Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Celebrating an Eco-Halloween

by Clare Brauer-Rieke

I've heard of eco-friendly Thanksgiving and Christmas, but I confess, Eco-Halloween is a new one for me. It makes sense, if you think about it -- how often are our little trick-or-treaters walking around (or being driven around) in little plastic costumes and masks, carrying around plastic candy bags full of individually-wrapped candies?

There are many suggestions online for making your Halloween more earth-friendly:

1) Reuse or rent costumes, or craft creative costumes from old clothes, sheets, or recycling (For example, I'm definitely going to be the Paper Bag Princess; for those who don't know the reference, The Paper Bag Princess is a great children's book about a feisty princess who discovers an unconventional "happily ever after.")

2) Use your (obviously organic) pumpkin wisely! Roast the seeds, use the pulp to make pie, compost your Jack-O-Lantern when you're done.

3) Walk, rather than drive, when you trick or treat (or when you take your kids trick or treating).

4) Consider this a grocery shopping trip -- you would use cloth bags then, right? Encourage kids to use cloth or canvas candy bags when they make the rounds.

5) Decorations are also often bad news on the environmental scene. Skip the plastic and styrofoam this year; suggests decorating with things from your garden like fallen tree boughs, pinecones, cornhusks, apples and a pumpkin. "A scary ghost can be made from a simple white sheet with a face drawn using a non-permanent pen," they continue. "The sheet can be washed at the end of the evening. Scary music and soy (not petroleum based) candles help create spooky, but environmentally friendly Halloween ambiance."

6) The worst offender in my opinion -- individually wrapped candies. Not only are they not healthy for children (not a news flash), they generate a lot of trash once the candy is gone. This is a tricky one to which to seek alternatives. The unfortunate truth is that, for safety reasons, kids are encouraged-- fairly, probably-- not to accept unwrapped or homemade treats, unless the family knows the giver personally. There is the option of handing out non-edible treats, like Halloween-themed pencils, but the risk is run of handing out trinkets that will be thrown away anyway. Be creative in seeking solutions here!

What none of these eco-friendly Halloween sites mention, that I have seen, is that the very way we approach Halloween may need a fundamental shift.

Halloween can be a fun and festive celebration, but is usually culturally disconnected from its origins and subsequent history. With its beginnings attributed to the ancient Celtic festival Samhain, a day on which it was believed the boundary between the worlds of the dead and the living were blurred, Halloween has further stemmed from the Christian tradition of All Saints Day, a day designated by the pope as one to remember past saints and martyrs. Perhaps it would be worthwhile for ourselves and for the earth to remember Halloween's more sacred and reverent roots. Maybe if we start by considering the question "In our fun and festive celebrating tonight, how can we best honor the memory of those who have gone before us?" the rest will fall into place.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Event!

Earth Ministry Gathering:
Food, Climate Change, and the Church

October 24, 2009; 9:30am-12pm
Ballard First Lutheran
2006 NW 65th St, Seattle

Please join us at our Earth Ministry Gathering: Food, Climate Change, and the Church on October 24 for an engaging and enriching event.

The day's events will include:
  • The official introduction to Caring for All Creation: At the Table, an updated and greatly expanded version of Earth Ministry's popular curricula; this resource provides detailed resources for creation-oriented worship services focusing on sustainable agriculture and healthy eating
  • An interactive presentation about the link between climate change and our food production, transportation, and consumption
  • An opportunity to share with one another about the successes and challenges of stewarding God's creation in our home churches (For those new to Earth Ministry, this is an ideal time to learn more about the Greening Congregations process and lived ministry)
Afterward, please join us for our potluck lunch and bring your favorite food or drink produced within 350 miles of your home: delicious artisan breads or gourmet cheeses from your local farmers market, apples from eastern Washington, Walla Walla or Willamette wines, a fresh salad made from your personal garden's bounty-- feel free to be creative!

Your RSVP allows us to plan for seating and resources. Thank you!

*If you're interested in doing more for, please join others from Earth Ministry and come to the Seattle Center Fountain on October 24 by 3pm to be arranged to spell out 350. Photographers will take pictures of the 350 from above at 3:50pm. Participating groups include CoolMom, Climate Solutions, Seattle Parks, Seattle Climate Action Network, WSU Climate Masters, Seattle Green Schools, and many others promoting great ways for you to take climate action now-- learn more here!

Monday, October 19, 2009

No Impact Week: Consumption and Trash

by Clare Brauer-Rieke

I confess that when I signed up for No Impact Week, I was not really anticipating challenging myself. Undoubtedly, I leave a significant impact on the earth due to my lifestyle; however, I am a volunteer who doesn't make enough to be much of a consumer, I already give priority to unprocessed and low-on-the-food-chain groceries, I live close enough to work to walk, etc. It felt a little bit like cheating to even sign up. That's how amazing I am. I don't really need to do these little challenge weeks.


No Impact Week with the Huffington Post began on Sunday with a commitment to lower consumption. "The first challenge," according to the No Impact guide, "is about doing more with less. . . . [When] you kick your shopping habit, you'll save money, have more time to spend with your family and friends, discover more space in your house, and maybe-- just maybe-- you'll discover that less really IS more." Sounds fair enough to me. Like I said, I don't have enough money to go shopping, so that should be pretty easy.

There's a problem, though, and it is one that I have recently discussed with a friend of mine who is a pastor in Oregon. Over lunch, she shared with me her interest in approaching the idea of consumerism as an addiction, as legtimately or seriously as one would consider alcoholism or drug addiction. Truth be told, we have no real idea of how out of control our consumerism is, in large part because it is a cultural as well as individual addiction. I may fancy myself to be holding back when I don't buy a pair of really cute boots at Target, but the truth is that I already have half a dozen pairs of shoes more than I need at home. Forget today-- holding back needed to happen quite awhile ago. Or consider that a movie I thoroughly enjoyed and want to own recently came out on DVD. Reflecting on the DVDs I do now own for that reason, how many times have I actually watched them since buying them? And even more depressingly, how soon before DVDs are obsolete, fading from fashion like the VHS?

Fittingly then, today's theme is trash. "Ninety-nine percent of the stuff we harvest, mine, process, transport-- 99 percent of the stuff we run through this production system is trashed within six months," says Annie Leonard in "The Story of Stuff." Ouch. It's easy to convince ourselves that trash is unavoidable, but is it? The challenge is out there. Most of what I'm throwing away, I bought. Did I need to buy it? If I did (unlikely), could I have bought it used or with less packaging? Now that I'm debating throwing it away, have I considered all ways I could reuse it, or fix it if it's broken?

Honestly, considering these things, makes me feel . . . happier. Rather than feeling restrictive, there is something freeing about evaluating my addiction to consumption and beginning to consider ways to pull out of it. There is something oddly comforting about the realization that I don't have to make as much trash as I do. Really, from here, it's up to you and me.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Hidden Truth of Plastics Recycling

By Deanna Matzen

This blog post is long overdue. The seeds of this blog started at an event I spoke at in April 2007, when a pastor of a small church located in the foothills of Mt. Rainier said that his church members didn't want to institute recycling because it all gets sent to China. Then this spring, while at a church softball game, a friend started complaining about Seattle's new recycling laws and how it all goes to China anyway. To both of these comments, I asked if they meant electronics recycling not plastic, paper, glass, etc. They both indicated they were sure that regular recycling materials were sent to China.

As one who loves to research and one who does not like to be wrong, I filed this question away until I had time to dig into the depths of the internet. My first step was to ask my coworker, Jessie. She thought as I did that they were referring to electronics recycling. It wasn't until July of this year that I finally took the time to skim the internet and it is only now that I have time to write up my findings. My first search attempts produce a lot of results on electronics recycling in China or the wonderful efforts of the Chinese to recycle plastic bags. As I scrolled through pages of results, I finally came upon the article, "The Problem with Plastics: Recycling Overseas Poses Risks to Workers Doing It Here Just Doesn't Pay" by Emily Gurnon posted on

What I learned was quite surprising. But before I get into the details of the most shocking and interesting facts, I just have to say that reading this article didn't dissuade me from wanting to recycle despite the fact that it's not as great as it's made out to be. What this article did make me want to do is this: avoid buying plastic at all because it's not just an environmental value, it's a human health and rights issue.

Okay, back to the facts. Here are some of the striking things I learned from Emily Gurnon's article.
  • "The recycling of plastic has a dark side — one little known to most consumers. The majority of the plastics we recycle, regardless of type, end up in China, where worker safety standards are virtually nonexistent and materials are processed under dirty, primitive conditions. And the economics surrounding plastic recycling — unlike those for glass and aluminum — make it a dubious venture for U.S. companies."

  • "What is clear is that plastic recycling presents myriad problems. In addition to safety and environmental questions, technological and economic hurdles have complicated plastics recycling efforts in the United States. The result: Plastic containers get turned into new products at a much lower rate than glass bottles or aluminum cans. The can you recycle today, for instance, will make its way back to the supermarket shelf in just six weeks. Because of health concerns, a plastic bottle will never become another plastic bottle. Recyclers often have a hard time making ends meet because the demand from manufacturers for recycled plastic — and, consequently, the money paid for it — is considerably less than for virgin material."

  • "Even if recycled under the best of conditions, a plastic bottle or margarine tub will probably have only one additional life. Since it can't be made into another food container, your Snapple bottle will become a "durable good," such as carpet or fiberfill for a jacket. Your milk bottle will become a plastic toy or the outer casing on a cell phone. Those things, in turn, will eventually be thrown away.""

Reading this article makes me really mad. It makes me question the recycling system we have in place and where all of Seattle's recycling is going. I once tried to take an environmental science class I was teaching on a field trip to our local recycling center, but wouldn't you know it, they don't offer tours. You can tour dumps, waste water treatment plants, and composting facilities, but you can't tour the recycling center. I wonder why? Because we might learn the dirty truth?

