How many extra t-shirts do you have? BY JULIE PELLER PH.D

Over a decade ago, I sat in on a very informative presentation about the over-consumption problem in our society.  The excessive acquisition of goods depletes resources, converts natural land to engineered land, creates more waste, utilizes more energy, requires more transportation and the list of unsustainable practices/outcomes goes on.  As an example, the amount of clothing/textiles the average American purchases and throws away each year is alarming. Approximately 70 pounds or the equivalent of 200 men’s t-shirts are discarded annually on average.  Some retailers admit that they are more interested in selling lots of clothing, instead of long-lasting clothing.

A few years ago, the environmental ministry at our church discussed ways to reuse resources – to value the gifts of nature – and decided to collect t-shirts people no longer wanted.  Most people have extra t-shirts in their homes. Instead of throwing away these clothing items, we set out to convert them into t-shirt bags.  The community response was great! Over the past few years, we have collected hundreds of used t-shirts.  Volunteers wash the t-shirts and then pass them on to other volunteers, the master seamstresses of the Prayer Shawl Ministry.  They cut and create the handle portion of the bags and then sew the bottoms.  Over 800 t-shirts have been converted into t-shirt bags and are now used by a number of people for diverse purposes.

Many t-shirt bags have been donated to the church’s food pantry.  Recipients of the food are encouraged to continue using these bags for groceries to reduce the consumption of plastic and paper bags.  Hundreds of the bags have been given to the Sojourner Truth House and the Carmelite Home. The t-shirt bags are used for groceries, laundry, school items and a variety of other purposes.  A bunch of people has purchased the bags for $2 or $3 to help defray the cost of thread.

This is one example of a simple way to reuse materials, to respect resources.  Widespread over-consumption of materials is an unfortunate aspect of our society, especially given our dependence on throwaway items, easy online purchasing, and cheap stuff. In fact, we are encouraged, on a daily basis, to buy stuff.  It is important to reflect upon the materials, energy, and waste associated with the manufacture, distribution and disposal of this stuff.  The perspective of Pope Francis is

“The pace of consumption, waste and environmental change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophes.”   

From Philippians 3:8-9, “I consider all things so much rubbish that I may gain Christ and be found in him.” 



Julie Peller Ph.D. is an environmental chemist (Professor of Chemistry at Valparaiso University ) and she leads the Environmental Ministry at Nativity of Our Savior in Portage IN. Julie has been writing a weekly column for church bulletins for the past ~5 years called the Green Junction and is helping to move the call of Laudato Si to action forward. Her Research Interests are in Advanced oxidation for aqueous solutions, water quality analyses, emerging contaminants, air quality analyses, Lake Michigan shoreline challenges (Cladophora, water, and sediment contaminants), student and citizen participation in environmental work.

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