Hong Kong beach after a holiday
Judy Chan – Hong Kong
Imagine 480 double-decker buses loaded with garbage pulling up in front of your home and dumping their contents on your doorstep – every day. That’s what is happening in Hong Kong in terms of waste. Each day we throw away 24,000 tons of garbage and use up 15 million plastic bags.
Those shocking statistics are part of what I learned as a member of “Christians for Eco-Concerns” of Hong Kong Christian Council. Each year we take an environmental theme and prepare materials for use on Environment Sunday, the Sunday closest to June 5th, World Environment Day. This year’s theme is “Taking Out the Garbage: Christians and Simplicity”.
Hong Kong produces 50% more waste than it did just 15 years ago. Half of it is from construction and demolition projects. The other half comes from homes and businesses. We are running out of places to put it since our current landfills will be full in 8-12 years, way ahead of schedule. Incineration is a popular idea but the by-products of that process are very dangerous. Air pollution in Hong Kong would be even worse than now if we adopted this method.
Every developed country has its own problems with waste. It comes from rising affluence, consumerism and to be frank – plain selfishness. As someone pointed out, the natural world produces no garbage. One species’ waste is another species’ food. It should all go in a cycle, but our garbage breaks that cycle. How is it that humans, supposedly the wisest of Creation, are doing worse than nature?
To be fair, the Hong Kong Government is trying to tackle the problem. They are considering a charge on plastic bags. They have recycling programs for paper, cans, plastic, mobile phone batteries and computers. I see excellent lessons on the environment in my children’s school books. Yet, even with the good efforts they are making, we still seem far away from making much impact on those 480 buses of garbage. We desperately need to reduce the amount of waste we make in the first place!
In preparing our materials for Environment Sunday, we wanted to focus on the spiritual side of garbage. We discovered that this insatiable urge to buy, buy, buy is actually just the symptom of something deeper that is out of balance. We were designed to have God and our neighbor as the centre of our lives. Our happiness and contentment should come from being in the right relationship with God and our neighbor. When we try to replace these relationships with material goods and the false security they bring, we will never find lasting satisfaction or peace. We are working against the way we were created to be.
Our lives, like the earth, have limited capacity. We can only take in so much because we have limited time, energy and attention. So our lives are literally wasted on these wastes that we eventually produce, and they distract us from God and actions that would result in a better world. An illustration would be our landfills. In disposing of our garbage, we use up good recreational space, something that is precious in space-tight Hong Kong and indeed all over the world. Do we have good recreational space left for our mind and spirit? Is that a reason why we are not effective in our lives and we often complain about not being able to do what we want?
The problem of garbage not only impacts our ability to love God, but also our ability to love our neighbor. Sharing is one of the most important hallmarks of Christian living. In the act of sharing, we create generous, thankful and compassionate communities. We learn to depend on each other and to care for others as much as we care about ourselves. Yes, we need to live simply so that others may simply live.
Jesus Himself lived a life of extreme simplicity and kept His focus on following the will of His Father. As His disciples, we draw inspiration from Him. What we buy and consume, what we throw away and how it is disposed of are significant to our faith. There are no ‘sinless’ solutions to the problem of garbage, but as Christians we should aim for a simpler lifestyle that shows respect and love for God, neighbor, and nature. There is a saying that we are truly rich when we know we have enough. What will it take for us to finally realize that?
Judy Chan is a missionary serving with the Hong Kong Christian Council. She is responsible for communications for the Council. She is also in charge of ecumenical radio broadcasting ministry, English publications and ecumenical partnerships in Hong Kong and overseas.