Don’t Waste Your Life: How One Family Stopped Being Trashy Christians

These Tennesseans are finding ways to live without adding to the landfill. But they aren’t finding a lot of “zero waste” company.

Zach and Sadie McElrath’s six-year-old daughter saw something at a store that caught her eye: a slingshot. But they didn’t buy it for her because it would have ultimately produced landfill waste. Instead, their daughter is figuring out how to make a slingshot with a stick and rubber bands from around the house.

The McElraths, based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, live a “zero waste” life. What they do throw away is compostable, except for the rare cases when they end up with items that have to go to the landfill, such as an Amazon envelope or a bag from frozen berries. They take their trash to the curb once or twice a year, even as a family of five with children ages 9, 6, and 2.

Both parents work—Sadie as a nurse practitioner, and Zach as a software engineer at a start-up. Even with their full life, they find the zero-waste life doable and even freeing, not having to think about buying things like slingshots.

“Other people might not be as extreme as we are,” said Sadie. “But everybody can do something.”

The McElraths have been living this way since 2017, and they haven’t found many other Christians interested in zero waste over the years. They find more zero-waste efforts coming from faith groups like the Unitarian Universalists. But they have been seeing more interest among Christians in their circles in doing things like composting.

This tracks with national data on evangelical attitudes about the environment compared to other faith groups. Evangelicals are the religious group least likely to see climate change as a serious problem, according to a 2022 Pew Research Center survey. And a University of Florida study found a generational divide among evangelicals over that …

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