Central Reform steps up GreenFaith effort with composting program

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

Composting may not seem like the most glamorous of pursuits, but it is easy enough to see it in a grander light.

“It’s just about taking care of the planet, especially for our future generations,” Wendy Bell says.

For Bell, director of finance at Central Reform Congregation, that’s reason enough for her temple to adopt the practice with a first load of compostable materials  being picked up this week. It’s part of a larger effort CRC is making to adopt more sustainable and environmentally sensitive practices, under the umbrella of GreenFaith, a two-year certification program that converts houses of worship to more Earth-friendly spaces.

Signing up for a composting service and improving its recycling program were two of the final hurdles the temple needed to clear before being certified by GreenFaith.


“For me, it ties into the whole thing about Judaism and kosher, just making people think about what we’re doing, what we’re using,” said Bell, who proudly calls herself a dumpster diver.

Other requirements of CRC’s GreenFaith certification include staging an environmental fair, using fair trade coffee and chocolates, and conducting a wide-ranging energy audit of the building. CRC has installed programmable thermostats and incorporated environmental themes into its religious school programs.

Jennifer Bernstein, CRC’s director of advocacy and communications, said CRC’s recent celebration of Tu B’Shevat highlights the responsibility of Jews to respect the planet.

“We’re just trying to lead by example,” she said.

Bernstein said that so far, the effort as been well received.

“There’s always going to be a learning curve, but we’ve got our two giant tubs of composting barrels filled up,” she said. “We had two big b’nai mitzvahs this weekend, and everyone did great.” 

Bell said people are even stationed at each bin to educate members and avoid “contamination” of the compost, which must remain free of noncompostable materials to be eligible for pickup. A service will collect the bins each week and ship them to north St. Louis County, where the compost will be turned into mulch and soil additives by local contractors.

It’s a better use of garbage than what happens at most institutions.

“The stuff that can get composted but ends up in a landfill is a huge percentage,” Bell said. “It actually creates methane gases while it is in the landfill, which is part of the greenhouse effect. But if that food gets removed and put in a composting area, it obviously doesn’t create those gases and can be reused.”

So far, only food garbage is being composted at CRC although Bell notes that some disposable cups and plates on the market can be used for compost. But for now, the idea is to keep things simple enough so that people can remember how to easily sort items.

“It’s a bit of a challenge, because we have different organizations that rent our space during the week. It’s all about education and training,” Bell said. “We’re having to train all of our different groups that come in.”

Bernstein said as much as two-fifths of all household and business waste is food. By contrast, almost the sole disposable item CRC still puts in the garbage is plastic bags.

“Hardly anything is trash,” Bell said.

Bell said she has heard a mild complaint or two from folks who now have to separate items and scrape plates, but she doesn’t feel that’s a negative. 

“I think that’s a good thing in a certain sense,” she said. “It is making people aware of what we’re creating, what we use and how we pollute the Earth. Hopefully, along with awareness, it will bring changes.”

The synagogue also has placed smaller countertop bins in the office and the education suites. 

Grass cuttings could be the next material added for composting.

“We may do that with our yard waste,  because we have a garden here,” Bell said.

Rabbi Randy Fleisher said preservation is nothing new for the Jewish people.

“I think the whole idea of not wasting is a longstanding Jewish principle,” he said. “We have finite resources on this planet, and I think that was intuited from an early time.

“People seemed to be pretty amenable to trying to figure out what goes in the recycling bin and what goes in the composting, and the little bit that is still considered trash,” he said, adding that few garbage receptacles are even left on the premises.

“Hopefully, it will inspire people to do composting at home,” Fleisher said.