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Is the Act of Littering Addressed in the Bible? If not, does it make any difference whether or not we engage in littering?

The literal act of littering is not directly and expressly addressed in the Bible, but neither are such areas as smoking, vaccinations and other matters. But there are many principles that show that we can learn from God’s Word even if a specific area cannot be found in Scripture.

 We will find out in this Q&A that littering is something that we must take seriously. There may be those who see this question and think that it is so obvious that it need not be addressed in the Church of God. But it does because we can all fall short in this area even though it may be considered a little thing.  After all, Christ said: “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much” (Luke 16:10).  As a spin-off to littering, we will also address neatness and tidiness.

Life is made up of many small things, and we do need to take those small things seriously.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines litter as: “trash, wastepaper, or garbage lying scattered about; an untidy accumulation of objects.”

Let us bring to mind how big a problem this can be.  It was reported in July 2019 that the “Glastonbury (music) Festival has been left with a sea of litter left to be cleaned up – just hours after Sir David Attenborough appeared on the Pyramid stage to praise the festival’s anti-plastic campaign. But some were left asking about Glastonbury’s ‘Plastic free’ mantra as photos showed the devastating mess left in the wake of the world’s most famous festival.

“Around 1,300 volunteers are taking on the gargantuan task, using bin bags from recycled plastic to hand sort debris left on the ground and across the festival site’s 15,000 bins.  The clean-up of the festival takes an estimated six-weeks to complete.”

Mr Armstrong, the late human leader of the now defunct Worldwide Church of God, used to comment on the yearly Rose Parade in Pasadena as one of the most beautiful things this world was able to offer, but also bemoaned the terrible amount of trash and litter being left behind after the event, saying that in this world, even the most beautiful things are being polluted and defiled.

There was a series of programmes on British television in 2021 about the workings of Chatsworth House showing all that goes on behind the scenes as well as the facilities that are available. The Church held the annual Feast of Tabernacles at this site for 10 years between 1999-2009 in what is a truly millennial setting.  However, one day that it was opened to the public during different lockdowns during 2020, an area was designated for use by those wishing to have a picnic.   The amount of waste left was staggering with many staff taking hours just to clean up the area.

We read on the website trashhero.org the following: “Litter is what we call trash when it ends up outside a bin or landfill.  Litter is bad for animals and people. Plastic waste suffocates, disables and kills thousands of animals each year. Litter is dirty and spoils our environment.

“Turtles, seals, birds and dolphins often mistake plastic waste for food. Plastic bags floating in the water can look like jellyfish, for example. After animals eat plastic, their intestines get blocked and their normal food can’t be digested properly. If they eat too much plastic, their stomachs always feel full, so they don’t eat anything else. Eventually they can starve to death. Plastic also contains lots of nasty chemicals that can poison animals and cause internal injuries.

“Animals often get entangled in plastic bags. This means they can suffocate, starve or drown. It also makes it easier for predators to catch them. Plastic bags constrict an animal’s movement which means they can get exhausted, or sometimes develop an infection from wounds caused by material wrapped around them. Plastic packaging can sink to the ocean floor, get wrapped around and smother coral reefs. Inland, plastic blocks drains, allowing mosquitoes to breed and spread dengue fever. Litter makes the beach look dirty. Sharp objects like broken glass can cut your feet. Because of this, there may be fewer visitors and local people will have less income from tourism.”

We should be able to see that litter is a real problem which so many seem to treat with disdain or contempt.

In an article by the Los Angeles Times, dated April 14, 2022, the following was stated:

“The Los Angeles City Council passed two motions… to address illegal dumping on the streets and in vacant lots of trash and junk like appliances, furniture, tires and other waste… ‘We live in a very trashy city,’ [Councilmember Kevin] de León said… ‘In terms of a large metropolitan city, we are the trashiest largest city in America.’ The city controller’s office reported last year that illegal dumping of trash, debris and hazardous items in public areas increased 450% between 2016 and 2020.”

