Every other month, members of our Sustainability Committee, which includes Sisters, staff, and Associates, gather round a table at the Motherhouse, feeling the urgency of the ecological moment we’re living in and searching for ways, as the Sisters of St. Joseph always have, “to respond to signs of our times.”
When it comes to the health of our environment, these signs are disturbing, as greenhouse gas emissions have increased to their highest levels ever and rising global temperatures fuel extreme weather events that drive “climate refugees” from their homes. The production and waste of plastics exacerbates this growing crisis, and particularly “single-use” plastics, which represent half of all plastics produced.
Through education and action, both individually and collectively, we can begin to repair this damage to our common home and move toward what Pope Francis describes as “an integral ecology,” one “made up of simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness.”
You can help us do this during Catholic Sisters Week!
From March 8-14, we will join with Sisters across the country to participate in the “Refuse to Use” challenge – a joyful act of resistance and love for our planet which is in desperate need of relief from the overconsumption and waste of single-use plastic products like water bottles, straws, grocery bags, wrappers, and food and beverage containers.
Refusing to buy these products – which are made to become waste – invigorates our own creativity in navigating our days without the destructive convenience of single-use plastics and begins to signal to market forces that we are willing to change for the sake of our common home.
Will you join us and "Refuse to Use" single-use plastics during Catholic Sisters Week?
Between March 8-14, I pledge to eliminate or drastically reduce my purchase and use of single-use plastics.
If I must purchase or use a product packaged in single-use plastic, I will reflect on whether it is possible to adapt my future buying behavior to limit plastic consumption.
How Plastics Impact Us and Our Common Home
Of the 40 million tons of plastic waste created in the United States in 2021, less than 6% (about 2 million tons) was recycled.
Source: U.N. Environment Programme, 2022
Plastic takes more than 400 years to degrade, and most plastic items gradually break down into smaller pieces called microplastics that can enter our bodies when we breathe and can absorb through our skin and accumulate in our organs.
Between 75 and 200 million tons of plastic waste is littered in our oceans, carried there by rivers. If our pace of production and waste continues, we will add up to 37 million more tons of plastic to aquatic ecosystems by 2040.
Sisters, Associates and Staff Unite to Recycle Flat Plastics
New recycling bins have arrived at the Motherhouse thanks to a partnership with the Lions Club of Zelienople and Trex, a company that makes eco-friendly composite decking made from recycled materials. Elliott Hilton, Director of Dining Services at Cura Hospitality, who serves on the Sisters’ Sustainability Committee – and in his own community as President of the Zelienople Lions Club – brought the idea to the Sisters, who were excited to participate.
“The Lions are all about service and giving back to our neighbors, and right now, we’re really focusing on the environment, much like the Sisters,” Elliott explains. He was pleased to learn of Trex’s recycling collection program, called NexTrex, which partners with schools, organizations, and businesses like grocery stores to route “flat plastics” like bags and films from landfills and into production of valuable repurposed materials like decking and benches.
Elliott helped the Sisters of St. Joseph become a temporary site for the NexTrex Recycling Challenge, which began in January and will continue through spring. Sisters, Associates and staff are encouraged to bring their “flat plastic” items – those labeled #2 or #4 – to new recycle bins located outside the dining room and in the recycling room of the Motherhouse. Helpful information sheets with a reminder of what types of items can (ziploc bags, grocery bags, bread bags and cereal liners, among others) and cannot (frozen food bags, candy bar wrappers, or chip bags) be recycled as part of this drive are posted near each bin.
Once 500 pounds of these plastics have been collected, Trex will turn them into a bench that can find a home here on our grounds or be donated to a local community park or garden. It’s a beautiful cycle of transforming waste that threatens the health of our planet into a space to foster new relationships and time in nature.
Elliott hopes this challenge will help us to become more conscious as consumers who can begin to cut down on the plastic waste that continues to pile up in our landfills and infiltrate our rivers. “This is another way that we can be stewards of taking care of our Mother Earth,” he says, hopeful that our shared commitment to reduce and recycle will make a difference.
If you would like to start recycling “flat plastics,” this resource can help you determine what’s recyclable and find collection sites near you: bagandfilmrecycling.org.
“Flat plastic” items like grocery bags, bread bags, cereal box liners, newspaper sleeves, bubble wrap, plastic shipping envelopes, salt bags and produce bags can be recycled in these new bins as long as they are free from food debris.
The recycling room in the basement of the Motherhouse helps Sisters and staff recycle a variety of materials, preventing waste from entering our landfills.