The Catholic Center is in the process of throwing out Styrofoam food containers for the last time. In an effort to be more ecologically friendly, the downtown office has decided to replace Styrofoam with compostable paper products in the cafeteria.
This move is a response to Pope Francis's 2015 encyclical "Laudato Si (On Care for our Common Home)," which speaks of environmental concerns. In the document, Pope Francis talks about the throwaway culture and calls the disregard of pollution as a "ecological crisis."
The pope asks for as much recycling and reusing as possible. "So that's what we asked the Catholic Center to do," explained Sister Sharon Goodremote, FSSJ, chairperson of the Diocesan Care for Creation Committee. "We asked if the Catholic Center can be used as an example and parishes would get on board and we'd find the companies that people could then buy from."
This shift is something that Bishop Richard J. Malone has wanted for a long time. He made it this year's a goal for the Care for Creation Committee. He spoke with Pat Millemaci and Camilla Busch, the former and current directors of Central Services for the five-story downtown building, about finding more ecologically friendly products. They laid most of the groundwork for it. The new paper boxes will not be recyclable, but will come from recycled material and decompose. Currently, Central Services is shopping for the best deals.
The Care for Creation Committee is also asking parishes to look in their cupboards. Vendor information will be made available so parishes can also purchase these green products. "It's a diocesan-wide desire that we get rid of Styrofoam," said Sister Sharon.
Along with the 100 plus employees of the Catholic Center who use ceramic plates and plastic cups at lunch, neighboring workers often take out food from the cafeteria to bring back to their offices, most often in disposable containers. Very few recycling plants accept foamed polystyrene, the generic name of Styrofoam. Materials contaminated with food and drink, such as clamshell cases and pizza boxes, cannot be recycled anywhere, regardless of the material. Sciencelearn.com reports that it takes 500 years for a polystyrene cup to decompose. That's 400 more years than an aluminum can. Paper breaks down in two to five months, and a milk carton takes five years. Some consider polystyrene to be the worst thing for the planet.
The cafeteria has already begun using non-bleached clamshell cases that are recycled and compostable. The Care for Creation Committee has helped with the increased cost of these new products. Price should not scare people away. When buying in large quantities, the Diocesan Purchasing Department can negotiate a better price.
The Catholic Center has taken other measures to be more ecologically sound. The building is temperature controlled and uses motion sensor lights in rooms that see low traffic. When light bulbs burn out, they are replaced with LED lights, which can be 80 percent more efficient than fluorescent and incandescent bulbs.
"We've always tried to keep this particular building green," said Carol Anne Cornelius, energy director with the diocesan Office of Buildings and Properties.
Cornelius encourages people to use their own coffee cups. Her office has plenty of spares thanks to contractors.
The Diocesan Care for Creation Committee has been together for 11 years. The mission is to educate Catholics about Church teaching on caring for creation. Committee members meet with the bishop once a year to set a goal for the diocese.
Along with Pope Francis, Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have spoken out about the environment, with Benedict calling it a "right to life issue."
"When we ruin the earth, we also ruin our health. If it's not good for the earth, it's not good for the human," Sister Sharon said.