A World Without Landfills: Taking Action at Minnesota Valley Unitarian Universalist Congregation


By Claire Curran 

Imagine a world without landfills. What does it look like? Smell like? Feel like? It's a world free of harmful chemicals and thoughtless waste. It's a world that values the planet that sustains us and gives us life. This is the world the Minnesota Valley Unitarian Universalist (MVUUF) congregation is building.

Seven Principles guide Unitarian Universalist congregations; the seventh is a call to respect the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. MVUUF recognized wasted food, trash, and unrecycled materials as an opportunity to deepen their commitment to caring for the earth. Through a contract with Randy's Environmental Services, MVUUF has established an industrial composting system that is able to compost everything from food waste, to paper towels, to pizza boxes!

What had been a small compost container filled mostly with coffee grounds and used to enrich the garden, became an entire recycling and waste program that has changed the culture of the congregation. Each Sunday at the community lunch after worship, volunteers tend to the waste stationers, explaining how to sort waste into trash, recyclables, and compostable material. "At first, it took some dumpster diving," said Sally Mills, a lifelong Unitarian Universalist, and member of Minnesota Valley. Sally, and other dedicated volunteers would pull out un-compostable items to ensure uncontaminated waste. But congregants caught on, and now which clear labeling, compost waste and recyclables have increased, and trash has decreased, dramatically!

In the first year of the Zero Waste program, MN Valley diverted about 80% of waste from landfills. 700 pounds of cans, plastic containers, and paper were recycled and over one ton of organics were composted. These measures translate to cutting 1.6 tons CO2 equivalent greenhouse gas emissions (according to the Australian Department of Climate Change & Energy Efficiency), and all by taking the time to sort through trash after a community lunch. But this change is rooted in a deeper legacy of commitment to sustainability.

"We have been incorporating sustainability principles into the life of the congregation for such a long time, there is an assumption that we will do our best to do the right thing. Composting was a logical extension of our past work," said Sally. That past work includes everything from energy efficiency, to buying recyclable goods, conducting tire pressure workshops to improve gas mileage, and including sustainability in youth and adult faith education.

And they aren't alone. Unitarian Universalist Congregations across the country are taking on similar projects, and the Unitarian Universalist Association is leaving its mark everywhere it goes. Each year at its General Assembly, the UUA works with the hosting hotel to set up composting and recycling throughout the conference. Often, after the successful experiment with composting, the hotel makes those changes permanent, and UUA leaves a legacy of successful sustainability initiatives in cities across the country.

MVUUF is eager to continue their sustainability efforts and explore ways to make composting more accessible in their community. Sally summed up this commitment best saying, "everything we do has a impact on another part of the world. Anything we can do to walk lightly on the earth is a benefit to ourselves and others." MVUUF is creating a ripple of change, not only are they providing a positive example for other congregations and communities, their waste is converted into a organic mix that revitalizes soil. They are also significantly reducing their waste and carbon emissions. Somewhere, a landfill is a little less full, and a world without landfills feels a little more possible.

For more information about MN Valley visit their website.