Landfill Theology: This is Our Issue
If I closed my eyes, I was back in Port au Prince. Easily could I be standing on a Haitian street corner while the big-tire machines swarmed around me and the trickle of drainage water edged along behind me in the road-side-ditch where the trash swims. That smell of things dying, it does something to the senses.
But I wasn’t in the Caribbean. I opened my eyes to the emptying of the seventh dump truck we’d seen since we’d arrived at the top of our city’s landfill. The danger of the wealthy, I thought. We have the same problems as third-world countries, just more resources to hide them.
(One of these pictures is from Haiti. One is from Shreveport.)
It’s been Care for Creation month at the intern house. We’ve been spending time in the New Monastic mark of “Caring for the Plot of God’s Earth Given to Us with Support of Our Local Economies.” It has been good to give attention and focus to our lifestyles concerning waste, energy, and God’s economy of enough. Conviction has not been far from us as we remember that justice for God’s people and Creation Care cannot be separated.
Our first round of diving into the research and understanding of the Church’s responsibility to partner well with the world began last year. That is when our garden and waste practices first started to reveal to us how Resurrection Theology is so deeply intertwined with Creation Care.
Meaning, when it comes to cultivating a raised kale bed, there doesn’t have to be an end-of-the-road destruction for any part of what lives and dies. The seeds of another plant get pressed down into our dark soil. The kale that grows to full potential gets harvested and consumed, giving energy and sustenance to those in the house. The kale that begins rotting before its time, gets pulled and turned back into the compost pile where it will break back down to enrich the soil which will then be used for the Spring planting.
Death does not mean the end, says the garden’s preaching. Death means life. And this resurrection theology is possible for our homes and our kitchens and our trashcans. There is a way that we can honor and steward and partner so well that what we no longer need doesn’t just have to pile up in a mountain of rot, but rather it can be repurposed for life-again.
But by and large, we don’t practice that, not in Shreveport/Bossier at least.
And I know this because of the landfill.
The landfill which receives 1500 tons of waste a day. A DAY. Waste that is filled with some chemical-free, decomposable matter, but primarily consists of materials that are either chemically-ridden or that won’t break down for over 1000 years (or both).
The landfill which will be unusable after only 53 years of service. Four hundred and three acres of land will be sitting, rotting, and hiding the trash of 2.5 generations of humans who didn’t think twice once the trucks left our driveways.
The landfill where 900 euthanized animals are dumped each month along with our plastic bottles and grocery bags and cardboard.
“How long until we could reuse the land?” asked one of the interns to our very kind tour guide. “Well, I don’t know,” she said. “I’ve never thought about it.”
We don’t think about it, it seems. I don’t have to think about it. I pay someone to take the issue elsewhere, and I don’t have to make decisions concerning my practices.
But yesterday I could not deny how I have added to the brokenness, how I have dumped without conscience my load after load into an end-of-the-road reality for the world that God made and called good. I have not added to the beauty of resurrection where things of death are made new again.
This is our issue. This is our responsibility.
Lots of folks have lots of different opinions and theories and teachings about the creation story in Genesis 1 and 2. But for just a second, I want to look at the word replenish in the 28th verse of the first chapter.
Gen 1:28–And God blessed them: and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the heavens, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.
One definition of replenish is “to fill (something) up again.” But a second definition is “to restore (a stock or supply of something) to the former level or condition.”
Was this passage strictly talking about Adam and Eve populating the world? Maybe, but there’s a lot of people who challenge the fact that it says re-plenish, as in to fill again. Or was the passage commanding humanity (the first folks included) to be fruitfully multiplying as stewards of all creation, who then when it is time, and as it is needed, restore it to the former level or condition. Renew it. Resurrect it. Make it whole and alive again as it once was. Every time it needs it. Turn it back into the soil so that it can add to life for one more round.
The destruction of God’s good earth is a plight of the Church, and it’s care has been our oldest commission. This should not strictly or primarily be an issue of nonbelievers while the Body sits by and labels it “a green hippy movement” and argues with global warming. This is our issue. This is our responsibility.
And there are ways to do it differently. Here are some examples for starters that we’ll be walking towards (one convicted step at a time) in our home:
-Going paper free. Paper towels, paper plates, paper cups. Replacing all of them with cloth and ceramic or glass which can be reused and rewashed. This means cleaning toilets with a cloth rag and wiping up spills with the same. It’s not that terrible, I’ve tried it all of two times and didn’t die.
-Switching to a glass water bottle instead of buying/using plastic ones. Not only is this better for our health chemical-wise, but plastic bottles will be in our dirt for another 50 generations.
-Purchasing four or five $0.99 reusable grocery bags the next time you’re at the store. THEY ARE BETTER. I am not the kind of person who likes to make six trips out to the car when I get home from the grocery store. Reusable bags are bigger and have sturdier handles. You can make one big ox-like trip if you want with these babies. And then of course your thousands of plastic bags that you used last year (which will be in the land not budging long after you’re gone) don’t have to multiply again this year.
-Using cloth diapers (like these) or a cloth diaper service (like this). Eighteen billion disposable diapers end up in landfills every year where they remain for 500+ years. Plus they can cost $18-$25 a week. We can do better. Yes, I suppose it would be “grosser” than using the alternative; but the kids of that kid’s kids will have to deal with the repercussion of those diapers; and we can do better.
-Buying whole foods and composting. The less chemically processed foods we are buying and eating, the better it is for the soil (whether in a landfill or in our compost bin). Plus, obviously, it’s also better for our bodies. Here’s a great video about making your own indoor worm compost bin for anyone who doesn’t have the outdoor space to make a pile.
-Taking your own coffee cup to coffee shops if you are on the go. Most will let you do this.
-Spending some time researching what can be recycled into your bins (if your city provides bins), where the closest drop-off is (if your city doesn’t provide bins), and where you can take the waste that your city doesn’t recycle instead of sending it to the landfill (like car batteries, tires, appliances, aerosol cans, etc). There are alternatives such as Shreveport Green’s hazardous waste collections which take place 8 times a year for some things such as these. Google is a wonderful tool.
-Making it a game. How can we send AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE to the landfill. Or how can we make sure what we do send is quickly decomposable and/or without chemicals? This is doable.
It is good news that Resurrection is a reality and a truth. It is good news that we get to experience it every single day when we choose to die to self and raise with Christ. It is good news that we get to offer it to people, to the planet, and to the planet for the people who live there. We are not too far gone to do right by the earth.
“Redemption comes in strange places, small spaces
Calling out the best of who we are
And I want to add the beauty
To tell a better story
I want to shine with the light
That’s burning up inside.”
-Sara Groves, Add to the Beauty