By Kathleen Brewster, summer intern, Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions

For this year’s Plastic Free Challenge, we’re making an effort to elevate the work of our Plastic Free partners around the DMV. Today we hear from a youth activist who worked with the Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions on a Zero Waste guide for summer camps.

Photo by Liam Macleod on Unsplash

As a child, I attended faith-based summer camps every year, and as a young adult, I’ve been a volunteer at them. When I was a kid, camps were a highlight of my summer and a way to connect more closely with my faith and other like-minded individuals. Now as a college student, I’ve noticed the waste (plastics, food, trash, etc.) that these camps generate each summer.

I was shocked by the amount of plastics that go to waste EACH week! Plastic water bottles, plastic plates, plastic forks, plastic cups, plastic decorations, plastic snack bags—it felt like the plastic was endless.

A five-day summer camp with 50 kids generated 326,400,000 pieces of trash that ended up in landfills, and much of it was not even recyclable in Fairfax County.

To me, that is insane since we are only one church and the camp is only one week of the summer. Millions of people attend faith-based summer camps all around the world. And truly, most week-long camps, faith-based or not, are generating lots of plastic waste. From sports camps to sleepaway camps, we must create solutions to the generation of plastic waste. But how can we fix this?

I’ve compiled some tips to reduce plastic waste at faith-based camp. I’ve also created a guide about how to have a waste-free faith-based camp that can be adapted to non-faith-based camps. You can view it here.

Here are some quick tips to help you cut down on waste in camps:

  1. Encourage kids to bring reusable water bottles and use water fountains instead of single-serving water bottles. If you must use plastic water bottles, have kids write their names on them so they can use the same bottle throughout the week and fill it up at a sink.
  2. Buy large quantities of snacks. It’s cheaper to buy in bulk and reduces waste from the packaging. For example, buy a box of Goldfish instead of individual packages.
  3. Use reusable plates that can accommodate many different snacks and try to serve finger foods instead of things that require silverware.
  4. If you have decorations for the camp, save them for next year or try loaning them to another place of worship. You could also try to swap decorations with other camps.
  5. Teach the next generation recycling skills. Faith-based camps are a great way to teach a variety of topics, including recycling, in a fun way.

The path to creating a positive and ethical change doesn’t have to be a sprint. Instead, it can be a walk or a stroll. All that matters is that you keep moving forward. Incorporating one or two new habits still makes a huge difference and can inspire others to make similar changes.