She goes to china to help the environment Church prodded to forgo plastic SOUTHEAST -- Sykesville * Eldersburg * Gamber

January 12, 1993|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

Kathy Blanco-Losada went shopping for dishes and cutlery last week. She needs service for 500.

The Sykesville woman doesn't entertain on a grand scale and isn't looking for fine china and exquisite silver. Heavy duty ironstone and serviceable flatware will suit her purposes nicely.

For three years, Ms. Blanco-Losada, 50, has volunteered as chairwoman of the Environmental Concerns Committee at St. Joseph Catholic Community in Eldersburg. The committee is weaning the parish away from plastic and paper and onto recylables.

"We want reusable and washable items wherever possible and no disposables," she said. "And, we want our parish to choose to make a change."

Saint Joseph, a parish of 1,834 families, works "in every conceivable concept of Christian service," she said. So when it opted to address environmental concerns, she was the first to volunteer.

It is probably a "lifetime" position, she laughed.

After she earned a degree in religious studies from the College of Notre Dame of Maryland in 1988, Ms. Blanco-Losada, the mother of three grown children, said she "began to pull together the technicalities of theology with what living on this earth means.

"The world we live in is created by God and is essentially God's gift to us," she said. "We must look at what that means in terms of our family lifestyle."

A natural progression for her was the environmental committee, which includes 10 members and several others who serve as needed.

"At first, our task was to educate people to see where faith and lifestyle come into conflict," she said. "We tried to analyze what goes on in the church community from an environmental perspective."

The congregation and several community groups constantly use the church building, and "St. Joe's sponsors a lot of activities, which generate a lot of trash," she said.

After the committee study, the members took a resolution to the parish council that asked for a formal commitment to environmental responsibility.

"We needed to work on reducing the amount of plastic and Styrofoam leaving the church and going to the landfill," she said. "Right away, we tried for no more disposables."

Styrofoam cups were the first items to go. The committee purchased 200 ceramic cups to replace them. The committee contacted every other church organization and wrote letters in the parish bulletin to explain its stance.

Although she had "a great deal of trouble" finding reliable sources of information, Ms. Blanco-Losada has educated herself on the hazards of Styrofoam. She calls plastic "a convenience, not a necessity." She and every committee member can list the reasons for eschewing plastic.

"We go into a discussion with reasons," she said. "We want to be a resource to help others decide how they can change."

Ms. Blanco-Losada can debate effectively on the dangers of Styrofoam -- from its manufacture out of petroleum, a non-renewable resource, and styrene, a dangerous substance, to how it is responsible for creating a hole in the ozone layer.

"It turns me into knots when I watch those TV commercials, which say plastics are wonderful," she said. "Once it is used and tossed, there is no good way to get rid of it."

Next, the committee began an in-house recycling program. Since the commercial contractor who serves the church does not pick up recyclables, committee members had to do the hauling to the county's recycling center in Westminster.

"In spite of that inconvenience, our recycling program has been successful," she said.

With about $300 from the parish's alternate giving program last month, Ms. Blanco-Losada went on her first dish-shopping expedition.

The committee also plans to publish a parish cookbook with meatless and low-meat recipes. Sales will buy several more place settings, she said.

"I think we will get to service for 500 this year," she said.

The church may begin to charge a low rental fee to users of its facilities to help pay for inevitable replacement costs.

For those who don't always know what is better to use, the Environmental Concerns Committee offers handouts with household hints and composting tips.

"We can tell which products are environmentally friendly and why," she said.

She remains optimistic about environmental awareness: "People are beginning to see there's a great deal that can be done on an individual level."

A lifelong environmental activist whose home borders Piney Run Lake, Ms. Blanco-Losada said she has a "vested interest" in what happens in the area.

From her deck, she sees much of the lake's wildlife "in its own place instead of a zoo." Squirrels and birds use feeders in her yard. From her porch, she spends hours gazing at the lake.

"My own personal, spiritual growth would not have happened if I had not lived here to see, on a daily basis, what others have no time for," she said.

One of her personal future projects is writing a book on garden theology.

As a member of the Park Concerns Committee, she calls herself a vigilant watchdog of the county's "tremendous asset."

"So much of what Piney Run Park has to offer is threatened because it is almost totally surrounded by housing developments," she said. "We need to protect it."

She would like to see an increase in the county's commitment to the environment, too.

"Little by little, we need to inculcate the idea that where we spend money, which is our own resource, is an indicator of what is important to us," she said.

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