To mark Pope Francis’ 10th anniversary as Pope, Sr. Agnes Kanlaya Trisopa pays tribute to the Holy Father’s leadership in urging people to care for Creation, and describes the ecological benefits of a waste separation management program she has set up in Bangkok, Thailand.
By Sr Agnes Kanlaya Trisopa*
A little over a year ago, I initiated a waste separation management program inspired by Pope Francis’ Encyclical Laudato si’. The project, which I have been working on with the help of a laywoman, also seeks to prevent human trafficking.
I will continue to expand this project to people who need work to increase their income to support their family. At the same time, this project also gives people the opportunity to help keep our home planet clean and pollution free.
There are three reasons why I was inspired to start a waste separation management program. First, I wanted to follow the advice of Pope Francis in Laudato si’, no. 211, on Eco-Citizenship. In this document, Pope Francis advises us to practice persistent behaviors and virtues in our daily life in order to be ecological citizens and care for the planet. Garbage sorting was one of the many activities the Holy Father suggested.
Secondly, I wanted to cooperate with a Buddhist monk, Pra Ajan Suchut Patchoto, who has the good intention to care for the world. He collaborates with many networks that include Buddhist monks, parents and 400 children. Everyone has learned from him how to separate garbage until the waste is clean and becomes zero.
Thirdly, since I am involved in the prevention of human trafficking, I know that poverty and unemployment are big reasons why people get caught in the cycle of slavery. So, I thought of making waste separation management a career that increases income for at-risk families.
When I started this project, I was confident that I was on the right track, as I remembered Pope Francis’ message to “Talitha Kum”: “An economy without human trafficking is an economy of care. Care can be understood as taking care of people and nature, offering products and services for the growth of the common good” (8 February 2021).
Keeping these words of Pope Francis in mind, I began to experiment with the method of waste separation that I had learned from the Buddhist monk. I put that method into practice as an experiment in the dining room of my community. I wanted to prove that my vision for this project was possible.
Almost a year after I organized the program, I saw positive results, and not only in my community. I also received positive feedback and cooperation from many religious congregations, schools, Christian communities and Church organizations.
In addition, when I started the waste sorting project, I found a woman with a good head on her shoulders to work side by side with me.
I saw that besides earning extra money every month to support her family, she also persevered in gaining knowledge of waste separation, which is an important part of taking care of the world.
Moreover, she is proud of herself — of her patience and diligence to help make our planet a better place while at the same time earning more money from selling and recycling waste. I am glad that, through garbage sorting, this woman was empowered and affirmed her dignity. In the future I hope to invite her to work with me as a speaker, and share her experiences in order to expand this project to low-income families in other poor communities.
In fact, separating garbage to make zero waste is not just about cleaning the garbage in order to sell it and increase income. Sorted waste can also be recycled to generate income.
We can recycle clean waste that has been separated into different types. For example, plastic can be used to make diesel fuel, paper can be made into paper again, water bottles can be used to make cloth, beverage cans can be used to make handbags, etc.
My next project will expand upon this one, which I have successfully completed. In addition to sorting waste for sale, I intend to make cloth from plastic bottles. Doing so will create sustainable careers for women in the community so that they are not drawn to leave their villages in search of work, which would put them at risk of becoming human trafficking victims.
The outcome of that project would be to help poor families earn income and at the same time continue to make the world a better home for humanity.
* The Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Bangkok