Let us review a few Scriptures which reflect the Way of God.

In Genesis 2:15, right at beginning of civilization, we read: “Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.”

In bibleref.com, we read: “One of the most important lessons which jumps out from this verse is that immediately after he was created, the first man had a God-given purpose. God placed him into the paradise of the garden of Eden with a job to do. God had created a world which included work needing to be done; He created man with a mission to do that work. Logically, God didn’t need to structure the world in this way. He could have created a world that was fully self-sustaining. He could have made human beings to simply live in luxury and enjoy all of God’s creation without ever having to contribute anything. That, however, was not God’s design. Even before [human] sin entered the world, human beings were meant to work, to help to accomplish God’s purpose. That is built into us.”

We should note what the angels say to God about those who pollute and destroy the environment: “We give You thanks, O LORD God Almighty… Your wrath has come, And the time… that you… should destroy those who destroy the earth” (Revelation 11:17-18).

Likewise, today we are not to dismiss looking after our gardens, if we have one.  To keep it neat, tidy and functional is the way that we are expected to deal with this.

In Matthew 7:12, we read about how we should treat others: “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”  Those who leave litter on someone else’s grounds would probably not appreciate others littering their own place. Therefore, we should treat other people’s property with the respect that we would ourselves expect to receive.

There is a graphic example in Mark 6:38-44 with Jesus and the loaves and fishes as we read: “But He said to them, ‘How many loaves do you have? Go and see.’  And when they found out they said, ‘Five, and two fish.’ Then He commanded them to make them all sit down in groups on the green grass.   So they sat down in ranks, in hundreds and in fifties.   And when He had taken the five loaves and the two fish, He looked up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and the two fish He divided among them all.   So they all ate and were filled.   And they took up twelve baskets full of fragments and of the fish.  Now those who had eaten the loaves were about five thousand men.”

They didn’t leave all the fragments for others to clear up as would probably happen today, but they cleared up after the event. Of course, Christ made clear that He wanted the fragments to be gathered up “so that nothing is lost” (John 6:12). In addition, picking up food from the ground might not have been very hygienic.   Perhaps showing the magnitude of the miracle that 5,000 men plus women and children had been fed with five loaves and two fish was astonishing only to be compounded even further by the amount of fragments that had been left.   It also showed that littering was not the way it should be and they would have left the area in the same way that they had found it. It is a good principle not to leave a place dirtier than how we found it.

We see the aspect of service that is not in evidence when serving others is not shown.  In Galatians 5:13 we read: “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”   Loving and serving others is not manifested by selfishly leaving a pile of litter for others to dispose of.

Looking after the interests of others is clearly shown in Philippians 2:3-4:Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better [higher] than himself.  Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”

Do we as the people of God engage in littering of any kind?   Have we ever carelessly discarded a food wrapper or an empty drink can?  If there are no bins for depositing such rubbish, then we are obliged to take these home or to another place where they may be disposed of in the right way.  Have we ever thrown a discarded item out of our car window?

Have we ever engaged in some form of fly-tipping which is the illegal dumping of liquid or solid waste on land or in water?  The waste is usually dumped to avoid disposal costs and such a mess  that is created by such selfishness, has to be dealt with by others.

Do we always pick up after our dog once it has done its “business” on the front yard of somebody else’s property? After all, it isn’t exactly the most enjoyable chore we’ll ever engage in. It can be tempting to skip this task, but doing so may even be illegal in many places.

Part of rebellious mankind’s modus operandi is that man thinks that he can do exactly as he pleases without regard to planet Earth or any of his fellow human beings.   It is an attitude that is ugly and uncaring, and we must ensure that we don’t slip into doing the same thing, perhaps even thoughtlessly.

