Jodi Cole Meyer has been on a journey with the book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess (B&H Books) by Jen Hatmaker. In past months she’s limited herself to seven kinds of food or seven items of clothing, and she’s given away something every day of another month. In October she gave up consuming media. Her latest challenge was curbing excess waste.
Q. This month you are challenged to curb excess waste. How exactly do you go about that?
A. My commitment was to recycle everything that could be recycled, to avoid using anything temporary (like Zip-loc bags, plastic wrap, or disposable cups or plates), drive fewer than 10 miles a day, start composting, reduce energy consumption around the house, and measure all of the food I throw away because it is old.
Q. Have you recycled or composted before this?
A. Yes, but not recently. We lived in a different city before this that used an incentive program where they charged for garbage, but not for recycling. The more you recycled, the less you paid for garbage service. Now we don’t use a garbage service, and although I have always believed that recycling is good, it has been inconvenient so I have done it sporadically or not at all. Mostly not at all. It is amazing that even when I enthusiastically endorse a behavior, if it is merely inconvenient (not difficult or expensive or complicated . . . just inconvenient) I will not do it. It reminds me that education is not all that is needed to change behavior—I didn't learn much new on this, but I had to force myself to change my behavior, not my mind.
Q. Tell me about keeping your driving below 10 miles a day. Has that been particularly difficult? Would it have been more difficult if your children were younger?
A. My commute eats up 6 of those miles. Any additional trips or events had to be “saved up” for, in large part. Trips to the grocery store were best done on the way home from work, adding only a quarter-mile to my commute. Going out for dinner or to other meetings or on outings usually meant that I needed to ride with someone. Sometimes that meant asking my friends and coworkers to inconvenience themselves at some point so that I could keep my commitment. As much as I value community, I find that I am hesitant to be the “taker” in a community situation. I think there’s a bit of pride at work there.
If I were ferrying children to all of their activities or to school every day as I did for years, there’s no way I could have done this. It makes me frustrated that we don’t have better access to public transportation, that we have set up our lives in such a way that we rely on having two cars to run a family, and that we take for granted easy access to nonrenewable resources. But that’s probably a different soapbox.
Q. Do you feel more connected to God’s creation when you are caring for it more intentionally? Have you found spiritual benefit to being less wasteful?
A. The odd thing is that wastefulness has opened my eyes to my dependence on convenience, which stems from being over-busy. I noticed that when I got to a particularly over-scheduled part of my month, recycling and reducing and limiting were particularly difficult. Busyness is the enemy of responsible behavior sometimes, and I have long known that for me it is the enemy of a healthy spiritual life. Mindfulness in behavior is a good contributor to mindfulness about my connection to God.
Q. Has anything surprised you about this challenge?
A. I mentioned before that it was just my behavior that I had to change, not my mind, and I was surprised how embarrassed I was once this started. We had no system set up in our household to sort recyclables, so everything that I could recycle would get rinsed or folded and set on the counter to go out back to the bins we were using. Previously all this would have gone directly into the trash can, which has a lid on it so that we don’t have to look at the stuff we’re throwing away. Having to look at what you’re throwing away is very humbling and a reminder that this is stuff that must be dealt with. It will be somewhere even after it leaves your house. Throwing it away—even recycling it—means that I am done dealing with it, but we must still deal with it.
I was appalled at how much food I throw away. I love fresh veggies and fruits and buy them in bulk because it’s more convenient and cheaper—and then throw a quarter to a third of it away. I cook large meals because I don’t want anyone to go away hungry, plus leftovers are convenient and cheaper than eating out, and then I throw half of them away. I pay a much higher price for convenience than I ever thought.
I am also surprised at how difficult it is to avoid any disposable items. It means that take-out food is off limits (we went out for dinner once and I knew I would not eat the whole thing, so I brought my own container to bring the food home; very strange look from the wait staff). I was at several meetings that only had disposable cups available for coffee, and I hadn’t thought ahead to bring my own mug. I really needed that coffee. . . . Once I ordered coffee at a local coffeehouse and forgot to specify that I wanted a mug, not a to-go cup, and she handed me my drink in Styrofoam. I was stymied. If I asked her to put it in a mug, that cup would still go into the trash. I couldn’t undo what I had caused, and I couldn’t atone for it. It was a moment where I understood a little clearer why we need grace, why sin isn’t something we can avoid, and why it is such a profound gift that Jesus atones for us . . . pays for all those violations that we can’t avoid—not just the ones we don’t avoid.
I run at a pretty fast pace throughout my days, and I default to convenience—baggies to store leftovers, because I don’t have to look for the right-sized container (and they can be thrown away with whatever is in them if I forget to use them up in time), reliance on my husband to whisk the garbage out of sight and out of mind as soon as the can is full, and taking the car out when it’s convenient. It’s far too easy to forget that there is a cost to this convenience, and it is mostly a cost I don’t feel. My fear is that it is a cost others have to pay for me. Slowing down is important not just because it’s a better way to live but because we will have less impact on the earth.
Final surprise: I’m kind of excited about composting. Who’d have thought I would scrounge through the garbage can, looking for stuff other people threw away that I could stick in my gross little container of kitchen scraps, then poke around in the compost pile out back to see how things break down?