At St. John the Baptist Parish in Kenmore, parishioners have engaged in a number of initiatives to reduce the community's carbon footprint. Since October, this has included collections of Styrofoam, long recognized as a non-biodegradable material that clogs up landfills, after Masses in the church.
On the weekend of Feb. 24-25, St. John's Social Justice Committee held a collection of Styrofoam alongside its monthly sale of fair trade coffee. Coffee sales and Styrofoam collection take place after 4 and 7 p.m. Masses on Saturdays, and after 8 a.m., 10 a.m. and noon Masses on Sundays, on the last weekend of every month as part of a movement to get people focused on caring for creation. In January, parishioners collected two vanfuls and one carful of foam, plus two large garbage bags of packing peanuts.
For many environmental groups in the Diocese of Buffalo, particularly since Pope Francis published his 2015 encyclical "Laudato Si," recycling is a hands-on way for people to participate in the greater good. Years ago, the diocesan Care for Creation Committee put together a list of recycling centers for different types of common household items, which the committee at St. John's can access. They came to realize that relatively few consumers know where and when to recycle their used Styrofoam waste products.
"At Thermal Foams Inc. in Kenmore, you can take Styrofoam and recycle it. Actually, I had known about it and for quite a while, I had been taking Styrofoam from my family over there," said Mary Grace, a St. John the Baptist parishioner and member of the Social Justice Committee. "One day, I guess it was Spirit-driven, it occurred to me: why couldn't we do this as a service to people at church?"
She noted that many people are interested in recycling, but they simply do not know where to do it. After members brought this up before the committee, they decided to begin collecting Styrofoam for recycling after Masses on fair trade coffee sale weekends. Grace explained that after the parish drops off the collections, Thermal Foam grinds the Styrofoam up to make new foam out of it, which she referred to as a "perfect recycle and reuse situation."
While the recycling program is still in its infancy, it gained a strong following and showed promise early. After a notice was placed in the parish bulletin advertising the event, the results pleasantly surprised the organizers. Grace said in January that each collection over the last few months had generated "at least a vanful" of Styrofoam products, with the January one including a great deal of leftover Christmas gift packaging materials.
There are some limitations. Any material that Thermal Foams takes must be solid, clean, white Styrofoam that is free from tape, paint or any similar materials. Additionally, packing peanuts can be dropped off at UPS stores, where they take them to reuse and recycle.
"Before I did it, I checked with them, because I wanted to make sure that if we got a substantial amount, they could handle it. They said, 'Yeah, people drop off vanfuls or carfuls all the time,'" added Grace. "I found that many people who dropped off Styrofoam were very, very glad that we were doing this. The comments were like, 'We know this isn't good.' 'We want to recycle it, but we just didn't know what to do with it.'"
Sister Jolene Ellis, OSF, pastoral associate at St. John the Baptist and head of its Social Justice Committee, has also been a strong supporter of the initiative. The Social Justice Committee at St. John's, which has existed since 2000, predated the diocesan Care for Creation Committee, of which Grace was also an original member along with Sister Sharon Goodremote, FSSJ.
"We've been trying to find ways, especially with the encyclical, that we can really try to care for creation," Sister Sharon said. "The whole thing of 'reduce, reuse and recycle' is the mantra of most people who care for creation, but the pope even mentioned it in his encyclical."
Pope Francis wrote about the importance of learning to recycle, specifically mentioning paper. However, Sister Sharon noted that, try as many consumers might to completely get rid of Styrofoam, nearly everyone will eventually wind up with some of it.
"(Styrofoam recycling centers) are few and far between, and they're not very accessible, so we try to encourage people to reduce their use of Styrofoam in the first place and, if you can't do that, try to recycle it," Grace said. "If we can provide that service for people, that is also a step in the right direction."
The diocesan Care for Creation Committee is also keeping busy with future plans. At 7 p.m., April 16, at Villa Maria Convent in Buffalo, the committee will have a meeting to discuss what parishes can do to form parish care for creation committees, which will include information from the recycling programs.
"We want practical ways people can live out 'Laudato Si.' In (the encyclical), the pope talks about a 'throwaway culture.' That's our problem: we have all of these things, and we just throw them away instead of recycling them," Sister Sharon said. "People want to recycle, but they have to go through all of these hoops to do it. The more that we, as a creation committee, can work at getting people connected with these recycling places, the better it is."