Friday, August 28, 2009

The Passing of the Torch

by Clare Brauer-Rieke

As the summer wanes, those of us who are still on an academic schedule know that it is time to begin afresh in a year of new challenges and opportunities. The first of these opportunities for me, in which I delight, is to introduce myself to you as Earth Ministry's Outreach Coordinator for the 2009-2010 year.

A native Oregonian, I attended and recently graduated from Pacific Lutheran University (Tacoma, WA), where I studied Religion and Women's and Gender Studies. My interest in the intersection of ecological justice and faith, rooted firmly in both my upbringing as a pastor's daughter and in the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest, blossomed in my years as a university student. I felt the no-holds-barred freedom to ask whatever questions I wanted, regardless of the answers I was expected to already know: What is my role in the pursuit of ecological justice as a Christian? What are the consequences when we, as humans, place ourselves above and outside of our ecosystems? In what ways am I called to live life differently than I've been taught in a consumeristic, individualistic culture? Is there a fullness of communion with God, the rest of creation, and even with our human community that we cannot experience until we understand our place in this enormous, interdependent web?

The exciting opportunity to work with the Earth Ministry staff came to me through the Lutheran Volunteer Corps. Called by LVC to live simply and sustainably, dwell in intentional community, and work for social justice, I knew that Earth Ministry was a remarkable organization in which I could do just that. I look forward to this year not as one that will answer all of my questions, but as one in which I can engage with faith communities in asking them together. It is a blessing to be granted the opportunity to support and work alongside individuals, families, and congregations in our common calling as God's hands and feet in this world. It is my hope that as hands we may begin to heal our broken relationships with the rest of creation, and that as feet we stand grounded, connected, in the earth from which we were formed. I look forward to working with you all!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Make Your Own Grocery Bags

by Deanna Matzen

The response to Meighan's blog post about the proposed bag fee in Seattle has been amazing. In a comment on that post, Karen Peissinger-Venhaus suggested that Church's could start a ministry to make grocery bags out of reused materials. What a great idea! On a personal level, I'm already in the process of doing making some bags out of an old set of curtains that I will give to friends for Christmas this year.

When we moved into our house four years ago, they left behind their curtains. One was a Roman blind that my husband did not like. When we had our windows replaced with energy-efficient ones, the blind was removed from the window and the support structure was inadvertantly broken. Meanwhile, we stored that curtain in our basement for the next two years until last year when I became inspired to make it into grocery bags after the bag fee was proposed by the city. So far I've cut up the material into what will make six grocery bags. Now all I need to do is sew them up!

For my project, I used one of my current reuseable bags as a template for cutting the material. But for those who are more comfortable with a pattern in hand, I did a little internet search and the best source of free grocery bag patterns is this: 35 Reusable Grocery Bags You Can Make. I'm sure there are a few others out there, but this lists seems comprehensive and even includes knitting and crochet patterns.

I'd like to highlight one of the patterns for a Furoshiki - a traditional Japanese wrapping cloth - because it's not only a reusable shopping bag but can also be used to wrap gifts and carry an assortment of other items. See below for a video (mostly in Japanese) showing how to tie and fold a Furoshiki.

If you have been making grocery bags, we'd love to see pictures or hear reports of your projects!

Happy Grocery Bag Making!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Paper or plastic . . . or neither?

Seattle is currently in the throes of deciding whether to implement a 20-cent bag fee for paper and plastic grocery bags at supermarkets, pharmacies, and convenience stores. Opinions differ widely on this proposed fee: some people see it as a Big Brother tactic telling us how to live our lives; others see it as a regressive tax on the poor or the elderly; still others perceive it as a strong incentive to change wasteful behavior.

As the debate rages in our newspapers and mailboxes, let’s step back for a moment and look at the issue from a theological perspective. How does God call us to be good stewards of the planet? How do grocery bags fit into this calling?

In the second creation story, in Genesis 2:15, we are put in the garden “to till it and keep it.” Nowhere are we commanded to use it up and destroy it. Yet today we are sullying the garden at an alarming rate. According to a Seattle Public Utilities study, Seattlites use about 292 million plastic and 68 million paper bags per year. That’s 360 million bags for a population of about 600,000 people, or almost 12 bags per person per week. Those bags cost the retailer between 1 and 5 cents each for plastic, more for paper; those costs are passed along to us, the customers. Bags also cost about 17 cents each to dispose of or recycle. Who is paying for disposal? Again, we are. So between purchase and disposal we already pay about 20 cents per bag, but the cost has been invisible until now. Adding a bag fee makes the cost visible—and also gives us the choice to lower it by decreasing the number of paper and plastic bags we use.

Plastic bags break into small pieces but do not decompose entirely. They wash out to sea, where marine animals mistake them for food and can then starve to death if the plastic blocks their digestive tracts. Paper bags are not actually better: they are more carbon-intensive to manufacture and take 14 million trees per year. Paper production involves some toxic waste products that our environment would be better off without, such as mercury, arsenic, lead, and formaldehyde. A cloth bag that is used many times will more than compensate for the carbon footprint it took to produce.

What about the added expense this fee will create for the poor and elderly? Are we not called to take care of them, as we are told in Matthew 25:31-46? Danny Westneat reports in the Seattle Times (July 29, 2009) that desperately poor people could well be the ones who would end up paying the 20-cent fee for bags.

They might, for awhile—it takes times to change old habits. But I suspect that eventually many of them would figure out ways to bring their own bags. And some of the money generated from the bag fee will be directed to help such places as food banks with the bag problem; after all, they are not grocery stores, pharmacies, or convenience stores, which are the retailers targeted by this legislation. And if we interpret Matthew 25 as calling us to care for the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, and the imprisoned not just of the human race but of all creation, then we see that changing patterns of human behavior in this way benefits everyone.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC), which is based in Virginia and represents such big businesses as Exxon and Dow Chemical, among others, has poured well over $1 million into fighting the proposed bag fee legislation in Seattle. Clearly, ACC companies do very well financially by keeping us hooked on “free” plastic bags. Yet even a study commissioned by the ACC had to admit, “Cloth bags were shown to reduce environmental impacts if consumers can be convinced to switch.”

Whom do we serve: God of all creation, or the financial interests of the ACC? Whether this referendum passes or not, I, for one, resolve to be more intentional about taking cloth bags to the store.