By Paul Sacca
If you have ever visited the Monastery, you have likely encountered one of the several waste stations throughout the buildings and grounds. Bins nestled together in the bathrooms and dorms, tucked along the north wall of the dining hall, snuggly aside the sinks in the kitchen. You may have witnessed the number of receptacles increase over the years as well. First came green containers for garbage. Next appeared blue bins with the iconic Mobius loop recycling symbol. And for the Monastery garden and orchard, compost buckets for all food and paper waste. Most recently, with the help of MRO Student and eco-sattva Jusan Chen, square cardboard boxes showed up with a green infinity-like logo for a company called TerraCycle.
TerraCycle is a social enterprise that helps recycle pre-consumer and post-consumer waste that municipal recyclers cannot accommodate. Those hard-to-recycle items like toothbrushes, razors, writing instruments and packaging materials, along with many other household items that normally end up piled high in a landfill. Jusan first encountered TerraCycle’s “zero-waste” recycling programs when shopping at Woodstock Bring Your Own, a home goods store that sells cleaning products in bulk without any packaging (just bring your own container). Jusan went home, did some research, and signed up for three specific recycling programs—one each for dental products, stationary and office supplies, and razor blades—with hopes of instituting the program at the Monastery. This past January, the three streams came into being.
Over two billion tons of garbage are generated globally each year, and only about 13.5% gets recycled. With TerraCycle, Jusan wanted to address the MRO sangha’s contribution to this mountain of waste. ”We live in the world that we create,” says Jusan. “Plastic waste and microplastic, created for us and by us, is everywhere—at the North Pole, on the peaks of Himalayas, in the water, air, ocean and sand, in our lungs, circulating in our blood stream, inside fish, in the bodies of newborn humans.”
With the three recycling programs at the Monastery, these specific plastics of yours can now be diverted from the trash. To participate in the MRO Terracycle program, simply make sure each item is empty, clean, and dry, and drop them in one of the TerraCycle boxes on your next visit to the Monastery.
Volunteering is another way to get involved, helping to sort items from the TerraCycle collection boxes into the three unique recycling containers which are then shipped out separately. There is plenty of opportunity to help prepare the plastic by sorting items, cleaning and drying, and removing stickers that are not easy to peel off. Paper stickers contaminate the process of recycling, so removing them is a crucial part of the recycling work that we do. If you’re interested, you can reach out to Jusan by sending a message to email@example.com (the Monastery is open to outside sangha members at certain times for work practice, details we can fill you in on.)
Recycling is often unglamorous and meticulous work. Jusan credits two people for inspiring the patience and motivation she needs to stay committed: “Thich Nhat Hahn, who said, “What we most need to do is to hear within us the sound of the earth crying,” and Pete Seeger, who set out to clean up Hudson River one cigarette butt at a time, and thus inspired a stream of others to join in.”
Adding together the dozens of residents and retreat participants arriving with their own individual toothpaste tubes, deodorant sticks, razors and disposable pens, the amount of waste adds up fast. And if you doubt the possible impact, thinking of the billions of tons of waste outside of our small sphere, Jusan implores us not to be discouraged: “One thing we learn when recycling things mindfully is just how much unrecyclable waste our consumption creates, and how much unsustainable goods and packaging companies produce. No action is big or small. When it serves all beings, it is its own completeness. It is only our measuring mind that divides or blocks the amazing capacity we have.”
Special thanks and a bow of gratitude to Jusan Chen for her efforts to raise awareness, take action, and ‘get things started’ for the benefit and care of all beings.