Landfill Theology: This is Our Issue
by Britney Winn Lee
If I close my eyes, I am waiting on a Haitian street corner while the big-tire machines swarm around me. I can hear the trickle of drainage water edging 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 am not in the Caribbean. I open my eyes to the emptying of the seventh dump truck I’ve seen since we arrived at the top of Shreveport, Louisiana’s landfill.
We have the same problems as third-world countries, it occurs to me. We just have more resources to hide them.
It’s been Care for Creation month for us at our intentional community’s intern house. We’ve been spending time with 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 environmental world began last year—a late start in comparison to the rest of the country, but still revolutionary for our southern city. That is when our garden and waste practices first started to reveal to us how Resurrection Theology is so deeply intertwined with caring for God’s good earth.
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 prime time gets pulled and turned back into the compost pile where it will break down to enrich the soil which will be used for the Spring planting.
Death does not mean the end, the garden proclaims. Death means life. And this is true not only for fall vegetables, but also 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 here in my town, 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 consisting 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 hundreds of 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 have 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.
I thought of the word replenish in the 28th verse of Genesis chapter one.
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.
Was this passage strictly talking about Adam and Eve populating the world? Maybe. But it does say to re-plenish—as in, to fill again. Maybe that first commandment was to be always fruitfully multiplying stewards of all of the world, working with God to create life and, when it is time and as it is needed, to restore it to the former level or condition. Renew it. Resurrect it. Make it whole and alive again as it once was.
In Romans the New Testament tells us that Creation waits for God’s children, in hope that it will be set free from its bondage to decay. While the garden proclaims resurrection, the landfill groans, waiting for a Movement to set it free. This should not strictly or primarily be an issue of nonbelievers while the Body sits by and labels it “a green movement” for “liberals” and argues with global warming. This is our issue. This is our responsibility.
And there are ways to do it differently. Here are a few things we’re trying at our little community:
Going paper free. Paper towels, paper plates, paper cups. Replacing all of them with cloth and ceramic/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 weeks and haven’t died.
Switching to a reusable 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 mule-like trip in if you want with these. And then the hundreds of plastic bags that you used last year (which will be in the land not budging long after you and I are gone) don’t have to multiply again this year.
Using cloth diapers or a cloth diaper service. Eighteen billion disposable diapers end up in landfills every year where they remain for 500+ years. Plus they can cost $18-$25 a week. Cloth is cheaper—both for the family using them and for the earth that receives them.
Growing whole foods and composting. The less chemically processed foods we are growing and/or buying and eating, the better it is for the soil (whether in a landfill or in our compost bin). Plus, it’s 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. For example, our city offers hazardous waste collections which takes 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 rise 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 here.
We are not too far gone to do right by the earth.