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Home : Viewpoints : Editorials
7/14/2013 11:22:00 AM
Are we trashing the world, and humanity?
Catholic News Service
A truck dumps garbage at a landfill in 2011 in Smiths Creek, Mich.
Catholic News Service
A truck dumps garbage at a landfill in 2011 in Smiths Creek, Mich.
Tom Sheridan

At the risk of sounding like Oscar, the Sesame Street puppet who lived in a garbage can, I love trash.

That statement demands full disclosure: My senior softball team has been sponsored for several years by the owner of a local sanitation firm (aka garbage collector or trash hauler).

Sure, it's a business decision for him, but a nice community support for us. And I appreciate our patriotic red, white and blue uniforms. I even tried -- just once -- to get our team to sing Oscar's trademark song, "I Love Trash," at a game. Didn't work.

But caring about trash is something bigger than softball. Caring about trash is faithful.

Because, if we cared about trash, perhaps we wouldn't create so much of it.

Several miles from where I live (and likely not far from where you live), there is a mountain. Here in Florida, it's easily the tallest piece of landscape around.

It's called, colloquially, Mount Trashmore.

Mount Trashmores dot the terrain just about everywhere. These towering hills are growing landfills where we dispose of the things we no longer want or need. And 21st-century America, the paragon of a consumerist society, generates a lot of trash.

Jesus never spoke about trash. Neither did the early church fathers. But the church has long understood both the environmental and human problems of trash.

There's the trash we toss away, and there are people we call, derisively, trash. And there is trash talk. That's the connection: It all comes down to how we treat others and the environment.

Trash, however, is more a symptom of a larger problem: the lack of respect and care we exhibit for one another.

Landfills like Mount Trashmore are overflowing because of greed for profit that creates unsafe and quickly obsolescent consumer products, and because packaging materials ripped from the environment unnecessarily consume billions of pounds of trees, oils for plastics, water and more. And because of wasted food products that could, if properly husbanded, blunt the starvation that globally takes the lives of millions of children and their parents yearly.

That's why Pope Francis always seems to connect his concerns about the environment to the broader concern for how we treat one another.

"This culture of waste has made us insensitive even to the waste and disposal of food, which is even more despicable when all over the world, unfortunately, many individuals and families are suffering from hunger and malnutrition," the pope told an audience in early June.

"Consumerism has led us to become used to an excess and daily waste of food. ... We should all remember, however, that throwing food away is like stealing from the tables of the poor, the hungry!"

Ever hear of "trash the dress"? That's another particularly egregious example of how our attitudes toward waste and trash reflect our attitudes toward people.

It's a post-wedding subculture in which beautiful and expensive wedding gowns are destroyed by their owners in often-spectacular displays of waste. They might be sullied in a mud fight or even ripped asunder in a tug of war. Trashing a wedding dress also trashes the symbolism of marriage's sacred commitment.

The pope also said that in this "culture of waste ... human life ... is no longer perceived as a primary value to be respected and protected."

Yes, I love trash. Not because I am proud of my role in creating so much of it. But because it reminds me of the God of creation and the responsibility I share to help manage it and the human interactions it supports. Pope Francis put it better than I can: "Human ecology and environmental ecology walk together."

The writer is a former editor of The Catholic New World, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago and a deacon ordained for the Diocese of Joliet, Ill.

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