Tuesday, April 16, 2024

The Re-Use Revolution: Toward a Lifestyle of Caring


by Diane Waddell

An advocacy campaign — and modeling a lifestyle — of decreasing the use of plastic (especially single-use plastic) offers an opportunity for faith groups to partner with secular groups/city/county government. Working at the local and neighborhood level is an important way to make a difference in caring for Creation, caring for neighbors, and for welcoming future generations with the gift of a safer, healthier, cleaner planet.


A group of us (who are now a part of the JOY New Worshiping Community) organized Ecumenical Eco-Justice of St. Joseph (Missouri), an advocacy group based on the principles of the 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si, “On Care for Our Common Home.” We noted that the city had no environmental committee, so we wrote a resolution for the mayor to consider empowering EEJ to help set up such a committee. The city environmental committee was formed in 2018 and both groups have been active ever since. Our work for Earth Care is similar although the terminology is different — Creation Justice for the faith group and environmental sustainability for the city group.


In time, and after many other projects, it became apparent that work toward educating about the devastating effects of plastic was vital. Our groups needed to become educated themselves, so one of the leaders enrolled in an excellent semester-long class called Beyond Plastic Pollution through Bennington College, VT. After several other online workshops, EEJ was able to partner with the national organization, Beyond Plastics and became the only representative in the northwest Missouri area.


EEJ is working with the city environmental committee to share, through workshops, meetings, and other community events, about switching from plastics to reusable items. One of the City committee’s goals is to “Refuse, Renew, Repurpose, Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” The committee obtained a grant to purchase reusable water bottles and shopping bags to distribute to groups who take time to hear about the importance of the reduction of single-use plastics.


This year’s theme (also from Beyond Plastics) is the Re-use Revolution, which encourages citizens to change their habits of using single-use plastic toward reusable items, avoiding purchasing items with plastic wrapping, and to bring reusable utensils, take-out containers, and drink containers when heading out to eat. EEJ will be hosting meetings with educational videos, PowerPoint, and more to share about the toxic effects of plastic in cracking, manufacturing, using, and “recycling” or trashing plastic.


“Recycling, while very worthwhile for items made from metal, glass, and paper, is, unfortunately, largely a myth when it comes to anything made from plastic. At least 91% of all plastic will end up being buried, burned or floating in ever smaller pieces in our oceans and waterways. Reuse is a simple, commonsense, sustainable solution that we all need to embrace.” (Beyond Plastics website*)


          Together, we can and must shift our throw-away, wasteful culture to one which understands that Earth is Sacred, water is sacred, our bodies are sacred… towards a culture which will send the message of love and nurturing to multiple generations to come.


 Diane Waddell is a leader in the JOY New Worshiping Community, Ecumenical Eco-Justice and the St. Joseph Sustainable Environment Advisory Committee. 

The Oil Industry’s Plan B


by Jane Laping

The advent of the electric car, solar energy, wind power, and energy efficiency is already reducing the demand for fossil fuels. The International Energy Agency predicts declining demand for fossil fuels with an expected peak in production in 2028. That comes as good news for those who care about the climate and all that God has created.

However, the petrochemical industry isn’t finished drilling for and refining fossil fuels. They have a new plan that has been penned as Plan B for the oil and gas industry. Plastics are made from fossil fuels. The approximately 13,000 different chemicals added to plastics to give them different properties (softness, strength, rigidity) are also made from fossil fuels. Many are toxic and known to cause health effects such as cancer, fertility, and diabetes.


Plastics is the third largest manufacturing industry in the country. More than 600 plastic polymer and resin manufacturers are located in the US with over one million jobs in 2019 concentrated in California, Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Nearly half of the worldwide production of plastics is used for packaging. 


Despite the low 9% rate of plastic recycling and new concerns about microplastics found in bottled water and the human body, the plastics industry is going full-steam ahead. Plastic production has continued to increase annually since 2010. In 2023, ExxonMobil doubled its capacity to produce an important component of plastics in Baytown, Texas.


Not surprisingly, the majority of oil refining and chemical production occurs in low-income and communities of color, exposing those who live there to levels of chemical pollutants above EPA recommendations for health. It is these communities who have the fewest resources to stop chemical-producing plants from locating in their neighborhoods. Therefore, plastic production is also an environmental justice issue. That is one more reason for us as Presbyterians to stop using single-use plastics in our daily lives and replace them with reusable products.


Jane Laping is vice moderator of Presbyterians for Earth Care. Jane started on the PEC Steering Committee in 2010 and then served as Vice Moderator of PEC from 2012-2014. In 2015 she became PECs part-time Coordinator and held that position for six years. Jane is also active at the local and state level, leading the Creation Care Team at her church in Asheville, NC, heading the Earth Care Team of the Presbytery of Western North Carolina (WNC), and is on the Steering Team of the Creation Care Alliance of WNC.

The Albatross: A Lament and A Song Of Hope


by Nancy Corson Carter

“Chris Jordan’s odyssey from Seattle to a small island in the North Pacific Ocean teeming with dead and dying seabirds was fueled by an unlikely siren: plastic. Since 2003, Jordan has amassed a body of photographs that have investigated the United States’ growing addiction to mass consumption. A river of discarded cell phones, a sea of colored glass bottles, an army of Barbie dolls: all these and more, in large-format documentary photos or digital recreations, have pointed to Americans’ propensity to buy goods that end up as mountains of garbage.” — Rosette Royale, Street News Service


When I saw the photo accompanying Rosette Royale’s article, I was horrified. I began to write an angry poem that I couldn’t finish. Now, as our church in Chapel Hill, NC works to alert people to avoid single-use plastics, encouraged by the Earth Day 2024 national theme "Planet vs. Plastic," I remember it.


