Saturday, August 08, 2009

Reducing Your Wasteline!

What can the Local Church Do as Creation Waits?

Alicia Jackson
July 2009
City Discipleship Presbyterian Church (CDPC) is by no means a mega church, or even a large church. Medium-sized, perhaps even “relatively small” may be more apt word to describe our numbers. So how much positive difference can a relatively small church make towards the welfare of the environment we share with hundreds and thousands of city folks? Well, significant actually.

Being the only administrator in CDPC gave me the opportunity to initiate projects that will benefit the church community. I have been (so far!) given the liberty by my senior Pastor Rev Wong Fong Yang to launch and implement any uncontroversial community projects I deem fit. One major occasion for that happened sometime in early 2008, when my cell group friends Ken and Shirene asked me a question that I probably would not have thought of that time: “Why are we using foam disposable cups which are bad for the environment”. Good question.

So why do we, and other churches indiscriminately dispose trash that will pollute the environment for hundreds of years? As the one responsible for purchasing and distributing foam disposables, I would say because it is convenient. It is cheap. It is much easier than cracking your head for a better alternative AND system that will cater to hundreds to users each week. It is strange looking back that the care of creation never once crossed my mind. We ARE throwing those cups in the DESIGNATED thrash bin using APPROPRIATE garbage bags tied up in the PROPER WAY aren’t we? It’s not like we are dumping our trash in the nearest monsoon drain are we? Hence we have fulfilled our due responsibility, right? Well, the question posed by Ken & Shirene opened up the possibility that no, we haven’t fulfilled our due responsibility to our society (let’s not separate society from environment as they are inter-related). In fact we are doing harm each time we throw those carefully tied up neat packages of foam cups and plastic cutleries into the municipal dump.

And so begin our journey to correct our ways. First, the foam cups will have to go. At first, the logical solution was to replace it with paper cups. However after some research, I discovered that the negative environmental impact from producing and transporting resources-intensive paper cups is probably worse than the foam ones. On top of that, paper cups are lined with layer of plastic for water-resistance which makes it not very recyclable either. Also, paper cups are not finger-friendly when holding hot beverages which are the staple of CDPC’s fellowship hall. This means we’ll also have to provide hot cup jackets which will add to the trash. At the same time, paper cups leave a less damaging rubbish trail compared to foam ones. Then again, they are more expensive. So what should we do? Which type to use? What about cost? These and more questions were faced in our quest for a greener CDPC.

Eventually, we decided to skip the biodegrable disposables and head right to reusables instead. Hence a 3-phased solution was implemented:

Phase #1: CDPC members were encouraged to use their own personal mug. This is done by selling personalised mugs at RM1.50 each to members in church over two weekends. Racks were set up for members to store their mugs. As the mugs were labelled with names of their owners, there isn’t any problem of unwashed and ill-treated mugs.

Phase #2: Foam cups are limited to 50pcs each week. Eventually, they were replaced by paper ones with reusable jackets made out of coloured foam sheets. These are mainly for visitors’ use.

Phase #3: Launched a 4-week countdown to “Zero Disposable Cups” using posters to remind church members to bring and label their own mug. After that, all disposable cups were replaced with designated “Guest” mugs for visitors.

12 months forward and I am proud to say that CDPC has since replaced our disposable cutleries and plates with reusable ones. We are also separating our waste (paper & plastic) and bringing them to the local recycling centre. True to the initial tagline “Reduce Our Wasteline” in the posters I set up during the early stages of our green journey, our thrash volume now has reduced significantly. Church members on refreshment duty can testify that they dispose much less number of garbage bags compared to a year ago. Surprisingly, it was a rather easy transition from disposables to reusables. Church members gamely cooperated and did their part without resistance. This only proves to show that Christians are generally aware of environmental issues and would do what is right, if steered the right way.

Our next project is in line with “Precycling”, which means proactive recycling by reusing resources and refusing new purchases unless absolutely necessary. I have recently set up an advertising board for church members to give away, lend or sell used furniture, appliances and baby gears. Hopefully this latest green project will take off and benefit the community. It will certainly benefit the environment by directing still good and usable items away from our overloaded landfills. Our other green efforts are choosing food items with less packaging and using reusable shopping bags.

Back to making a significant impact on the environment despite being a small body of people, I strongly believe that when Christians are motivated to be earth keepers in their local churches, they will eventually do it at home and at work. As they practice care for creation at work and in their day-to-day affairs, co-workers, neighbours, relatives, friends and even strangers are sure to notice and hopefully be influenced to do the same. If each Christian “converts” a handful of individuals by exemplifying simple acts like refusing plastic bags, separating their trash, leading a simple materially non-cluttered life, reducing their carbon footprints, imagine the overall exponential impact that will be made in our local society.

Peter Harris, Founder/Director of A Rocha, a Christian Conservation group, said during the the recent Biblical Environmental Stewardship Conference, that the environmental movement is really not about saving animals and plants. It is about changing hearts to CARE for this awesome creation that God has generously bestowed unto us. It is my hope that every Malaysian heart, beginning with the Christians in Klang Valley, will change in that direction.

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.
(Psalm 24:1)

No comments: