My go-to meal when I don’t have leftovers to bring for lunch is an order of spring rolls from a nearby Vietnamese restaurant. The two spring rolls come in plastic wrap, with a small plastic container of peanut sauce on the side.
Since everything is already in plastic, I ask them to skip the Styrofoam takeout container. The first time, the cashier was confused. I assured her that I could carry the package of spring rolls and the container of peanut sauce in my hands. Nevertheless, the order came out from the kitchen in a plastic bag—which I decided was better than Styrofoam and maybe the best I could expect.
But I persisted. On another trip, I figured I could beat the system by bringing my own bag. When I got back to the office, I discovered that they had placed the spring rolls and the peanut sauce in a plastic box inside my paper bag. Sigh. Finally, the other day, when I walked into the restaurant, the cashier saw me and said, “One order of spring rolls with no box, right?” Success! Here in the US we can choose to forget about single-use disposable containers once they’re thrown away. But what if you and I had to keep all our garbage in our houses and backyards—forever? What happens where there’s no system for trash removal?
When traveling in places such as Guatemala and Indonesia, I’ve noticed that lots of food is packaged in single-serve packages. The size is convenient, both for selling in food stalls and for purchasing by people who don’t have a lot of money. But all these empty chip bags and water bottles get heaped in a vacant lot in the middle of town or end up clogging rivers. There’s no “away” to throw them.
In a place considered to be among the top snorkeling areas in the world, the shiny fish I saw turned out to be plastic wrappers: We were swimming in trash. Someone high up the food chain is making money, but someone else is paying the price.
The psalmist tells us that this planet is not ours: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it” (Psalm 24:1). As the world focuses special attention this month on the earth, how can we come to see Earth Day, and every day, as the Lord’s day?
Wendy McFadden is publisher of Brethren Press and Communications for the Church of the Brethren.