Eco-friendly synagogues taking action on single-use plastic

New law prohibits the sale of polystyrene containers for ready meals but Jewish communities have already started tackling the issue head on


Non-biodegradable waste on wood

A new law banning the sale of single-use plastic has been welcomed by synagogues across the board.

The new legislation, which will come into effect on October 1, will prohibit the sale of polystyrene containers for ready-meals, as well as single-use plastic cutlery, cups and plates, the latter of which have been frequently used during kiddushes.

While the new laws may require many people to make lifestyle changes, synagogues and Jewish communities have already been tackling the changes head on.

Rabbi Josh Levy and Rabbi Charley Baginsky, the CEOs of Reform and Liberal Judaism, said: “We welcome the fact that, from October 1, this new thoughtful practice for the benefit of the environment will be enshrined into law.”

They added: “The fact that it is happening over Succot gives our rabbis and communities the opportunity to think and speak about our impact on the world around us.”

Reform and Liberal communities have already been actively reducing plastic waste for several years. In June 2018, Reform communities passed a law to phase out single-use plastic.

As a result, the movement’s leaders do not foresee many challenges that cannot be mitigated by thoughtful practice, such as avoiding using disposable decorations for succah-building.

The United Synagogue argues that while using disposables might appear to be a way to save time and money, in the long term, it is more time and cost-effective to use washable dishes.

The umbrella body has already enabled 18 of their communities to go completely disposable-free with the help of grants to buy new, good value and durable crockery.

The organisation also operates a free crockery-hire service for their synagogues, with both meaty and milky sets available for events.

Naomi Verber, the United Synagogue’s head of environmental policy, said: “It’s easy to feel powerless in the face of a global climate crisis and while governments and institutions need to play their part, we also have a role to play.

She added that avoiding the use of disposables, “which clog our rivers and seas, kill wildlife and pollute our beaches is a simple and effective way to make a difference.

“Each one of us has a responsibility to safeguard and protect the planet we all share.”

This was echoed by Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, senior rabbi of Masorti and EcoJudaism, who described the new law as “highly overdue”.

He said that introducing changes, such as going disposable-free in synagogue, will teach people to be more mindful of plastic consumption in their private lives as well. “While there will be challenges, they must be met,” he said.

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