Week Three – Fasting Waste
by Mick Schulte
I was so excited when Curtis and CJ said they were adding “Waste” as one of the Lent fasts this season. I don’t think it’s a typical topic for the church to focus on, and I’ve never heard it included in a church-wide fast before. Once again, I was impressed by our church’s unique perspective on social justice and how we can initiate positive change throughout God’s kingdom.
Because truly, I believe “waste” is at the root of all the fasts we are covering these seven weeks. Even though it signifies the end of something’s life cycle, to eliminate waste from the beginning, is a transformative process in almost every facet of life. It’s like working from the bottom up.
I know this because I recently challenged my family of six to a “Zero-Waste” month for an article I wrote for Carolina Parent magazine. It all started when a friend visited and told me her daughter was living “trash-free”. She held up my single-use plastic hummus container and said “my daughter could never buy this because you can’t recycle it and she won’t throw anything away.”
It was like she told me her daughter decided to live without producing saliva from her glands.
Humans have to create trash – it’s just what we do, right?
Then I thought about our waste – the dirty diapers, hand wipes, paper towels, leftover food, and pesky hummus containers. If there was one thing our family did really, really well, it was produce trash.
And we’re not alone. Collectively, Americans produce 254 million tons of trash per year, and only recycle 34% of it. If you divide that total by the whole population, each person produces 2,072 pounds of trash a year and about 220 pounds of that is food waste.
The whole encounter with my friend left me feeling intensely convicted. Our Schulte trash factory was churning out around 12,432 pounds of yearly waste. Without even considering the effects, Mark and I created a life dependent on loads of resources, and our trash bins showed the toll we were taking on the Earth.
I wanted to see if we could change our habits, and since I’m a sucker for extreme lifestyle changing challenges, I attempted to go from 12,432 pounds to zero in a month. Let me say, if you have twin boys around the age of one, this sort of transition into trash abstinence is not advisable.
I did not handle cloth diapers well.
Despite some messy failures, in the end we managed to cut our trash down by more than half. But some things just didn’t stick in that amount of time (i.e. cloth diapers), and we’re continuing to work on them now six months after our big challenge.
I was forever changed throughout the process though. I learned about the pioneer of the “Zero Waste” movement, Bea Johnson, who wrote “Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste”. Her book became my manual as I prepared for the Zero Waste month. And I watched her video where she makes it look effortless and explains (in a fancy French accent) the wonderful benefits of living this way.
Then I got to speak with Bea over the phone and she urged me to take it slow and understand that living while producing less waste is a transformative process that takes a long time. She admitted it took years to give up certain wasteful practices, which encouraged me. And made me think of how a lifestyle change like this is a lot like a person’s faith journey.
The transformation happens in the process – working from the bottom up.
Here are some of the reasons why I think reducing waste is at the core of each Lenten fast this season:
- FOOD – By eliminating food waste, you’re forced to eat in a completely different way than most Americans are used to. First off, you end up eating less simply because there aren’t as many snacking options that don’t have packaging. You also avoid eating out because of all the waste produced in restaurants. We only had pizza once during our entire Zero Waste month (which was a huge change from our weekly, sometimes twice-weekly, trips to Domino’s). And the reason we could have pizza was because we can compost pizza boxes with our composting service, Compost Now. So, overall our diets were (and still are!) healthier, more simple, and more sustainable through composting.
- CLOTHING – Bea Johnson only has 15 pieces in her entire wardrobe. That sounds limiting at first but most people have a closet full of clothes they never actually wear. Purging clothing is a huge part of the Zero Waste lifestyle. The idea is to find things that you can mix and match together to make different outfits, and get rid of the clothes you hang onto for those random occasions that never happen.
- MEDIA – Reducing waste also means reducing possessions like electronics that eventually get thrown away. Computers, TVs, phones, iPads all take considerable resources to create and by minimizing the number of these items in your home, you also minimize the number thrown into landfills. A great benefit of this electronic reduction is the absence of media’s temptations.
- SPENDING – You can’t spend if you’re not buying. Thanks to all the Amazon Prime boxes that didn’t show up at our doorstep, we saved a Schulte record-breaking amount of cash that Zero Waste month.
