I think that pagans, for the most part, agree with the general sense that we worship nature/the earth or, at the very least, hold it in incredible reverence compared to other religions. Which makes it even more frustrating when we’re not walking our talk in reference to our sacred sites, festivals, and pilgrimages.
A senior minister of my acquaintance calls it “sacred rubbish”, and I’ve never heard a better phrase to describe the glitter, plastic, polyester, acrylic items we leave in sacred places. Not to mention our general lack of awareness of the trash we generate and lack of willingness to pack it (or even recyclables) back out again (Can you believe the amount of trash visible in the background of this photo? Imagine how much you can’t see!).
As part of a volunteer crew for a local sacred site, I often find myself bagging up pounds and pounds of trash from shrines on the land. Items include ceramic statuary, plastic figures, glittery items, glass shards, acrylic yarn or polyester ribbon, and other items that end up polluting the ground after a few months or a year out in the weather.
The worst is, I know the intention is good. It’s important to them, sacred, and they want some physical, tangible way to worship. And yet, here I am, a year or two later, bagging it up and tossing it out. Where is the awareness?? Why not use effigies of leaves, twigs, flowers, and other naturally occurring flora? Or how about antler sheds, bones, etc. – all things you find regularly in a nature preserve! If you’re looking to bring something you made, natural fibers loosely woven or spun are perfect because they’ll biodegrade with little to no ill-effects on an area.
And speaking of natural fibers that break down easily… Please, for the love of all that is holy, stop it with the rag trees. For all the reasons I said before, it’s a terrible idea to use plastic or acrylic or other synthetic materials. I’ve seen mention on the internet of using foil or tying fishing line with glass.
Doing all of this kills the tree as it attempts to grow around the foreign object you have affixed to it. And how magical is this tree, really, if you’re shortening its lifespan? Then there is the issue of tying your item too tightly, cutting off circulation to that limb or twig. If you use natural, undyed fibers and tie it loosely, then you’re doing much less harm to the environment and still able to participate in this ancient tradition.
Related to our sacred rubbish, is our abysmal lack of awareness around the trash we accumulate at festivals and conferences. If we all brought re-usable eating & drinking ware, we would make SUCH a huge difference! I’ve seen trash cans in hospitality suites overflowing daily with paper plates, styrofoam cups, and plastic cutlery. It’s already an indoor, hotel conference – carrying a mug and a camping spork with you would be fairly easy. I’d encourage that for outdoor festivals too – really reusable everything is the new awesome!
Outdoor festivals have their own can of worms, though. Bringing in packaging for new items is the #1 newbie mistake. Make sure to open everything and throw away the cardboard, plastic, and blister packs at home. And skip the glitter. #glitterislife for me too, but unless it’s biodegradable we simply have to stop! Deep ocean creatures all have plastic particles in their bodies now, because of our abhorrent practices.
The biggest mistake I’ve observed is a lack of understanding around recyclables. Many rural areas, like where Pagan Spirit Gathering is held, don’t have recycling. Shouldn’t we be willing to pack our recyclables out again? In order to be recyclable in the first place they should be clean and dry, so it’s not like I’m suggesting we put trash in our cars.
Cardboard and paper aren’t recyclable after they’re wet. Plastics aren’t recyclable if they’re food laden. And both of those instances can contaminate entire truck fulls of recyclables, making it impossible for single-stream recycling centers to manage them. Let’s pack out what we took in, and help the finances of the events that host us (this picture shows an extra truck ordered at the end of PSG one year because folks were irresponsible with their waste management throughout the week) as well as the environment!
I’d love to see us do better. I mentioned reusables. I’m still working my way through a 1000 pack of plastic straws I bought 10 years ago at a dollar store – but once that’s gone, I have my eye on compostable straws for future! I’ve recently purchased some reusable sandwich bag-type containers for an upcoming trip – and I LOVE my beeswax cloths. One thing that I and some folks of my acquaintance do as part of our service to our gods is trash pick-up in general. Bring a trash bag and gloves with you when you walk or hike or visit sacred sites so you can be an earth warrior in your day-to-day doings. Could you donate to clean-up efforts in your area? How about globally?
Recycling is something we were all taught as kids is the best thing to do for the environment. It’s sort of not, but we can definitely do our part! Pre-sort your recyclables at home so you can ensure that paper products don’t get wet and you have aluminum cans to recycle separately (you could make a few bucks doing this too!). Tear the top off the pizza box so the greasy bottom goes into the trash. A big one is plastic bags – recyclables would ideally be loose because even garbage bags gum up the machines.
Ultimately, our individual efforts at home – like replacing plastic straws with reusable or compostable ones – is minute compared to the affect large corporations could have if they were more responsible. However, as the stewards of the land we live on, I think our changes can start small and have big impacts for us in direct, big ways! What are some ways you’ve made changes in your life and practices to support the health of our planet?