It’s just one plastic bottle in the trash. One more bottle in a landfill won’t really make a difference.
Sound familiar? I’ve thought it, too, on more occasions than I would like to admit, since I generally consider myself a pretty environmentally conscious person. Living in a society where most things are marketed by their convenience factor, it’s hard not to think that way sometimes.
In Laudato Si’, an encyclical that reminds us to care for our common home and warns against the wastefulness of society, Pope Francis wrote, “There is a nobility in the duty to care for creation through little daily actions.”
OK, maybe I’ll have to try a little harder.
As Pope Francis also wrote in Laudato Si’, “Regrettably, many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental crisis have proved ineffective, not only because of powerful opposition but also because of a more general lack of interest. Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions. We require a new and universal solidarity. … All of us can cooperate as instruments of God for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements and talents.”
A “general lack of interest.” How many of us fall into this category, especially during times of year or events when we might have to try a little harder to be environmentally conscious?
The holiday season is almost upon us. Though we know from Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas that Christmas will still come without “ribbons ... tags ... boxes or bags,” how many of us are wielding a heavier-than-normal garbage bin to the curb the first collection day after Dec. 25?
I’ve been using newspapers to wrap holiday gifts for years. Granted, I used to work at a newspaper, so it was free wrapping paper, but no one ever seemed to mind that I didn’t go out and buy more paper for wrapping when there was already some in my recycle bin. It’s a small thing, not buying wrapping paper, but if many people do one small thing, it quickly becomes a big thing.
OK, maybe you aren’t wrapping gifts yet, but you’re definitely laying plans for Thanksgiving by now. A study conducted by the Food Tank, a nonprofit that educates about sustainable eating, estimated last year that of the 700 million pounds of turkey that would be purchased for Thanksgiving, roughly 35 percent would end up in the trash can. Now, we all know there are Pinterest pages full of ideas for what to do with your leftover turkey; we just have try a little harder to actually commit to trying them.
Consider purchasing cloth napkins this year for the holiday dinners and family parties. Think about avoiding the urge to buy paper plates and commit to a few extra minutes loading the dishwasher. Maybe you can have containers ready for your guests or family members to take food home with them if you think you’ll end up with too many leftovers. What a great party favor, right?
None of these suggestions is out of the ordinary, groundbreaking or even out of the realm of possibility for most of us. And there are many more ways we can be more environmentally conscious around the holidays — buying locally sourced food, carpooling or taking public transit to limit fuel emissions, simply buying less stuff. But following through on any of these ideas takes commitment to spending a little extra time this holiday season to give a gift back to the planet.
I’ll close with one final passage from Laudato Si’:
“Once we start to think about the kind of world we are leaving to future generations, we look at things differently; we realize that the world is a gift which we have freely received and must share with others. Since the world has been given to us, we can no longer view reality in a purely utilitarian way, in which efficiency and productivity are entirely geared to our individual benefit. Intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice, since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us.”
Anna Jones is a writer who works in the Office of Marketing and Episcopal Resources at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C.