My research for this photo led to the article. I hope Earth News readers will use the URL to access and ponder it. It explains why this young bird would never reach its adult wing span of up to 12 feet and would be deprived of its lifetime soaring over the Pacific because its mother’s attempts to nurture and care for it were misled by colorful plastic that looked like food but was instead indigestibly toxic.


In the closing of this article with its heart-breaking photos, Chris Jordan’s thoughts rouse us to action:


 “…Jordan believes Midway is a spiritual place, and finds the name evocative. “Here we are at this crossroads,” he said, “where everything that has ever happened has led to this moment and everything we decide now will decide the future.”

He believes the albatross, a central figure in the Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s epic poem, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” plays a special role in humanity. “It’s like this spirit bird, the messenger,” he said.
What Jordan wants the film to communicate is that people can change the way they live and alter the fate of albatrosses of Midway. “It’s a message of horror, but also beauty and hope,” he said. “And love.”



Where could I go from that angry poem begun

when I first saw that heartbreaking photo? How could I

summon words of “beauty and hope” or even “love”?!


Since then, I have learned that the name of the world’s

oldest known wild bird (she was tagged Z333 in 1951)

is a Laysan albatross or mōlī named Wisdom.

On December 21, 2023 she returned to Midway Atoll.


With millions of other albatrosses she returns to nest and raise

her young in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National

Monument. She’s seen to embody Hawaiian deity, Lono,

a sacred being. She has lived nearly ¾ of a century

(most albatrosses survive to about 50).


Bird counters come yearly to witness this priceless part of

Earth’s evolution over millions of years, to wonder at their

beauty and power but also to lament the trash and debris

strewn around the birds’ nests, washed up on beaches.


They return with this message: to see these magnificent

creatures is to know that they are part of us, ones we must,

in this time of crisis, welcome and protect as a holy trust.

Nancy Corson Carter, professor emerita of humanities at Eckerd College, has published two poetry books, Dragon Poems and The Sourdough Dream Kit, and three poetry chapbooks. Some of her poems, drawings, and photos appear in her nonfiction book, Martha, Mary, and Jesus: Weaving Action and Contemplation in Daily Life and in her memoir, The Never-Quite-Ending War: a WWII GI Daughter's Stories.

Plastic Jesus


by Eric Diekhans

When I was a child in the 1960s, Coca-Cola and milk came in glass bottles, eggs came in paper cartons, and vegetables were sold loose in grocery store bins. But times were changing quickly, and by the time I was a teenager in the 1970s, plastic had mostly taken over the United States.


Plastic was an easy, logical choice. It was lighter, cheaper, and easier to mold into countless shapes than glass. It was stronger than paper. Plastic was a miracle of science. Few people imagined that today, over 460 million tons of plastic would be produced each year and the impact all that plastic on our environment would be enormous.


As Earth Day approaches, Creation Justice Ministries has produced a resource called Plastic Jesus: Real Faith in a Synthetic World to help Christians consider the cost of plastic and our responsibility as stewards of God’s creation to change our plastic addiction.


This free download provides a theological framework for talking with Christians about plastic, sermon starters, Sunday school resources, actions individuals and congregations can take, and inspirational stories to help you jumpstart an environmental ministry.


The inspirational stories in the booklet include Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT), which has been in a grant partnership with the Presbyterian Church (USA) since 2018. ACAT works with indigenous communities implementing effective strategies to limit their exposure to toxic substances and to protect and restore the ecosystems that sustain them and their way of life. One of the most important pieces of ACAT’s work is making connections between health issues among Indigenous people on Sivuqaq (the traditional name for St. Lawrence Island) and the fossil-fuel-driven production of plastics in the region.


According to “Plastic Jesus,” “The people of Sivuqaq rely on a traditional diet of greens, berries, fish, reindeer, and marine mammals for their physical, cultural and spiritual sustenance. Sadly, the study of these foods shows how contaminants from plastic production carried to the far north by atmospheric and ocean currents persist for years and sometimes decades, burdening the regions Indigenous people.”


The resource offers actions that we can take individually and as a community to stem the scourge of plastic. We can focus on an extended season where we try to live plastic-free, cutting as many single-use plastics from our lives as possible. We can reduce our consumption of shellfish, which ingest microplastics that then end up in our bodies and can cause health problems. We can educate ourselves about our personal plastic use, keeping track of how much plastic we use, what happens to the plastic that we throw away, and how much plastic our community recycles.


In our churches, we can use paper or bamboo plates instead of plastic or plastic foam, and silverware rather than plastic utensils. We can use glass communion cups instead of plastic. We can advocate for divestment from fossil fuel companies, and we can look at our own investment portfolios to see if we support the plastics industry.


One of the most important things we can do is advocate at the local, state, and national levels to pass laws that reduce our reliance on single-use plastic, such as banning plastic bags and funding recycling programs.


Eric Diekhans is an author, Executive Director of the Greater Chicago Broadcast Ministries, and a member of Lake View Presbyterian Church in Chicago.