When people ask me what simple things they can do as individuals and as families to care for God’s creation, something I suggest is that they practice the Three Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle.
Find ways to reduce your consumption of products, high-impact foods and energy. Each product you buy has already created various impacts on the environment, from strip mining to clear-cutting to toxic waste to air and water pollution to global warming. These impacts hurt people and the rest of God’s creation and violate God’s commandment to love God and love what God loves.
Of course, when you dispose of the product you create harmful impacts as well. Each of us generates on average 4.4 pounds of waste per day per person. Our goal should be to cut this down to half a pound or less per day.
The best solution to pollution and environmental degradation is to stop it before it starts. Reducing consumption of products and energy helps do this. Bucking our consumer culture can help you refocus on important things: your relationships to God, loved ones and others.
Find ways to reuse what you have. Patch and repair things instead of simply buying new ones. Buy things used (e.g., clothing, furniture, cars). Print on both sides of paper. Get creative! Reusing avoids the negative impacts created by simply disposing of a product and getting a new one.
While not as helpful as the first two Rs, recycling does reduce pollution and environmental degradation.
Here are a few interesting recycling facts.
- Between 1960-2000, recycling has grown from 6 percent of total waste to 30 percent; this marks some progress, but we can do much better.
- We recycle nearly half of our aluminum and paper, but less than 10 percent of plastic.
- Recycling all of your home’s newsprint, cardboard, glass and metal can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 850 pounds a year.
- Aluminum can recycling saves 95 percent of the energy needed to make aluminum from ore.
- Recycling an aluminum can saves enough energy to run a television set for three hours.
- Every Sunday, the United States wastes nearly 90 percent of the recyclable newspapers. This wastes about 500,000 trees.
- One tree can filter up to 60 pounds of pollutants from the air each year.
If your local municipality has a recycling program, participate in it vigorously with the knowledge that you are fulfilling the God’s commandments and the Golden Rule by doing so. If there isn’t one, recycle voluntarily and see if you can get a mandatory program established.
The Center for a New American Dream recently launched its “Turn the Tide” program to encourage people to take steps to reduce their impact on the environment. It suggests nine actions we can take: skip a car trip, replace a beef meal, shift from shrimp, stop junk mail, use compact fluorescent light bulbs, move the thermostat, eliminate pesticides, reduce water usage, and inspire two friends.
Jim Ball is Executive Vice President for Policy and Climate Change at the Evangelical Environmental Network and author of the award-winning book, “Global Warming and the Risen LORD: Christian Discipleship and Climate Change.”