Environmental Team changes hearts and practices at St. Paul

On Lenten Wednesday evenings, downstairs in the Fellowship Hall at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Davenport, a dozen or so people scrape and wash plates during the congregational meal.

On a few Saturday mornings each year, a crew combs the St. Paul neighborhood, picking up garbage, recyclables, and other debris – clearing the area of a truckload of trash.

On a couple of days each month, a small group visits the church’s “Recycling Hub” to clean and sort the recycled materials collected in the day-to-day operations of the church.

These three initiatives – and more – are the work of the Environmental Team, a group of people devoted to exploring ways to help make St. Paul more environmentally friendly – and then doing the work to make it happen.

How did the team begin?

In 2010, Bill McKibben, world renowned environmentalist, came to speak at St. Paul. He spoke primarily on the impact of global warming. Following his talk, member Duane Haas approached Pastor Peter Marty and asked if he felt we should follow up on the excitement McKibben created in the congregation. After receiving an affirmative response to explore, a small group put together an informational meeting. Several church members attended and the Environmental Team was born.

What are some of the projects the crew has undertaken?

Lenten supper and special events dishes | Earth Weekend promotion| Alternative transportation weekends | Make It Yours neighborhood clean-up |Increased and improved recycling | Coffee cup initiative.

st paul environment team 1

What is the philosophy of the team?

The team strives to be a part of the everyday workings of St. Paul to reduce, reuse, and recycle – a grassroots initiative. We look to help shape the thinking of the St. Paul people in areas of environmental concerns.

What has been your biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge remains broadening the scope of the Environmental Team. There is work to be done in areas such as lowering the number of cars driven to church each week for activities and for services. Other ideas might include further reduction in the waste generated by single use cups and tableware.

What has been your greatest joy?

The greatest joy is the overwhelmingly positive response of the St. Paul people. Members and staff alike are willing to step up and help in many ways. In particular, with the involvement of staff and volunteers, the waste from the Lenten dinners went from an overflowing dumpster to a few bags of compostable food scraps and one bag of trash. This, multiplied by the number of weeks of the Lenten suppers, resulted in a sizable reduction in waste. We are always searching for more ways to have such an impact.

st paul environment team 2

What advice would you give to other churches who are interested in improving their environmental practices?

Any church should start small and engage the staff at the outset. Pick out one item and make a visible effort to make a difference. In doing so, educate the congregation about the mission. Always be a welcoming positive presence as you go about your work. Folks should see you as someone who will help them. As you strategize, keep in mind the congregation wants to be environmentally responsible. The best way to get them on board is to make it as easy as possible. For instance, place recycling containers in the most heavily used areas.

How much does it cost?

The initial cost could be virtually nothing to as much as you want to spend. For recycling, cardboard boxes are free. Small blue recycling trash cans from Sam’s Club are $6.78 each with free shipping. Stainless steel containers are breath-taking. Putting copy paper boxes out that have been decorated by volunteers to collect bulletins is hardly any money. Don’t wait until you have a sizable sum in the budget to make a move. Just get started.