A Monthly Message from our Minister, the Rev Dr Neil Dougall - November 2019

‘Did you enjoy the food in California?’ asked one person? I found myself in a quandary, unsure how to answer.

Last month a colleague and I went to Pasadena to check out a programme called ‘Growing Young’. We’re now working on the details and hope we’ll be able to run it in Scotland in 2020. One of the side benefits was I got to see a new place and sample their food.

Pasadena is in Southern California and pretty close to Mexico which is reflected in their food. I enjoyed the flavours and textures. So why did I hesitate when asked if I enjoyed the food?

It was because of the disposable plates, cups and cutlery. During the two-day conference, five meals were provided and there was as much coffee, water and juice to drink as we wanted. Everything needed to serve this was used once and thrown away. Not a single cup, plate, fork or spoon was washed and reused.

I feel that disposable plates and cutlery are disrespectful to food. Quality food deserves to be served on a plate that isn’t thrown away afterwards. If someone has taken time to prepare the food it is discourteous to try to cut it with a plastic fork that bends and snaps as you use it.

Then there is the waste. There were about 100 people at the conference so we created a significant amount of waste. Single use plastics (that is plastic items which are used once before being thrown out) are a significant environmental problem. Having visited the US before I was aware of their aversion to washing dishes, so I took with me a travel mug for my coffee. It was a small act of protest, but at least I saved about 10 plastic coffee cups from going to a landfill. But I felt very guilty as I dropped my plate and cutlery in the trash on top of everyone else’s.

At least it was going to landfill. That might sound a strange thing to say. Ideally these plastics would be recycled. That wasn’t an option in that part of California. But at least it was going to landfill.

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Last month, in Tear Times, the Tearfund magazine, I came across something I’d never considered. What happens to plastic bags, bottles and spoons where there is no rubbish collection? We take it for granted that a lorry will come to our house, empty our bin and take the rubbish away. In many parts of the developing world this doesn’t happen. Single use plastics are widely used in the developing world. What do people do with their juice bottles, their margarine tubs and their food packaging when there is no rubbish collection?

Ulan Gabba Matta explains what happens.

Where I live - Jos, in central Nigeria - single-use plastic litters what was once known as a 'garden city’. This rubbish ends up in drains and in dumps piled perilously close to houses. And it’s making us sick - people in poorer communities rely on streams to provide drinking water. Instead they suffer from malaria, diarrhoea and dysentery because plastic and other rubbish discarded in the water creates a breeding ground for disease.*

Nigel Harris says that on a recent visit to Kinshasa, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of Congo, he stood next to a river of plastic bottles. He said,

Plastic bottles, at least, usually stay on the surface. But water is also sold in plastic bags - water bagging - which are also not disposed of. Discarded plastic bags find their way into the pipes, clogging up an already inadequate sewerage system. This frequently causes floods which leads to sickness and loss of life.*

Genesis describes God sharing the task of caring for the planet with humans. The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. (Genesis 2:15 )
Changing our use of plastic is part of the responsibility God has given us. In Scotland we can recycle and we can try to limit single use plastic. We can also support Tearfund’s Rubbish Campaign (https://www.tearfund.org/en-SC/about_you/action/rubbish/) which is putting pressure on large multinational companies like Coca-Cola, Nestle, Unilever and PepsiCo to ‘take responsibility for the plastic waste mountains their products are creating’ in the developing world.

‘Together, we can ensure we enjoy and protect God's beautiful world, and not live in a man-made dustbin’.*

*Tear Times Scotland, Autumn 2019, p13-15.

Creator God,
We thank you for your beautiful creation that you’ve given us to steward.
Thank you, Jesus, that we find our identity in you,
and are loved and forgiven by you.
Thank you that we don’t need things to define us.
Help us to be people who live more simply and care for your creation,
and help us to remember the people who make our food, clothes and phones
so we can love our neighbours better.
We pray too for the companies we’ve petitioned together.
God, would you inspire them to clear up this plastic pollution
and to make bold changes to the way they work?
In Jesus’ name, Amen. (Tearfund)

To see other messages from Neil, click on the appropriate month in the table below.

December 2018 January 2019 February 2019 March 2019 April 2019 May 2019 June 2019 July 2019 September 2019 October 2019 November 2019
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