Interestingly, one of our local NPR stations had a story this summer about an MIT project that was seeking to track where our trash goes. They were using volunteers in Seattle to GPS tag items in their trash to be tracked through the system waste removal system. They asked the question, "Why do we know so much about the supply chain and so little about the 'removal-chain'?" Good question, MIT. As consumers of supply and removal chains, we should demand more transparency and we be more mindful about how much stuff we consume!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Let's Not Beat a Dead Horse

by Clare Brauer-Rieke

For those who were unaware, October happens to be National Vegetarian Month. While one has to imagine that this arbitrary designation was recent, it is hard to discuss vegetarian and vegan diets without feeling like you're beating a dead horse. Very few people, it seems, have not had "the conversation" about vegetarianism. Whether triggered by a coffee-table copy of The Omnivore's Dilemma, a son or daughter who comes back from freshman year of college quoting Peter Singer, or any other number of sources, the word is definitely out there.

The 101-version is that there is definitely a spectrum, rather than polarity, of human eating habits. If not an omnivore (literally "one who eats everything"), one might be a pescatarian (one who abstains from eating animals except for fish and seafood), pollo vegetarian (one who abstains from eating animals except for chicken), pollo-pescatarian (you do the math), ovo-lacto-vegetarian (the fancy way of saying non-vegan vegetarians, or vegetarians who consume milk and eggs), or vegan (one who consumes no animal products of any kind). Some people are vegetarian or vegan for a few months or a few years; others make it a lifelong commitment. To further complicate matters, many factors play into people's decisions about what they eat, including economic means, treatment of animals and related ethical concerns, environmental considerations, personal health, and perhaps most basically, tastes or desires.

It's a dizzying world of eating habits, but there it is. In contemporary society, it seems that everyone has some preconceived notion about those who eat differently than they choose to eat (or who eat the same way for different reasons). Almost everyone, at some point, feels judged for their choices regarding food. One way or the other, many people feel strongly about their own choices and competitive or antagonistic toward others.

Enough! As a faith community, we are to live in koinonia-- while one should remain true to their personal ethics, there is much room for empathy and flexibility in building-- rather than tearing down-- relationships with one another. So, while I am aware of the irony of this phrase in this context, let's not beat a dead horse. I'm not writing to influence how you eat. Eat in a way that is spiritual, ethical, healthful, and joyful for you. All I ask is that in your decisions to eat the way you do, hold both yourself and others accountable with charity, compassion and respect.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Winners of our Sermon Contest!

On September 26, 2009, over 100 members and friends of Earth Ministry celebrated the Feast of St. Francis with a celebratory evening of worship featuring a sermon contest at University Lutheran Church. In this year's contest, four finalists were selected to present their inspired messages calling the Christian community to action on behalf of God's good creation. Each sermon presented was unique and provided a different perspective on the ways we can be called to care for creation through our faith traditions. We all appreciated their words and took them to heart.

The winners of this year's sermon contest were selected by the attendees of the event who voted with their dollars. Two awards were presented, the Franciscan Philanthropist Award, to the contestant whose sermon raised the most money in support of Earth Ministry's work and mission, and the People's Choice Award, to the contestant who received the most number of votes regardless of the amount of money donated. The two winning sermons will be published in the Winter Issue of Earth Letter and all four sermons can be read on our website.

Congratulations to Elizabeth Freese, winner of the Franciscan Philanthropist Award, and Rev. Anne Hall, winner of the People's Choice Award!

Thank you to each of our participants for sharing your insightful and thought-provoking creation care sermons. We were blessed that all four of them could join us to honor the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi. And many thanks to all who entered the contest this year. The judges had a difficult time narrowing their choices to just four finalists and the final votes were very close as the audience determined the winners.

In addition to the sermon contest, the University Lutheran worship team provided beautiful creation-themed music for the evening and thirty-three Greening Congregations were recognized and blessed in their good work.

This year we welcomed a record 11 new congregations to the Greening Congregations Program:

Bellevue First United Methodist Church, Bellevue, WA
Edmonds United Methodist Church, Edmonds, WA
Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Mercer Island, WA
Flagstaff Federated Community Church, Flagstaff, AZ
Kirkland Congregational United Church of Christ, Kirkland, WA
St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, Port Angeles, WA
St. Augustine's-in-the-Woods, Freeland, WA
St. James Catholic Cathedral, Seattle, WA
St. Margaret's Episcopal Church, Bellevue, WA
St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Port Townsend, WA
Wooden Cross Lutheran Church, Woodinville, WA

Congratulations to our newest Greening Congregations!

While the votes were being tallied from the sermon contest, those gathered viewed the touching film, "Irreversible, Irreplaceable" from the Wildlife in a Warming World DVD, which is available for free to churches through Earth Ministry.

Thanks to all who attended and supported Earth Ministry. We raised over $4600 in support of religious environmental stewardship!