OK, they have bins for paper, aluminum and glass. Oh, and plastic. But only plastics numbered one through five? Wait – is cardboard considered paper? Do they take pizza boxes? HELP!
It doesn't have to be this hard.
You don't have to become some stereotypical, hemp-wearing slave to a compost pile in order to help protect the environment. Lots of people are making a difference with small steps and slight alterations to their lifestyle.
April 22 is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, and one can chart the progress of the "green movement" the past four decades. Today, practices such as recycling, community gardening and buying local produce – once considered radical – are simply part of the daily routine.
Grow your own
Though new life sprouts from its soil every day, Anathoth Community Garden in Cedar Grove, N.C., has roots in a murder.
Following the 2004 murder of a local bait shop owner, Cedar Grove United Methodist Church organized a community prayer vigil. One woman, Scenobia Taylor, was so moved that she felt God tell her in a dream to give five acres of her land to the community, and somehow this land would help heal the community's wounds.
Around this time, the church was seeking a way to address the poverty in the area and the fact that many of its neighbors had no access to fresh, healthy produce. The church's mission met with Scenobia Taylor's vision, and Anathoth was born.
For a $5 membership fee and an agreement to work a few hours a week in the garden, the entire community is invited to share in the food and fellowship grown in the garden. Almost all work is done by hand to encourage more participation and opportunities for community members to come together.
"How we eat and live together on this planet is the manner of love. What we're doing isn't a program; it's what Jesus invites us into: a different way of living our lives together," says the Rev. Grace Hackney, Cedar Grove's pastor.
Jocelyn Patterson helps at Anathoth several times a week. She describes herself as "a hippie Martha Stewart," and advocates a low-maintenance lifestyle.
The greenhouse at Anathoth Community Garden in Cedar Grove, N.C.
She says, "I've never owned a cell phone; I don't have cable TV; I don't have a dishwasher. I recycle almost everything, and heat my house with wood." She sews, and often barters handmade clothes or mending services in exchange for firewood.
Anathoth routinely hosts mission teams, who come to work in the garden and learn how to start their own. The garden has applied to become a project of The Advance, the designated-giving program of The United Methodist Church.
Norman Wirzba, a professor of theology, ecology and rural life at Duke Divinity School in Durham, N.C., is also an Anathoth board member. He thinks community gardens and community-supported agriculture programs are excellent outreach ministries.
"You promote a sustainable agriculture while providing your congregation with good, nutritious food," he said.
Keep it local
During this year's Lenten season, the Rev. Enoch Hendry, pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Savannah, Ga., asked his congregation not to simply give up sweets. He encouraged them to eat sweets provided they were made in Savannah.
For 40 days, Hendry challenged church members to "live locally" by eating local foods, patronizing locally owned businesses and living more simply in general.
"This isn't just about buying and shopping and eating," Hendry said, "but about simplifying our lives and figuring out ways we can do that."
It is estimated that the average meal travels 1,500 miles from the farm to the consumer's plate. Shopping in a local business district is better for the environment because it involves less packaging and less fuel for transportation.
Church member Matt Deacon said he and his wife, Jennifer, considered the Lenten program "the perfect opportunity to see how our Christian beliefs align with some of our 'green' beliefs and to see the parallels between them."
The Lenten program led Trinity member Fran Stanley to join her first food cooperative. "This is self-denial, because I'm changing something I do, but this is also doing good," she said.
People can care for the environment in countless easy ways, but others may prefer a more over-the-top approach.
Kelvin Gu, student president of the Duke Smart Home Program, stands in front of storage tanks used to collect and distribute recycled rainwater.
It doesn't get much more over the top than the Duke Smart Home the ultimate combination of hippie sensibility and mad-genius engineering. Think of it as Bonnaroo meets "The Big Bang Theory."
Housed on the campus of United Methodist-related Duke University, the Smart Home is a 6,000-square-foot residential dorm and research laboratory that uses state-of-the-art advances in smart living.
Constructed with a sponsorship by The Home Depot, the interior was designed to allow maximum natural airflow. Solar panels collect energy to power the home. Plants growing on a "green roof" filter rainwater that is collected and stored in several massive tanks in the basement. A specially designed heat pump sends that water back to the roof during the day to be heated by the sun. That system supplies toilet and washing needs year round.
Kelvin Gu, a junior and student president of the Smart Home, says the solar-heated water can reach temperatures of up to 170 degrees.
"The water is hot enough out of the tap that a roommate was able to cook Ramen noodles without even turning on the stove."
Other than the Ramen noodles, does that sound anything like your average dorm?
The 10 residents, all students from Duke's various engineering, science and technical schools, contribute to their living environment by implementing various projects for use in the home.
For instance, Gu says, another student is working on a project that will convert plants plentiful in the area to biofuel.
The Duke Smart Home Program, sponsored by The Home Depot, encompasses a 6,000 sq. ft. residential dorm and research laboratory and is operated by Duke's Pratt School of Engineering.
Gu acknowledges that the "techie" aspects are as big a draw to potential residents as the eco-friendly aspects.
"For a lot of us, what we're taking away is not just a lifestyle change," he says. "We're going into industry or research on technologies that will benefit the way people build structures, or improve transit." Gu hopes to go into the renewable energy field.
While admitting he is in a unique situation, Gu thinks people will grow more accepting of green lifestyles in the future.
"In the same way television was brought into the home, there will be new utilities introduced into people's homes, and they'll adapt to them. Whether you're an energy-conscious person or not, I think more energy-efficient ideas will be entering people's lives."
See? Saving the earth is as simple as using your molecular biology skills to break down the cellular walls of the weeds in your garden to fuel your minivan.
Or, you could just bypass that bottled water in the checkout aisle and drink out of the tap.
*Butler is editor of 18-34 content at United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn. Additional information from the South Georgia Advocate.
News media contact: Joey Butler, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5105 or [email protected]