Other things are much simpler in concept, but frustrating to understand in other ways.
At the top of my list is this: why do so many people refuse to recycle?
At our house, we mulch food scraps and inevitably have more recylables than garbage — so much so that the recycling crate routinely overflowed into a big plastic tub, and even that was not enough. For 63 cents more per month, we were able to swap out the crate for a rolling bin.
And yet, when I roll the garbage and recycling bins to the street (no curbs in my neighborhood), I’m always dismayed to note that less than half of the homes in our subdivision recycle at all: trash cans bulge with garbage bags, cardboard, wine bottles, and cans of every description, much of which could be recycled but will instead add more layers to the landfill.
At school, I often go behind students to retrieve cans or bottles tossed into trash cans and put them into the recycling.
Environmental responsibility is not a new thing or a hard concept to grasp. On the one hand, it’s common sense that we should care for the earth and harbor its resources if we have any consideration for the world our grandchildren will inherit.
On the other hand, believers have a biblical imperative to be good stewards of the earth.
In the first creation story (Gen. 1:1-2:4a), God blessed humankind and said “Be fruitful and multiply! Fill the earth and subdue it!” And then God gave all the world into the humans’ care.
In the second creation story (Gen. 2:4b-25), Yahweh put humans in the garden “to care for and maintain it.”
We should note that these are very “green” verses. The word often translated “subdue” in 1:28 is radah, and it does in fact speak of having dominion, but always in a way that is respectful and responsible and nurturing, rather than domineering and exploitive.
And, when 2:15 says the man was put in the garden to “care for and maintain it,” the words are abad and shamar. The word abad can mean “to work,” but also “to serve.” Humans were created to work the land, but to work for its good, and not destructively. The word shamar means “to keep,” or “to guard from harm,” or “to preserve.” Humans are not only the crowning glory of God’s creation, but called to be partners with God in caring for the good earth on which we live. The creation stories not only tell us about our place in the good world God has created, but also about our purpose.
Recycling is one simple cog in the wheel of responsible stewardship of the earth. It requires a very small effort, and for those who don’t have city services, there may be a small cost for collection. That’s all.
Adding mountains of recyclable materials to landfills is like slapping the earth in the face — and sending a message that we’d rather trash God’s good creation than to preserve it.
When you roll your garbage out to the street, what sort of message are you sending?
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.