THE WAY we handle our waste is essentially a spiritual matter. In the beginning, there was no waste: our wastefulness is a sign of our alienation from creation and from God. When we handle what we call “waste”, we are handling the very stuff of creation, the same creation that we have been given a responsibility to look after (Genesis 2.15).
Sustainable waste management is sometimes known as “Re3”: Reduction, Reuse, Recycling. From my background in local government and in waste management I can see that there are opportunities for the church to work more closely with local councils, waste companies, and the community sector in waste.
During a ten-week sabbatical in the autumn of 2007, I visited churches that recycle and compost, and several community waste schemes, as well as a materials recovery facility (MRF — sorting and separating recyclables) and an energy recovery facility (ERF — incinerating waste and contributing power to the National Grid).
I visited seven churches of various denominations from Immingham to Basingstoke, from east London to Birmingham. The recycling and composting that they do shows opportunities for all congregations.
It is not a glamorous subject: ultimately, it’s about bins and people. But it is a way of making a difference to the planet, and the spin- offs can be a higher profile for your church, and possibly even some spare cash.
TO GET STARTED: make sure you have bins that are big enough and clearly labelled, and kept in the right place. There must be somebody who is responsible for regularly emptying recyclables and passing them on, cleaning out the bins, and encouraging people to use them.
Get a team together, and make your recycling/composting an activity that draws people together and into the worshipping community. Get to know the people in the businesses and charities that you pass your recyclables on to. Spread the message of Re3.
There are also opportunities for the church to work with local government. In West Sussex, I am working with a task group of waste officers in the county council to see if a partnership between local councils and parish churches could be formed throughout the county to promote recycling.
Make friends with your local skip-hire firms, because they will also be involved in waste recycling. And church land could be used for developing the new waste-management facilities that will be needed if recycling is to increase.
The Revd Jon Hale is Vicar of All Saints’, Crawley Down, in Sussex.
Recycling at home: www.uk-energy-saving.com/recycling.html
Waste online: www.wasteonline.org.uk
Recycle now: www.recyclenow.com
Stewarding the Earth’s Resources: www.earthresources.org.uk
For more information on John Hale’s research, the theology of waste, and a briefing on the waste regulatory requirements that a church should take into account, see www.earthresources.org.uk/sab_report.php