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Beyond a Throwaway Culture

Blog by Sr. Terry Wassinger, OP

From the beginning, the idea of a “throwaway culture” has been one of the signature phrases of Francis’s papacy. In 2013 he said “I would therefore like us all to make the serious commitment to respect and care for creation, to pay attention to every person, to combat the culture of waste and of throwing out so as to foster a culture of solidarity and encounter.”

In Laudato Si, paragraph 22 he writes: "Our industrial system, at the end of its cycle of production and consumption, has not developed the capacity to absorb and reuse waste and by-products.  These problems are closely linked to a throwaway culture which affects the excluded just as it quickly reduces things to rubbish.”

Francis generally contrasts the “throwaway” culture with what he calls a “culture of encounter,” or “welcome,” meaning a culture in which people are treated with dignity and the earth with respect.

To move beyond this throwaway culture and join with others in a culture of encounter, we must become aware of our impact on creation.  Our celebration of Earth Day on Sunday, April 22 gives us the opportunity to do that.  Reduction of waste is critical to our survival and the logo Reduce, Reuse, Recycle was created to help us address this issue.  This is a familiar phrase to most, but where did it originate?

There tends to be a bit of debate about the creation of the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” slogan, but the practice of working towards reducing our waste output, reusing what we can and then recycling what we can’t has been around for many years. The economic boom in the 1950's led to an increase in the amount of trash – and litter – being produced by Americans due to the growing popularity of single use plastic items. It was not long until people began to realize the environmental impact humans were having on the Earth’s eco-system.

Inspired by the “teach-ins” held across the country to educate citizens on the Vietnam War, Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson spearheaded the first national Earth Day on April 22, 1970. Throughout the 1970's, many different laws were enacted – both at the federal and state level – to promote conservation efforts and raise awareness of them to the general public. Thus, the Three R’s were born.

How can we live them out?

Reduce the amount of waste created. Americans create tons of trash every year. Reducing the amount of waste produced helps to prevent crowded landfills and the environmental damage.

Reuse items that could have a future purpose.  How many items put into the trash or recycling could be reused? There are the obvious items, such as clothes or the extra canned goods that could be donated to the needy. Some items require a bit of creativity.  Just remember before tossing out that box of “junk” in the attic that one person's trash is another person's treasure.

Recycle whatever can be recycled. There is no need to feel guilty about creating waste – not every single thing in the universe can be reduced or reused. Luckily, a lot of items we use can be recycled.

Saint Catharine Motherhouse in KY took on the challenge more than 25 years ago.  In 1992, Sr. Margaret Marie Hoftsetter and Sr. Appoline Simard were collecting and recycling newspapers in an unused chicken coop on the property.  Later a recycling building was constructed (Click here for photos of the Recycling Center in present time).  For more than 25 years, the newspapers continue to be sent to an Insulation Factory in Springfield to be recycled.  Minnie Fay Smith, after working for 17 years in the Motherhouse Kitchen, now works part time with Sr. Appoline to sort, weigh and prepare items to be taken for recycling. Every week stacks of newspapers are taken to the factory.  Cardboard that has been collected is picked up by the New Hope Soup Kitchen. The payment the Soup Kitchen receives help to feed the hungry poor.  Paper, both shredded and recyclable, is taken to the Washington County Recycling Center in Springfield, and aluminum and tin cans and glass are taken to another center that accepts these things. These are steps that we are proud of, but we know we can still do more.

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