Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

The Recycling Bug
distributed 7/18/03 - ©2003

I was scolded recently for something that Eco-Justice Ministries did. The fact that the rebuke came from an old and trusted friend helped me take the message seriously.

In early June, I mailed out a special fundraising letter to about 600 of our best friends. (If you didn't get a copy, and you'd like to, let me know! If you did get a copy, there's still time to send in a contribution!!)

One of those letters went to Gerald, a wonderful colleague in the movement, who has been working creatively and effectively for 30 years around issues of consumerism and justice. Gerald wrote back to say, "We wish you well. We only consider requests received on recycled paper."

The correspondence that I've had with Gerald over the last couple of weeks confirmed my reaction that this was a sincere and principled statement. He wrote, "We find it hypocritical that the church and many organizations claiming to Care for Creation do not take the baby step of using recycled paper."

Thankfully, I was able to reassure him that our mailing was done on paper with recycled content (although, I confessed, the paper was not composed of 100% post-consumer waste). I just had not put the little "recycled" logo anywhere in the mailing.

I explained to Gerald that I got out of the habit of putting the logo on things quite a while back when I was making up a series of resources that I expected other people to copy. I didn't want to print the logo on the original version, and then have lots of other copies made on "virgin" paper with the logo still there.

(Oh, OK. I also need to confess that it was an annoying little hassle to have to include the logo on everything that I printed. It was one more step to remember, and it sometimes messed up my tidy formatting. So, I often didn't bother.)

Gerald's response? "The logo is a must. We cannot be responsible for it once it's out of your hands. The logo is a testimonial, a reminder. All we can do is urge our constituents to use recycled paper, such as, 'Please copy this item on recycled paper.'"

Thank you, Gerald, for calling me to task on this lapse. It is not enough to have an internal policy about buying and using recycled paper. It also is important to use the logo in publicly claiming that stand on everything that we print.

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Gerald's statements reminded me of two occasions where similar concerns were raised.

  1. At a recent meeting of a peace and justice group, Bob insisted that a printing job be done at a union print shop. It was essential, he said, that the materials have the "union bug," even if it costs more to have the work done. A group working for economic justice shouldn't shop around for the cheapest printing, since that probably means low wages and no benefits for the folk who run the presses.

    The union "bug" -- a little oval logo -- serves the same sort of purposes as the recycled logo. It expresses a commitment to certain standards and measures of quality. And it is an encouragement to others to also use union-made products.

  2. Last week, I was at the national convention of the United Church of Christ. Among the thousands of questions, comments, facts and opinions that were voiced to the delegates, one stands out in this discussion.

    Someone had gone around to all of the booths and displays selling denominational "identity" materials -- shirts, hats, totebags, etc. -- and asked if they were made in sweatshops. The prevailing answer was, "we don't know." Only one booth (appropriately, for Justice and Witness Ministries) could say decisively, "all of our stuff was made under certified fair labor practices."

    So there it is again. Are we willing and able to "walk the walk" about our good principles? Do we pay enough attention to what we are buying and distributing to be able to affirm that it meets our standards? Do we admit that the question is important enough to display the answer right on the page or the product? Are we committed enough to invite others to join us in looking for -- even demanding -- that sort of certification?

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Some basic suggestions:

  • When you're buying paper, make sure that the label has the recycled logo. Near the logo, there should be text that tells both the total recycled content, and the percentage that comes from post-consumer waste. Higher numbers for both figures are better!

  • When you're printing on that recycled paper, insert the "recycled" graphic at the bottom of the page. For users of Microsoft Word, use "Insert | Symbol" and select the "Signs MT" font, which has two versions of the logo. Use it all the time!

  • Consider making similar commitments about union labor and non-sweatshop products.

  • My friend Gerald is the National Coordinator for Alternatives for Simple Living ("Equipping people of faith to challenge consumerism, live justly and celebrate responsibly"). Browse their excellent resources at


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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