How clean is your garbage can?

In Laudato Si, Pope Francis calls us to an ecological conversion and to consider our actions and their impact: 

We are always capable of going out of ourselves towards the other…These attitudes also attune us to the moral imperative of assessing the impact of our every action and personal decision on the world around us.

Which brings me to the lowly garbage can, you know, the one you put out at the curb once a week. I recall how my dear father’s garbage can was so clean and blemish free. It was this way because he insisted, despite my protests, on placing all the garbage collected from the house, which was already encased in plastic, into another garbage-bag-lined garbage that was securely tied within the can and then placed at the curb. 

Unfortunately, in his quest for cleanliness, my father was misguided and was actually significantly increasing his household’s carbon footprint. You see, the point of garbage when it ends up at the garbage dump is to slowly degarde biologically (hence, the term biodegradable) and become soil again. But when one wraps it in layer after layer of plastic, the break down process is impeded, and our waste sits there in the dump for tens or hundreds of years unable to degrade and taking up more than its share of space.

So the best thing we can do is to first, produce less waste by purchasing less, avoiding single use items, and reusing as much as possible. Secondly, we should reduce what we are putting into the trash bin by moving more of our waste into the recycle and compost bins (but remembering to follow the rules and refrain from wishful recycling). Finally, we should make sure that our garbage cans (and our recycling and compost bins) are not lined in plastic. As a general rule, the less plastic you use, the better. For your indoor receptacles, consider using biodegradable liners and, by all means, reuse them as much as possible. And for your outside bins, ditch the liners entirely! This has a twofold effect of requiring the production of less plastic and increasing the biodegradability of your waste. Yes, it’s okay to have a dirty garbage can.

More ideas on how to reduce your carbon footprint and care for creation can be found at

Working together, we can help take care of our common home.

Paul Litwin

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