The above examples are a part of being neat and tidy.   Are our homes untidy, maybe even scruffy?   Of course, for some who have illness or disability problems, this can be a difficult area to keep control of.   We know that where there is dirt and litter, vermin can be attracted to such areas, and so it is vital that we eliminate any possibility of this happening in our own homes.   And home is where we spend the majority of our time, and so, why shouldn’t it be a delightful place to dwell?

A good question to ask is, are we always prepared for any visitors to enter our home or do we have to specifically prepare well in advance?   For those who are always clean, neat and tidy and keep their home that way, there is no such concern for any unexpected visit. Of course, we understand that there might be and oftentimes are valid exceptions, but we are speaking in general terms.

One website wrote about “Messy Home, Messy Life, Messy Saint” and observed: “And, your yard. What do you announce to the neighborhood about yourself if there is trash all around? Hoses wind around like green spaghetti. The flower pots still have desiccated geraniums in them that were killed last fall by freezing weather. Clean it up, and throw away the stupid stuff which you once thought you might use. And, if much of the junk is your kids’ stuff, make them help you. If your kids are too mean spirited to clean up their own trash, you are not raising them– they are raising YOU.”   Very straightforward advice but true to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.

Let us think about heaven, God’s abode.   Of course, it is spiritual and not physical, and we really can only wonder about the spiritual realm but would the One who created the universe and everything we see, be dirty, untidy and uncaring about presentation?   We should all know the answer to that question and, as we are to be growing in grace and knowledge to become more like God, we would surely want to follow Him in all His ways.

God would surely disapprove of anyone leaving His creation in an untidy mess with trash and general litter marring the beauty that is our planet and it makes unnecessary work for others to do when we should be doing this ourselves.  Anything that reduces or inhibits the proper enjoyment and full use of our God-given environment will not be met with God’s approval. Leaving rubbish for others to clear up is selfish and unthinking.

What sort of message does it send out to the young people growing up today when their parents and family just throw rubbish anywhere they want?   And when they take little or no interest in keeping their home, clean, tidy and litter-free?

It is interesting that the Singapore project has produced amazing results showing that attacking the littering problem can be very advantageous.  We read the following in an article by the BBC::

“Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, there were campaigns that urged Singaporeans to keep toilets, factories and bus stops clean. The 1976 Use Your Hands campaign had students, parents, teachers, principals and civil servants cleaning up schools at the weekend. There were also numerous tree planting initiatives. The aim wasn’t just to make the city more pleasant. A cleaner city, Lee Kuan Yew reasoned, would create a stronger economy. ‘These standards will keep morale high, sickness rate low, and so create the necessary social conditions for higher economic growth in industry and in tourism. This will contribute to the public good, and in the end to everyone’s personal benefit,’ he said.

“On all of these counts, Singapore has done well. Life expectancy has grown from 66 to 83 (which is third best globally). In 1967, tourist arrivals were a little over 200,000 compared to a just shy of 10 million for the first three quarters of 2018. Inward foreign direct investment ballooned from US$93m in 1970 to US$39bn in 2010. It’s now the fifth largest recipient of, foreign direct investment receiving $66bn in 2017.”

Doing the right thing will always produce good results, as we see in the above example.   For anyone visiting Singapore, they will see a litter-free environment as littering is very heavily punished.  People have been “trained” not to litter and to keep things neat and tidy, and it is a joy to see this actually working, which is in great contrast to the many nations of the world who have little or no control on such matters.

There is no specific command in the Bible not to litter but if there was, it would probably be ignored by most people like all of the other Commandments of God are.  We shouldn’t litter because it is not the Way of God, nor is it helpful to man as we have seen.   Let us be the best example we can be to all people and do that which is pleasing in His sight.

If you have read this and feel that you have not been guilty or are totally on top of this matter, then congratulations to you.   Most will surely be able to identify with being slack in this area at times, and if that is so, then maybe this presentation may be just the nudge that you need!

Let us make ourselves a committee of one to ensure that we are not part of this problem and that we always set the best possible example!

Lead Writer: Brian Gale (United Kingdom)