Tuesday, July 23, 2019 -
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Bal Tashchit and the great food circle of life

WHAT if you knew you could heal the world by throwing your food away — in the right place?

It’s now possible for faith-based communities in about 30 of America’s larger urban areas to recycle and compost most or all of the food and packaging materials they generate, and create no-waste celebrations — which satisfies those key Biblical environmental principles, “don’t waste” (Leviticus) and steward the earth (Genesis).

For most of human history, we have been grinding up the earth’s resources and throwing them into garbage dumps. It’s all simply explained in Annie Leonard’s The Story of Stuff.

EPA waste statistics show that almost 80% of what we send to landfills as “garbage” shouldn’t be going there at all. Most, according to its 2007 report can still be recycled and re-used: glass (5.3%), metals (8.2%), plastics (12%), organics (31% — 12.5% food scraps, 12.8% yard trimmings, and 5.6% wood), and paper (33%).

This leaves policymakers asking themselves, “Why are we building and maintaining giant, expensive landfills, when only 20% of what our citizens throw away belongs there?”

Good question.

It’s more expensive to invest in waste than in diverting it for recycling and composting.

For all other species on earth, waste is food. For humans, it’s generally unusable and usually dangerous.

In Cradle to Cradle, William McDonnough and Michael Braungart make an eloquent call for us to re-design everything, and make it safe, long-lasting and recyclable.

EPA says we have made progress: Americans now recycle about 33% of municipal solid waste (MSW), up from less than 10% in 1980, and we’ve cut waste to landfill from 89% in 1980 to 54% now.

But we can do better.

MUCH of what ends up in the garbage today is food, the #2 item in most Jewish celebrations. While America’s organic waste recycling programs now capture about 64% of our landscape waste, they get less than 3% of our food scraps.

The advantage of diverting food into the organic waste stream go beyond bal tashchit and tikkun olam.

Within 90 days, the waste is transformed into compost, which we can use to grow new food and landscapes. On top of that, diversion saves money.

To encourage recycling and composting, cities and towns charge lower collection fees for them than for garbage. And since at least half of the waste usually generated by any Jewish house of worship is food-related, we’re looking at significant annual savings for the congregation.

How do you connect your synagogue or temple to organic waste collection? Check Biocycle’s “Find a Composter” listings.

If yours is one of the lucky localities, ask your local waste management department how your congregation can participate.

When I learned five years ago that the City of Seattle would collect food and organic waste from our building, I initiated the “Potluck Project” in the church shared by Alki United Church of Christ (UCC ) and Kol HaNeshamah synagogue.

We already recycled glass, paper, metal and plastic.

Now, we could divert food scraps, paper and bio-degradable serving ware, stained pizza boxes and other food-related goods and packaging from the garbage.

I recommend the following suggestions:

1) Get your board or social action committee and congregants educated and involved;

2) Find places near the kitchen where organic waste, recyclables and garbage can be collected; and outside, where trucks can pick them up;

3) Instruct your janitor about lining the collection and the cleanup and movement of full bags to outside containers;

4) Inform and instruct your caterers and other foodservice suppliers of your no-waste protocol;

5) Deputize high school and adult congregants as guardians of the earth to guide diners where to put organics, recyclables and garbage;

6) Supply your kitchen with the necessary bio-degradable or permanent plates, cups, napkins, and cutlery and bio-degradable liner bags for waste cans;

7) Announce your new no-waste plan in your synagogue newsletter and in event planning packets for upcoming dinners and celebrations.

OUR UCC/KHN partnership gets more than “twice the bang for our buck” because the co-op pre-school, garden club and other organizations that meet in the building also participate in the no-waste foodservice program.

Our single action ripples far beyond us.

Other temples, synagogues and churches in Seattle, Seattle U, and the U of Washington and growing numbers of organizations are also going no-waste throughout the US.

And we expect that number to grow.

My Grandma Sonia used to say, “Eat for your health!”

She’d probably be surprised to learn that I could keep myself and the earth healthy by throwing the food away, too.

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