My middlest daughter, N, has taken up the cause of garbage-less living. She is new to this and shares her enthusiasm infectiously, reporting joys at finding this or that way to circumvent destining bits of life to the trash. She dutifully takes her own cloth produce bags to the grocery store, buys meat at butchers who do not use plastic and has located a bamboo toothbrush which is kind to the environment. N. is committed to the cause but is not ideological. She sometimes breaks her own rules, does not preach her lifestyle, but rather lives it winsomely. She is not in your face about it but makes public choices that signal a different set of values. In a way, she is living out what would be an attractive paradigm for any who are trying to alert others to an alternate lifestyle. Hers is not a coercive, inhumane nor dogmatic approach to a lifestyle change; she leads by attraction rather than shame.
My wife and I are proud of her efforts in this, as are her sisters. In small – and sometimes large – bits we have all taken up the cause in some fashion or another. For a time now, we have pretty much reduced our garbage to food wrapping; our green bin takes care of that which was once destined for landfills and recycling takes over most of the rest. Of course, we are not naïve about this, aware of investigative journalism that has tracked examples of restaurants and such that simply trashed what had landed in refill bins. We know that there are errors and deceits in the world of recycling. But still, this trash-less life is more than a choice about how to be in the world, but also an invitation for how to see the world: as worthy of the deepest care we afford this beloved earth, a gift of God.
We have been trying, in small ways, to lessen the amount of garbage we send to the curb. We try to avoid massive packaging but that is not always easy. Hard choices need to be made often, too often. Part of the problem, it seems is the big box reality that makes quick, daily trips to a local grocer outside of the reach of most. Instead we have to travel across town to acquire what we need and in so doing buy more and more that is deeply packaged. We have been chatting a bit recently around the dinner table about the older days when plastic was not ubiquitous. Memories of paper-bags for groceries as well as the pink paper meat wrapping have taken my wife and me to our childhood. This memory, for example, just this last Saturday inspired me, when buying some fish at the local store, to forgo the plastic bag around my paper wrapped fish. The other day I put my zucchini in my grocery cart without the requisite piece of plastic to protect a skin that I will wash and peel in either event.
I am intrigued by the commitment of many young people on this and like fronts. When I was their age I concerned myself with the most trivial of things. Many of the youth and young adults I know are open to the world and engaged in justice, and for that I am glad. While our contributions and theirs may be incremental, the reach of our actions are far when we live simply with integrity and in joy. Faith communities have much to learn from young activists on this front. May their tribe increase!!