What you need to know about me is that I don’t enjoy TV. That passive consumption of whatever happens to be broadcasting and the time steals away from my real life. On the rare sick day I always opt for my West Wing box set to avoid the pain of daytime TV.
So I can’t fathom why this happened, why on this fateful day I found myself mid-morning in front of the TV. It wasn’t even for very long, although it was long enough.
There on my TV was a well-presented lady being interviewed with a strange jar, sat ominously on the table in front of her. I couldn’t immediately work out what it was or what was in it.
As she continued talking, I began to understand the significance of this small jar. It was the sum amount of what this lady, Bea Johnson, and her family of four, would send to landfill for an entire year! Her family of four. I couldn’t believe it.
My heart sank.
I am passionate about the environment. I wasn’t always, but it has been a slow – shamefully slow – realisation for me that a part of joining in with God’s mission requires good stewardship of the earth. The turning point for me was when I began to understand how much climate change affects people living in poverty, bringing environmental disasters, drought, further poverty, environmental refugees, failed crops, food shortages and more to those in already very vulnerable situations.
Those in poor communities often rely on the land for their food; if the rains don’t come, crops fails and they are left with nothing to eat.
Tearfund’s recent Restorative Economy report highlights that if we don’t address climate change, all of the excellent work of lifting people out of poverty in the last 30 or so years is at high risk of being completely undone.
After learning the connection between a changing climate and poverty, 10 years ago I made a commitment to God that I would get informed and learn how to reduce my contribution to climate change, and inadvertently, my contribution to the poverty of millions around the world.
So back to that fateful daytime TV show. I realised that if this lady with her family of four could live so very lightly on the earth, I, as a single, 33-year-old, could do the same. I was gutted because I saw this was going to take a lot of effort. Zero waste – I came to understand this was the name of a growing movement of people aiming to produce absolutely no rubbish. Is this really possible? It seemed so hard, extreme even. In less than 10 minutes of daytime TV, my life had been dramatically changed.
I have long understood that being a disciple of Jesus leads me to give my life to his mission, which makes me seek justice for those living in poverty in my own community and around the world. As Isaiah 58 reminds me, this is a part of my worship.
As I look at Bea Johnson’s jar, read Isaiah 58, and hear stories from Tearfund partners in every part of the world tell stories of further poverty due to climate change, that choice to seek justice for those in the poorest communities, takes me even deeper. Zero waste is another step on that journey.
I’m an all-or-nothing kind of person, so as soon as I had made this decision I wanted to become zero waste immediately! I very quickly learnt this was a naïve start. To become zero waste requires a huge mindset shift, a lot of learning and change of lifestyle. I needed to re-educate myself; to ask some big questions like: What does it mean to throw something ‘away’?
I was taught as a child to throw rubbish ‘away’ into our household bin. But where is ‘away’? Of course we know our rubbish is collected and sent to landfill, but then what? As I began to read on zero waste it became clear, there is no ‘away’!
Paul Connett, an expert on zero waste says: “Nature functions by building up and breaking down, building up and breaking down. We keep putting things into the environment that don’t break down.”
When the environment can’t naturally break down waste, particularly plastics and electronics leach toxins into the environment. The trailer for Trashed, a documentary on waste, begins to explain some of the consequences to human life, to biodiversity, marine life, global warming and more.
I realised I was going to have to do this in stages. Firstly I wanted to reduce waste that goes to landfill and then to reduce recycle waste after that. I wanted to know if there were items I wasn’t recycling that I could.
I found the recycling sections of my council website and discovered there were many items I could take to a recycling centre to be recycled that are not able to be picked up from the curb side. Doing this research filled in lots of blanks. Recycle Now was another good website for this information.
I also began to analyse my bin! Bit gross? The act of coming face-to-face with the waste I produced helped to empower me to change. What are the things I use that I can’t recycle? And are there any ways I can stop using those things or the excessive packaging that creates so much of this rubbish?
The challenge of transitioning to zero waste is proving tricky. It throws up many dilemmas and challenges that I don’t have all the answers to yet. I’m understanding that this will require time and commitment. There are days when I wonder if this amount of effort is really worth it, if it makes any difference when others around me create as much waste as I used to. In these moments I’m reminded of why. This is a part of my worship of Jesus, to seek justice for those living in poverty by caring for creation. Because the world needs prophets, early adopters, who refuse to accept the world the way it is and will pioneer a new path for others to follow. Will you join me?
You can’t go zero waste overnight so get started with these three actions:
For more information on zero waste, see:
Zero Waste Home blog and details about the book – Bea Johnson
The Zero Waste Solution – Paul Connett
This post is part of a series that our friends at Rhythms are writing on minimalism and ethical lifestyles.