Days 365+48h Easter wasteRejoice! Easter is here and I no longer have to measure trash. Of course Easter is first and foremost about the resurrection of Jesus and the hope that gives the world. I don’t want to in any way trivialize this holiest of days. Still, my practical Lenten sacrifice side reminds me that I no longer have to sort through my garbage and separate the recyclables from the trash. I will continue to recycle and compost, but digging through this stuff and composing it for a photo has been a pain. Following are some things I’ve learned:

  1. The impact – Even though I was able to reduce the amount of garbage I produced during Lent, this was miniscule in terms of making an appreciable dent in reducing the overall human contribution to landfills.
  2. Consciousness Raising – Probably the most important value of this experience was the increased awareness I now have for how I buy and dispose of material goods. I learned a lot more about what is recyclable, compostable, and terracyclable thus increasing the likelihood that I will use this knowledge in the future. I also am looking at the things I buy more carefully. Is it something I really need? How long will it last? How is it packaged? This is changing how much I buy and what it is packaged in.
  3. Habit Forming – Recycling can be enhanced by setting up a system and developing a habit. Once I had made a container for my terracycling stuff, it became easy just to put the appropriate stuff in it. Once I learned some finer points of how much in my ordinary garbage was recyclable and what was compostable, I got in the habit of putting it in the assigned place. Once I got in the habit of taking a small bag with me on walks, it became a habit to pick up bottles and cans. In fact, when away from home I started noticing plastic bottles in other neighborhoods and felt a pang of guilt that I wasn’t in a position to pick them up.
  4. Recycling Etiquette – It was hard for me not to rescue recyclables from under neighbors’ bushes or to refrain from commenting on others’ lack of recycling when visiting. With my increased awareness, it became an etiquette dilemma. Does one overlook the fact that another household does not recycle something that I know could easily be done? Does that violate good manners and become over-responsible? Or is it proper to “educate” another about what they could recycle or buy differently – like suggesting that someone not buy bottled water.
  5. Days 365+48h Easter waste w footA Game or Game Changing? – I admit that in many ways these six weeks of reducing my waste was like a game for me. It was a challenge to see how low I could go. I also admit that I bordered on cheating a few times like when I turned a blind eye to a Styrofoam cup on my neighbor’s lawn because it would have increased the level of my garbage that week. I also let my husband buy me a dress I coveted. It came with no packaging but did I absolutely need it? No. My compulsive side sometimes went to extremes to avoid adding 1/8th of an inch to my trash level. Does stomping down the trash to make it look like less really change how much I threw away? Indeed, it was part game, but it was also game changing in that it changed me. I became more informed and now see recycling opportunities where I didn’t before. I’m more careful about what I buy and what it’s packaged in.
  6. Any Spiritual Growth? One of the tenets of Catholic Social teaching is Care for God’s Creation, and certainly I grew in implementing that. However, I think the more important spiritual growth that took place in me over these six weeks is what I have come to call the “Smug Factor.” I’ve long known that I should tame my pride. Not the good kind of pride that urges me to do my best work, but the vice kind of pride that prompts me to want to appear better than others. Facing my temptations to cheat – even in an artificial contest with myself – punctured my pride. Digging through garbage taught me respect for those who do this to survive. Letting go of the goal of perfect recycling and no waste was humbling. Trying not to judge others when their lifestyle decisions differed from mine was an important lesson.