History of Greening of Beth El
Summary of Beth El’s Greening Program:
Beth El has recently undertaken efforts to start greening the synagogue, in large part due to demand from its congregation. While the first step was to use more environmentally friendly cleaning supplies, the real challenge was deciding what to do about all of the products used to serve food. Beth El has events where food is served on a weekly basis, sometimes feeding a few hundred people at an event, creating much waste that went directly to a landfill.
The first step was to evaluate the cups being used. All drinks at Beth El had been served in Styrofoam cups, which are the cheapest type of cup. However, Styrofoam is the worst possible choice for the environment and was the cause of most complaints from environmentally concerned congregants. Changing from Styrofoam cups elicited a very positive reaction and was the first visible sign that progress was being made towards a more environmentally friendly synagogue.
Gradually all paper products, including cold and hot cups, plates, bowls and utensils, were changed to compostable products. Beth El then contracted with a local composting company that comes weekly to the synagogue to remove all of its compostable waste, comprised mainly of the compostable paper products and food. Beth El also began to increase its recycling efforts. It hosts a weekly bingo fundraising night that generates much paper waste that is now recycled. Beth El also takes advantage of single-stream recycling to recycle all of its cardboard, metal, glass and plastic. The combination of composting and recycling has allowed Beth El to reduce the waste it sends to a landfill by over half. With further compliance by congregants and guests, it has the potential to divert 90% of its waste going to a landfill, and instead be used to create compost and recycled products. To that end, we continue to educate our congregants and visitors in our shul-wide composting and recycling efforts.
The Program’s Benefits and Impact
Beth El has a Social Action Committee whose members had a desire to make the synagogue more environmentally friendly. An underlying cause for this desire is what is understood through Midrash, that G-d is reported saying to man: “All that I have created has been for your sake; take care then not to spoil and destroy My world.” Efforts originally were focused on recycling more, as people became more aware of its benefits and our obligation to take care of the earth. The first area of focus was on the two paper recycling containers in the parking lot provided by a local paper collecting company. The money generated from recycling the paper in the containers directly benefits the nursery school. We promoted the use of these containers primarily through the bimonthly newsletter mailed to congregants’ homes, but also used word-of-mouth advertising to remind congregants of its environmental and financial benefits.
Attention was then turned to the kitchen, which was not recycling much, even though it used many items that were recyclable. Several educational discussions took place with the kitchen and maintenance staff to explain what could be recycled and soon thereafter a process was put in place to take advantage of the single-stream recycling offered in the township in which Beth El is located. That meant all glass, cardboard, plastic and aluminum was now being recycled; products that are heavily used by the kitchen.
The biggest opportunity to increase recycling was at the weekly bingo fundraising events. With an average of 100 players a night playing for 3+ hours, there was an incredible amount of paper being used and thrown in the trash. We worked with the volunteer staff and maintenance crew, and then educated the bingo players, to put a recycling process in place. Dozens of small, blue, recycle bins were placed throughout the room, so players did not have to move much to put their paper waste in the receptacles. Beth El now collects and recycles approximately 4-5 large trash bags full of paper at each bingo event.
The last area to increase recycling is in the classrooms. While some recycling does take place there, a more formal process is needed. Work has begun to coordinate efforts with the teachers and maintenance staff and a system should be fully implemented in the coming months.
As the recycling efforts started to take hold, our efforts began to focus on composting. The first decision to be made was whether to attempt to compost on Beth El’s grounds or use a service to take the compostable waste away. While it may have been preferable to do it directly on site, it was going to be difficult to correctly process the amount of waste Beth El generates. It would be further complicated by having to separate certain types of foods that could not go into a non-commercial composter (e.g. meat, fish, dairy products, etc.). The decision was made to work with a local company, AgRecycle, that takes away compostable waste for a nominal fee. This would ensure that all food waste would be composted correctly and it would make it easier for people eating at one of Beth El’s events, as there would be less to think about separating when it came time to dispose of their trash.
Once the decision was made to work with AgRecycle, a representative came to speak with our administrative, kitchen and maintenance staff to explain how their composting process would work. A large, yellow dumpster was delivered to Beth El’s parking lot, where all compostable material would be put and then hauled away as needed. Beth El purchased yellow cans to collect compostable materials in the building. Blue cans were used for recycling and grey cans were used to collect anything that could not be composted or recycled. Signs were put on each of the cans, as well as other signage was created, to remind people of what should be put into each of the cans.
A major communication effort began to introduce the concept of composting to the congregation. Articles were included in the bimonthly newsletter. E-mails were sent out. Announcements were made from the bima by the rabbi and president. Reminders were given at events where there was food. While much time and effort has been given to making congregants aware of the new composting program, like any new program that involves a change in behavior, it takes time for it to truly take hold. Constant reinforcement and education is needed. Recently, classes were given to the Sunday School students to educate them on the benefits of recycling and composting, as well as reminding them of the environmental programs now in place at Beth El. All in all, we have made great strides in creating awareness and adherence to our recycling and composting efforts, but still have some work to do, especially since it is such a recent change.
A “green fund” was established to solicit contributions to the environmental efforts at Beth El. While every effort is made to reduce the costs of using compostable products, these items are more costly. There is also the aforementioned fee for the compostable waste to be hauled away to the commercial compost facility. The availability of the fund is promoted through our bimonthly newsletter, as well as through Social Action Committee members. Tzdekah is part of the fabric of Beth El, and many congregants, including a recent Bar Mitzvah, have donated money to the green fund.
By making recycling and composting such a visible part of our Beth El community, we have positively affected how our students, teachers, congregants and visitors view the environment and the importance of taking good care of it. We have the unwavering support of the rabbi, executive director and president, which makes it easier to implement such a large change throughout the synagogue. Additionally, as a direct result of our efforts, our congregants are now recycling more at home and some are even beginning to compost at home too, visible signs that we are making a difference in how people think of the limited resources G-d has given us. From the very beginning of the Torah in Genesis, Jews were told to be good stewards of the earth. With the Greening of Beth El initiative, we have attempted to create tikkun olam starting with our small corner of the world.