I first started thinking about the impact of my lifestyle following a creation care talk at church when I was at university, and when one of my housemates began to pursue a more zero-waste lifestyle. I was inspired by her commitment and creativity, and her ability to go against the grain and choose a different way of living that seemed strange to the general throwaway culture we live in. My housemate wasn’t a Christian, but I began to think a lot about the difference faith made to considering a low-waste lifestyle.
As an Eco Church Officer in the A Rocha UK churches team, one of the amazing parts of my job is that I get to spend a good portion of my time hearing about the incredible activities churches across the country are partaking in. I was recently reminded of the following story when reading through an award application for a soon to be gold-awarded church. The church had shared it as an example of the weekly encouragements they send out to their congregation to inspire them to be more sustainable in their daily lives:
“One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a small boy picking something up and throwing it into the ocean. Approaching the boy, the man asked, “What are you doing?” The boy replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.” “Son,” the man said, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference!” After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said… “I made a difference for that one.”
I was reminded how even though we might feel like we can’t make a difference on our own, lots and lots of little actions do add up. This is the way I like to think about living a more low-waste lifestyle. I know that God cares about every detail of my life, that he cares about the choices I make – so he would surely care about the way my lifestyle choices impacted the planet.
In the past five or so years I’ve lived in four different parts of the country. Living in a lower impact way has looked a little different in each place, and I’ve learnt a lot along the way. Wherever I’ve called ‘home’, I’ve felt strongly that it was right to steward what I had well, and to try to reduce the wasteful impact I might have as much as possible. My mum has always been a keen recycler and a huge advocate against food waste, so much of this was already built into the way I lived after leaving home.
I find it helpful to think in terms of being ‘low-waste’ rather than ‘zero-waste’, as sometimes the idea of needing to be perfect can put people off trying something in the first place. You might have heard the encouragement that being zero-waste is not about one individual trying to do it perfectly, it’s about a hundred doing it imperfectly. I think this is a good way to approach anything – start off, have a go, and you will almost certainly be surprised at what is possible.
The ways I’ve had the most impact when considering waste-reduction is simply through conversations with the people I interact with on a daily basis. I’ve been lovingly (I hope!) dubbed the ‘bin monitor’ in various workplaces and house shares over the last few years, and have had many ‘Lissy, how can I recycle this?’ questions, as I’ve seemingly acquired a wealth of niche knowledge. I know that recycling is in no way the solution to our waste problem, but I think it’s important to meet people where they’re at and inspire them about what they can do. I’ve set up a collection for Terracycle at my last few offices to collect hard to recycle plastics. This has been a great conversation starter and a way to help people consider their waste. I’d encourage you to think about ways you can create space for conversation, and do something practical to help people facilitate reducing their waste, such as instigating and managing a new recycling point at home or in your church.
It can be easy to feel like our actions are a drop in the ocean. But the ocean is made up of drops, and we can all play our part through the values and practices we choose to live our life by. What this looks like in practice will be different for every single person; we all have different budgets, capacities, and priorities. But it’s the belief that these choices add up – the ripple effect of everyday conversations that spread out far wider than we could imagine. These small lifestyle changes are a vote for the kind of world we want to live in, and a quiet act of rebellion against a throw-away culture.
This ‘meet the community’ article was written by Lissy Webb for the Wild Christian email, ‘Nature and waste’. Lissy is A Rocha UK’s Eco Church Support Officer.