks and sausages on a massive propane-fueled grill, God bless. Have fun. Invite me over for dinner sometime.
But being a good steward of creation means asking questions and understanding the effect that life’s seemingly small decisions have on the world around you.
And for me, that means I’ll keep my charcoal … and maybe grill a few more veggies this summer.