“The earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it.” Psalm 24:1a reminds us the earth is not the property of humans to use or abuse as we please. We are called to be caretakers, stewards of this place God has entrusted to us (Genesis 2:15). The United Methodist Social Principles state, “To be faithful requires we choose actions that honor that sacred trust. The goodness of God’s creation, and the value given to every part of it, call people to respect, protect, and care for the creation….”
“We urge United Methodists to adopt sustainable habits and practices, including refraining from overconsumption, repurposing and recycling materials, avoiding products that pollute or otherwise harm the environment, and reducing the carbon footprints of individuals and families by reducing overall reliance on fossil fuels for heat, transportation, and other goods” [including plastic, which comes from fossil fuels]. —UM Social Principles
“We confess that the negative impacts resulting from the degradation of the natural world have fallen disproportionately on marginalized communities, including indigenous tribes, religious and ethnic communities, people living in poverty, and other vulnerable groups. We, therefore, pledge to resist all forms of environmental exploitation, neglect and inequality.” —UM Social Principles
“Few biblical themes are as prominent or as numerous as the scriptural injunctions to stand in solidarity with ‘the least of these,’ including the poor, the orphan, the widow, the stranger, and all other vulnerable members of society…. Accordingly, we pledge ourselves to the establishment of just, equitable, and sustainable economies that work for all.”—UM Social Principles
Start your creation justice efforts with John Wesley’s General Rules: Do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God. It may be easy to see things to do for the first two. But even if health or other circumstances limit your ability to act, consider the third: Stay in love with God through prayer for the healing of God’s creation and for justice for all.
Try a new lens—one that scans for single-use plastic in your life. For a week, become hyper-aware of plastic bags, excess packaging, water bottles, disposable cutlery, straws, and cups that litter our lives before they stay in landfills or oceans for eons. Challenge your family, a friend, or your Sunday school class to become more aware of the plastic they see. Ask them to report to one another. Then decide what you can do, individually and together. Making a change is easier when you have support from others.
We live in a culture of relentless advertising, which drives overconsumption, which then fills our landfills. Be thoughtful about what you buy and from whom. Discern wants versus needs. Look for environmentally conscious companies with ethical practices. Consider packaging, durability, and sustainability in the products you choose.
When you are shopping, look at more than just the product. Evaluate the packaging. Go for minimal or recyclable materials. Avoid plastic wrappings that will have to be trashed. Or find ways to reuse them.
Are you investing in your values? Scrutinize your portfolio, especially investments that are lumped together. If you find your money is going to support fossil fuels, which are the source of plastics and carbon emissions, change to supporting sustainable alternatives—solar and wind, for example, that do not contribute to the plastic problem. Money talks, and corporations listen. Invest in the future, not the past.
Individual actions won’t be enough to stop our environmental crisis, but your actions can be a catalyst for change. Every dollar you spend (or don’t), every contact you make (or don’t) with policymakers, every conversation with family, friends, or colleagues sends a message to the market, to the legislature, to others about their actions. Be faithful in your creation justice efforts.
You can lead by example, by your actions and your words showing family, friends, fellow congregation members, co-workers, and even strangers what is important and how they too can take action for good.
When you talk about creation care, don’t double down on statistics or guilt. Live what you value. What you make a practice speaks volumes to others. If you recycle, if you choose durable over single-use plastic, if you consistently avoid food waste or compost it, if you plant trees or native plants for pollinators, and so on, people notice, and people ask. Then you can share why you do it and the benefits you experience. And people listen.
Numerous climate justice organizations are doing excellent work. Explore them to continue to educate yourself. You may also choose to sign advocacy petitions, which will be sent to appropriate policy makers, or to support their work financially, knowing that you—through these groups—will continue to make a positive difference. Support their work also with your prayers.
“Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you.” —Wendell Berry (and Jesus, Matthew 7:21). Pure gold. Practical advice.
Landfills already contain more than two million tons of plastic bottles; every year 1.5 million barrels of oil are used to manufacture single-use plastic water bottles; those bottles take more than 1,000 years to biodegrade. Single-use plastic, including bottles, bags, straws, lids, and packaging, is also polluting our oceans, killing marine life, and breaking down into microplastics that are entering our food chain. Avoid single-use plastics. Choose aluminum cans or bottles for drinks, for example, because they can be recycled effectively. Even “little” choices make a difference for creation.
More and more products are available plastic-free. (Check these links for examples: shampoo, laundry detergent, food wraps, hand soap, toilet paper, and phone cases.) Companies like these are looking out for the earth, not just for their bottom line. Many of them also donate a portion of their revenue to other causes that support the environment. Align your purchases with your values. When you “buy green,” your dollars fund businesses with products and practices that promote the well-being of the planet.
Styrofoam will outlive all of us! It doesn’t degrade. Your area may have a few opportunities for recycling it, but you can also choose cardboard egg cartons, bring your own mug or to-go containers, ask your favorite restaurant management to switch to compostable ones, change your church’s use, and write to corporations to change packaging and to local, state, and federal governing bodies to ban its use.
