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Green, simple, zero waste living for local Catholics

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The trash Jane Crosby generated during the month of March fits into the palms of her two hands. Minus the green cup she drank from at a friend's St. Patrick’s Day party, the receipts, bandages and other nonrecyclable scraps of plastic and paper easily fill a liter glass jar —  her version of a trash can.


Crosby is a member of the growing zero waste movement —  an effort to live a more practical and environmentally friendly life. To be virtually trash free, the parishioner of St. Bernadette Church in Springfield composts her food waste and recycles a little. But mostly, she relies day to day on reusable products such as Mason jars, cloth napkins and canvas shopping bags.

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Jane Crosby stands outside her Springfield home holding all the trash she produced during the month of March. ZOEY MARAIST | CATHOLIC HERALD


At the heart of the undertaking is a desire for a more just economy. We live in a linear economy, said Crosby. “Products are created basically to break or be thrown away. Nothing’s really designed the way it used to be because we have such cheap production (costs),” she said. “The whole goal of the zero waste movement is to move from a linear economy back to a circular economy. Products are created to last, they’re built with sustainable materials but also material that can be reused or repurposed or recycled when the life of the product is over.”


Before using time and money to purchase something, zero wasters make sure they need the product. They shop secondhand, try to repair what they already have and share with their neighbors. “Buying something new should be at the bottom of the list,” said Crosby. Then, they’ll look at who made the product, under what conditions and with what materials.


For this reason, most zero wasters eschew plastic items, especially single-use plastics such as straws and disposable cutlery. “(Plastic is) cheap, it’s made from oil and it never breaks down. Most of it's not recycled even when it goes to recycling. Plastic is ugly, anyway,” she added. “It's convenient, but in general glass or metal makes for a more beautiful home.”


Crosby’s journey from average 20-something to zero waster began when she picked up Bea Johnson’s book, Zero Waste Home. At the time, Crosby had relocated to Northern Virginia after graduating from Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio. Though she knew it would be difficult to change her consumer habits, she was energized by the challenge.


At the same time, she was struggling to practice her faith. Her new environmental interest brought her back to the church.


“The whole (zero waste) transition required a lot of stretching and change and rethinking but I was so excited about it that it didn’t seem hard, and I realized that’s how faith could be,” she said. “As I did more research, I discovered care for the planet is a social justice issue that is important for every Christian and every Catholic.”


Now, a composting apparatus she made with her brother sits in her backyard next to a freshly planted garden.  She purchases bulk food, fresh baked goods and produce in her own bag or bins. Neat rows of refillable glass jars line her pantry. It’s taken her a lot of time to phase out everything from plastic-wrapped food to beauty products, but she knows her efforts keep heaps of plastic from surfacing in the ocean or piling up in a landfill.


Over time, she has realized that the occasional use of disposable items is unavoidable in today’s world. But it doesn’t give her the “trash-guilt” it once used to. “Like faith, it's like a journey,” she said. “It’s not always going to be perfect.”


Betsy Zolper, a geologist and the co-chair of the Care for Our Common Home team at St. Mark Church in Vienna, recently began her own zero waste journey. She’s grown accustomed to the questions she’s asked when she brings containers to the deli counter and the sidelong glances when she takes out her own utensils to forgo plastic cutlery.


The day after Earth Day, April 23, the ministry showed, “The Clean Bin Project,” a documentary to educate members about the zero waste movement.


Co-chair Annette Kane remembers when zero waste wasn’t a trend, but a simple fact of life. As a child during World War II, “you used everything over and over,” she said. Kane often brought old food out to the compost heap in their backyard. Products typically were sold in paper or cloth sacks. “I remember when plastic began being used for various containers. My mom washed them all out and had them in the laundry room drying,” she said.


The St. Mark environmental ministry formed this year after a group of parishioners finished studying Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home.”


“(I started) to pause and think, how are my actions making the world a better place or degrading the world?” said Zolper. “He created everything and when you degrade something that's been given to you, you're not in union with God or your fellow man."

Find out more:

For more zero waste tips, go to Jane Crosby’s Instagram account, @songsaboutjane, or blog, Jane and Simple Living

To learn more about the Care for Our Common Home ministry at St. Mark, to go bit.ly/2oqQOFN

Jane’s top five zero waste swaps

1) Switch from plastic shopping and produce bags to reusable ones: ecobags.com.

2) Carry a water bottle everywhere: kleankanteen.com.

3) Say no to single-use plastic such as straws. If needed, buy metal ones. 

4) Carry eco-friendly utensils in lieu of disposable ones: totallybamboo.com.

5) Switch to a metal safety razor.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017