One parish in northwest Arkansas has begun a program to address wastefulness.
St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Rogers is taking a definitive step toward reducing waste in the church and its pre-K to eighth-grade school. The parish campus produces around 170 tons of waste a year, but its newest ministry, the Green Team, looks to divert a greater portion of waste from the landfill for recycling.
Before beginning the Green Team four years ago, parishioner Tom Rohr founded a group called Food Loops, which focuses on helping businesses turn their wastes into recyclable materials. For the church and school, waste includes excess food, bottles and cans, light bulbs and fluorescent lighting, flowers placed around the church and other disposable, everyday items that many people don’t think about. Votive candles, for example, make up a large portion of plastic waste from churches. Rohr said he saw how his business could help the church and school reduce their waste.
Food Loops helped St. Vincent de Paul, the second largest parish in the diocese, divert about 50 percent of its waste from landfills, but Rohr saw there was more that could be done, so he began the Green Team at the parish.
“What we're doing is we're looking for a group that will move that from 50 percent up,” Rohr said. “We want to be in a position to have a 90-percent diversion. And so in order to get the 90 percent we needed, we needed a little bit more assistance, and then that's where the Green Team comes in.”
While Food Loops focuses on recycling everyday items, Rohr’s vision for the Green Team is a little different.
“Within the Green Team, it's going to be a social community,” he said. “So we're going to get together as a big group, once a quarter, and we'll share a meal. And the meal is going to be a zero-waste event. A zero-waste event is an event where 90 percent of the waste gets recycled. So that's what we do. We will make sure that all the food gets recycled, all the compost or all the compostable is getting recycled. If we have any aluminum or plastic or paper or cardboard, it all gets recycled.”
From there, the Green Team is concentrating on the practical side of sustainability in day-to-day life.
“We want to get the group together to kind of focus on what sustainability means,” Rohr said. “And what could we do better in what I as an individual want to get involved in and make a difference? You know, are we using electrical resources to the best of our ability? Are we using the gas to the best of our ability? There's all sorts of things that would go into this, and it’s just being good stewards.”
Tom DeRose, facility manager for St. Vincent de Paul, said he sees a great need for the Green Team in the future.
“There’s a lot of waste that goes into the landfill that could better be composted or recycled,” DeRose said. “I’m a believer in composting everything that can be composted, and it hurts me to see these things going into the landfills that could be used in other ways. I’m worried about where we’re going to be in 20 or 30 years if things continue the way they’ve been going.”
One of the Green Team’s objectives is to teach parishioners how to cut back on individual waste.
“What we're looking to do is just create some improvements and put them into the process, to make it easier for everybody to participate,” Rohr said. “So we're looking for people to be leaders in that area. But we want to do it for them, just the average person in the pew. We want to kind of demonstrate that it can be done at that kind of scale and make it very easy for them to cooperate and participate.”
While the Green Team is four years old, Rohr recognizes that it will take time for it to reach its full potential.
“We're going to create a community,” he said. “This isn't jump in there and do this for three years, and we've got it fixed. This is a ministry, and that's why it's taken a little bit longer to get it off the ground. We're going to teach people to fish. We're going to try to teach the whole parish to fish. If you show somebody something where you don't throw things away, you recycle, and it's not hard to do, then you’re not going to go home and throw everything away. So I think our impact over time is that we will win over the mindsets of everyone in the parish to think that way about it.”
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