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Cherishing Creation means more than reducing our plastic bag use, says Bishop

by Donna Birrell

Charges could be levied on all single-use items after members of the House of Lords backed a move to tackle throwaway culture. 

As part of consideration of the Environment Bill, peers voted by 203 votes to 167 on an amendment in favour of charges being levied on all single-use items and not just those made of plastic.

The Labour peer Baroness Jones of Whitchurch and Crossbencher Viscount Colville had put forward the amendment following concerns that plastics could be replaced by alternative disposable items, 
such as wooden cutlery and disposable towels, which come with their own environmental costs.

The Right Reverend Hugh Nelson, the Bishop of St Germans in the Diocese of Truro, told Premier that despite only being an amendment, the move is significant:

"On the surface it's just a minor amendment in an enormous Environment Bill. And it's about whether we charge just for plastic bags or also for other kinds of bags and single use plastic? 

"But it seems to me it gets to the heart of the conversation about how we care for Creation. Are we just going to fiddle around the edges a bit and just get rid of a few plastic bags? Or are we looking for something more fundamental in terms of the change that's being asked of us? 

"I can swap from a plastic bag to a paper bag in a shop easily enough. But the challenge is that we don't go into the shop in the first place - don't buy that thing that we might not really need. And that is quite a significant thing for the House of Lords to be debating."

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs says that since a charge was introduced for plastic bags in major supermarkets in 2015, the average household has reduced its use to four - down from around 140, a reduction of 95 per cent.

Caring for Creation is at the heart of the Diocese of Truro's mission and Bishop Hugh says it's about looking at the bigger picture:

"I live in Cornwall and I know that the plastic on beaches and in the seas is a terrible problem. But the unintended consequence is that you shift over to using paper bags and actually the carbon footprint of a paper bag is greater than that of a plastic bag. And so it's only if we address the whole issue, the use of our single use of objects that we're going to deal with the problem. 

"One of the things that we've been trying to do in the church in Cornwall is to introduce an old traditional word, 'cherish'. If you cherish something, you don't love it because of its monetary value, you don't necessarily love it because of its use to you, you love it because of what it is. And the only time that we really use the word cherish in any kind of normal life is at a wedding when the couple in their vows make a promise to love and to cherish. 

"In the Diocese of Truro, we're trying to talk about cherishing creation, to learn how to cherish creation, not for what it can give us, not because we want to use it, but simply because it's God given. It's beautiful. And it exists."

Bishop Hugh says the UN summit on climate change, COP26 in Glasgow in November is an opportunity to effect real change :

"There is a chance for national governments and businesses to really put their money and their policies where their mouth is and that's a good thing. We have to really put pressure on them and encourage them to make the best of that opportunity. 

"The bad news is that we are right on the edge of disaster. And it may well be that we'll look back at these last two years of COVID which has been so disruptive and so difficult, as a kind of holiday in the park compared to what's coming our way from climate change.

"But there is good news. We know what we need to do and the challenge now is do we really mean it? 

"Are we just saying we shouldn't use so many plastic bags or are we really saying that we're ready to change the way we think about Creation? It's not there for us to use and throw away it's there for us to be part of and cherish?"


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