- POSSESSIONS – Minimalism is at the heart of Zero Waste. If more people bought fewer products or repaired things they already owned, resources like water and energy could be saved. Before starting our Zero Waste month, I fixated on decorating our empty dining/sitting room. The vacant space looked like a giant hole in our new house. I’d even apologize to guests for it – “I know it looks kind of strange with no furniture in here…we’ll get some soon!” But then I did my Zero Waste month and learned to accept that open space. I found that appreciating what the emptiness means, is life giving. I wasn’t wasting minutes and hours of my life thinking about what to buy, then going to a store and finding whatever that might be, and bringing it into a home where it most surely would be destroyed within days (remember I have four young kids). All we have in that room is a small keyboard that Evy, my oldest, takes lessons on. Her music fills the space with more joy than a tan, mid-century Article brand couch, could ever offer.
A full trash can is part of the rich American life many of us experience. But more often than not, all that “stuff” just keeps us wanting more and believing that we can fill any void with food, clothing, or products that eventually break down and need to be thrown away. So I challenge you to examine your trash bin this week. What is your excess? How could you eliminate some of the waste in your life?
And if you’re a lifestyle challenge junkie like me, maybe even see how small of a container you could fit your trash in. You might be surprised at the transformative power of fasting waste. Hopefully it gives you space to focus on the unconditional love of God, which overflows no matter how much trash we produce in our bins and our lives.
Here are a few links to resources and news regarding waste.
- The local group Toward Zero Waste helps people minimize waste through educational events, blogs, and online resources. Check out their website here.
- A member of that group helped start a Zero Waste Church organization that encourages congregations to get involved in reducing waste. You can read about their mission here.
- The Zero Waste Church created this year-long guide to minimizing an individual’s waste. It’s called Resorting God’s Earth – A Year of Personal Action.
- For a recent article that shows waste’s effect on poor populations, read how China’s ban on our recyclables is creating a toxic environment for communities near U.S. plants that burn our excess plastics.
- Change is happening! North Carolina’s State Representative Harry Warren plans to introduce legislation to stop the use of single use plastics in our state.
- Trader Joe’s is making changes too!
If you feel inspired, here are some ways to start reducing your waste.
- Follow the Facebook group Toward Zero Waste. They share valuable information about how to minimize waste and they also schedule meetups so people can learn from each other as they navigate waste reduction.
- Read Bea Johnson’s book “Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying your Life by Reducing your Waste”.
- Start composting, either by yourself or with a service like Compost Now. If you use a service, you can compost things like paper towels and meat products.
- Cancel your junk mail.
- Bring reusable grocery bags to the store.
- Drink water out of a reusable, non-plastic, water bottle.
- Buy food in bulk (yay Costco!) and store portions of the food in glass containers.
- Buy local eggs from someone you know.
- Buy milk in reusable, glass containers.
- Take a tour of a landfill and/or recycling center.
- Sell or give away clothes and possessions.
Prayer: Dear God, thank you for the many ways you provide for us. Please help us care for your creation by living with less waste in our lives and focusing on what we have instead of what we lack. Transform us from the bottom up and bring us closer to You this Lenten season of fasting from our excess. We love you Lord. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.
Mick Schulte lives in Durham, NC together with her husband, Mark, and their four amazing children! Mick is a freelance writer and photographer. You can follow her on instagram at @mickschulte.
Documentary (watch party and discussion)
This week’s documentary recommendation is Straws. Mick and Mark Schulte will be hosting a watch party on Friday, March 29th at 7:30 pm! We will watch the 30-minute documentary. Then local non-profit Toward Zero Waste will be leading a discussion. Waste-free snacks will be provided! [CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO]
Articles, Podcasts and Tutorials
- Pale Blue Dot — The Liturgists (I wouldn’t necessarily recommend all episodes of the Liturgists Podcast, but this one is truly phenomenal with interviews with experts, etc.)
- Toward Zero Waste — local non-profit with lots of info and resources.
- Restoring God’s Earth – A 12-Month Action Plan — a downloadable eBook.
- Moment of Reckoning: US Cities Burn Recyclables After China Ban — The Guardian.
- Trader Joe’s Doing Away With Plastic Packaging — SF Gate.
Info and Tutorials on Composting at Home:
- Backyard Composting Information — NC State.
- Worms Can East Your Garbage — NC State.
- How To Make a Compost Bin from a Plastic Container — from The Spruce.
Info and Tutorials on Composting at Home:
- The Gospel According to the Earth: Why the Good Book Is a Green Book — by Matthew Sleeth.
- Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming — edited by Paul Hawken.