With biodegradable cutlery and dishes made of cornstarch, the participants of World Youth Day in Cologne are taking environmental protection to new highs.
This year, God and the environment
More than 400,000 pilgrims, bishops and journalists from around the world will consume 6.2 million meals during the huge Catholic festival in August - but it will all be on recyclable plates and flatware. From August 16 to 20, all energy used for the event in Cologne will also be of the renewable kind. And the 500,000 leaflets issued to pilgrims will be printed on recycled paper.
For the first time, organizers are placing a high priority on the ecological impact of the event.
"It's been clear from the start that environmental damage will arising from the event," said Thomas Here, the environment representative for World Youth Day. "When you have perhaps 800,000 young people coming to Germany, even the climatic effects due to carbon dioxide emissions become a topic for discussion, since they have to arrive and leave by some sort of transportation."
Banners in Cologne announce the upcoming event
Two months before the 20th World Youth Day event begins, signs are already evident in Cologne. Banners waving at many of the city's churches and squares are announcing the event.
Accommodations are being sought everywhere for the hundreds of thousands expected to come -- school vacations are being even extended because school buildings are needed to accommodate the young Catholics arriving from 160 countries.
New focus on nature
The focus on the environment is something new. The organizers have even encouraged German pilgrims and others from nearby countries to avoid planes and travel by train instead. To this end, they had a deal with the German railways, which is offering a special World Youth Day special ticket for groups. The city's regional and local transport will also be discounted. And even the rejection of a single opening ceremony in favor of three separate smaller opening services in Cologne, Bonn and Düsseldorf, say organizers, is because they wanted to help protect the environment.
But even these measures were not enough for organizers. They needed a new innovation - and that's where the dishes came in.
A hill created for the pope for the closing ceremony of World Youth Day.
"I am holding a bowl, a pilgrim's bowl in my hand," said Here. "It is relatively easy to hold it in one's hand, attractive, not too large but it is true that it is slower to eat with, especially when it contains little."
The bowl isn't just attractive or easy to hold, either.
"The color is whitish beige and it looks a bit like paper," said Yvonne Jülich, who works for the World Youth Day administration. "One could imagine it sometimes falling apart. And it even smells like paper."
The really special thing about the dishes and cutlery, though, and what makes them tolerable, is that they are made out of cornstarch and are biodegradable. Because of the special dishes, the trash pile at least will be smaller.
"One gets used to it"
And that is point. "Create conservation" was the guiding principle that organizers worked under in order to make the event eco-friendlier. Therefore, they decided early that they should only use recycled paper. Just for the programs for pilgrims, they used 250 tons of paper. The conversion to recycled paper was not difficult at all, though, said Jülich.
"One gets used to it quickly," she said. "We were sad when we first saw it because white paper looks nice and this was a different color. But now we find it nice." And participants won't be receiving drinks in plastic bottles, either. Instead, there will be water fountains where they can fill up their own bottles with drinking water. Also, a "Global Village" is being built south of Cologne which will demonstrate renewable energy use. And finally, there will be discussions and lectures about the environment and conservation, so that pilgrims can take a little environmental friendliness home with them.