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October 20, 2013 / thatsarahdean

It’s not easy being green.

First appeared in Third Way magazine, December 2012. Covering for regular columnist.

White. Mixed coloured. Landfill Mixed coloured with food waste (no card). White with food waste. Plastic, card and glass. Compost  This is the list of the seven, that’s right seven, different recycling bins my friend has in her swanky new, eco office. As office manager it is her job to ensure her colleagues use this comprehensive system. Failure to recycle correctly is a breach of their tenancy, which results in a fine and for repeat offenders eviction. Since the move to their new office, she estimates that over 50% of her time has been taken up with sending emails reminding her colleagues to rip the cellophane out of their sandwich packet and brush the crumbs into the compost before putting it in the card recycling.

I had been jealous of her move to such a hip building, where there is a shared vegetable garden, yoga at lunchtime, and massages for cyclists every Monday morning  (a reward for not dying on the way to work), but all this sounds a bit exhausting. Then after a couple of weeks, she realised several staff were just throwing everything in the landfill so they didn’t have to sort it. The net result of having such a comprehensive recycling system was that they were actually recycling less.  As ever human free will was the one thing standing between complete efficiency and failure. By this point my friend however was so weary of sending reminder emails and being referred to as the recycling nazi, that she had taken to waiting until everyone had gone home and then re-sorting the bins herself.

I wholly sympathise with her reluctance to speak up and challenge her colleagues. For a while I worked for a rather bombastic and deliberately contrary boss. In a staff meeting he told me off for buying fair trade coffee, declaring that all fair trade brands tasted like muck, and that he wanted Nescafe. My small rebellion for the rest of the time I worked there was to refill the Nescafe jar with Café Direct. My boss didn’t ever notice.

Ghandi said be the change you want to see, but it seems my friend and I have been living by a variation of this maxim – Be the change that only you can see.

In every day life it can be tricky to work out when to speak out, when to remain silent and how to pick your battles. The tired, non-confrontational part of me might choose to rest easy in a cursory reading of Matthew chapter 6.  My fair trade coffee by stealth is validated by verse 2 which recommends that our giving to the poor should be done in secret. My friend sneaking around recycling is supported by Matthew’s warning to be careful not to do good things in front of other people. However by cherry picking scripture and choosing this interpretation I am of course merely validating my behaviour, perpetuating the comfort of martyrdom and avoiding confrontation. It’s as if I haven’t been listening to the Junior Church bellowing out Be bold, be strong! week in week out.

My friend can’t carry on as a one woman recycling plant, and I have sent her an email encouraging her to be bold and talk to her line manager. I reminded her that she is not alone and that a wise frog once said it’s not easy being green.

If we believe God is with us, that the Holy Spirit is real, then we can trust that he will enable us to be bold when we need to, and to know when being quiet is justified. And perhaps we need to be bold in challenging even the seemingly small injustices, so we are ready and able to do the same when the really big waves hit.


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