Make a switch. From plastic clips to wooden clothespins, from plastic jugs of detergents to dissolvable tablets, from plastic-wrapped vegetables to loose ones, from plastic bags to reusable cloth bags or recyclable paper ones, from plastic food containers to glass ones, which can be reused or recycled, from plastic wrap to beeswax wraps, from single-servings packaged in plastic to buying in bulk or choosing the largest package and parceling out manageable servings yourself into reusable containers. You get the idea. Finding alternatives is possible.
Stop wearing plastic. Are you surprised? Did you know that synthetic fibers from clothing are a significant contribution to microplastic pollution? Go back to nature—wool, cotton, silk, and even bamboo and hemp. Plastic doesn’t go away.
Reuse zippered packaging. Numerous products come in re-closable plastic bags. Rather than automatically trashing them, reevaluate. If the bag has contained individually wrapped pieces or if it can be thoroughly washed, it can be reused. Simply add a masking tape label or use a marker to identify the new contents.
A new baby brings joy—and a lot of plastic waste! Choose baby products and toys made from sustainable resources and ones that can also be passed along numerous times to other families. Browse the internet for “sustainable diapers” and “sustainable diaper bags” as a starter. For a baby shower, let family and friends know that sustainable is not just for your baby but also for the future of all babies.
Shop without plastic bags. We’ve been learning to take our own reusable bags to the grocery store. The same principle works in retail stores. Carry in your own bags, or if you are only purchasing one or two items that you can carry easily without a bag, politely decline the store’s plastic ones, and tell the clerks you are cutting down on single-use plastic. It’s your gift to the planet.
Likely you already know and do Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. Go beyond that with the Refuse (say no to plastic straws and bags, for example) and Repair (rather than throw away something, see if it can be fixed).
Are you surrounded by outdated technology items loaded with plastic? Don’t send them to a landfill! You can recycle CDs, DVDs, video and audio tapes, hard drives, zip and floppy discs, pagers, digital cameras, slides, Super 8s, 35 mm film, mice, modems, headphones, and such through GreenDisk’s TechnoTrash Pack-IT Service. Check out greendisk.com. Continue to look for opportunities to recycle or to donate for reuse.
The Word of God leads us, and we can lead by our words. With the guidance of Scripture and our United Methodist Tradition, we can speak up for creation justice in our circles of influence (family, friends, congregation, work, school) and even outside our comfort zones. The Holy Spirit gives us the words we need. People listen to those they trust.
Take the Last Straw Campaign Pledge (creationcare.org). Unless you have a disability and need a straw, you can decline ones at restaurants. Just politely say, “I’m avoiding single-use plastics.” You’ve done two things: 1) The straw doesn’t end up in the ocean or landfill forever, and 2) your words get someone else to think about the problem—and a solution.
If you live in a residential complex that serves food, are they giving out Styrofoam “clamshells” for take-out? Ask food services to switch to compostable containers or encourage residents to supply their own containers. Invite other residents to join you in asking.
Yes, your choices to steer clear of single-use plastics matter! Keep up the good work. But your impact will be even greater when you urge your members of Congress to support the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act of 2021. Laws are essential to change the systems that harm Earth and God’s creatures. Raise your voice! Find out more here.
Organize a clean-up for a beach or waterway near you. Pick a date and time. Get any needed permissions. Spread the word in the community. Make cleaning up a crusade with photos of litter, pollution, and harmed marine life. Figure out the logistics for salvaging recyclables and only trashing trash. Bring supplies. Make the job fun! Lead by example.
Do a plastic-free challenge, encouraging the congregation to increase what they are doing to address the issues related to plastic. Find a way for them to report their actions and be sure to celebrate the results. To join the global effort or for inspiration and ideas, visit plasticfreejuly.org.
Does your congregation’s Sunday morning gathering time include coffee? One church had a mug-decorating party. Using permanent markers, everyone individualized a mug for themselves and for guests. At “mugs and hugs” time, no one needed to use Styrofoam or plasticized-paper cups. Washing up simply became another opportunity for fellowship.
Many churches are returning to serving meals on real plates with silverware, cups and glasses, and compostable napkins. They’ve made a commitment to washing and reusing dinnerware rather than throwing away “convenient” plastic items that pile up in landfills.
Add opportunities to your church’s programming to learn about plastic as a creation justice issue. Study Scripture, examine UM Social Principles, show a video or two to spur discussion, and invite congregation members to “show and tell” what they are doing to cut down on plastic use. Among many video choices, check out the Story of Plastic (animated), Plastic Wars, Why We Need to Stop Plastic Pollution in Our Oceans FOR GOOD, and for fun, Laundro Man.
In worship, lift up God’s creation and our call to stewardship and justice. References woven into pastoral prayers, sermons, confession, and hymns regularly are ways to illustrate faithful response to our loving Creator and care for all of creation. Also, use the Creation Justice Tips in bulletins and other communications with the congregation.
The United Methodist Creation Justice Movement is providing these Tips as a tool to equip church members, families, and individuals to respond to God’s call to care for creation and do justice with our neighbors.
For more about the UM Creation Justice Movement, go to umcreationjustice.org.