Sometimes, it only takes one person. One person with an idea and the tools and capability to implement that idea, if only there is support.
Sometimes, it only takes one person. One person who recognizes a new idea has merit and offers support to provide the infrastructure to get the program from concept to implementation.
When I took my youngest on a college road trip in his high school years, we headed to Burlington, Vermont to check out the state university there. UVM overlooks Lake Champlain above the downtown streets, with the Adirondacks to the west and the Green and White Mountains to the east. It is a beautiful location and one where thinking…and acting…green is highly respected.
It was the first place we saw three hole trash sorting stations not only in campus buildings but even on the lawn in the tent that was used to host parents and families. It was the first place I visited that had banned the single use plastic water bottle and offered fill up stations designed for reusable containers. It was the first place I visited that had electric charge stations for cars in the parking lots.
It was the first place I heard of a program to collect kitchen scraps, gathered daily by students riding bicycles and pulling a small cart. It turns out I heard wrong.
I was amazed that students were willing to ride down to Burlington’s main street (Church Street) and gather compostibles and then bike uphill in all kinds of weather to bring the stuff to campus. Turns out that was not the project.
The State of Vermont has mandated composting, recycling and other sustainable practices for all towns and cities. The local solid waste provider takes care of the compostibles from the Church Street restaurants as part of the normal trash service. Same thing for the dining halls and other eateries on campus.
So what was this bicycle program? It was the brainchild of an avid bike rider who was a student. He saw there were other places in the campus system that were not being serviced and designed a cart, pulled by his bicycle, that could facilitate access to offices and other administrative locations. Collected once or more each week, compostibles from those staff lunchrooms made their way to a larger compost collection point at the campus facilities management center.
The program ran only a few years during the time that student and a few of his friends kept it active. In the past few years those places that still want to participate are given collection bags and requested to take them to other collection points on campus. Easy for some located near dining halls. More dedication is needed for people in places further from those kind of sites. And you know what? There typically is someone who is willing to carry it home/to another location. But even better, the campus waste management program is going to institute a collection system again.
Sometimes all it takes is one person who understands that we are a tiny part of a huge ecosystem which we can easily ruin or heal our environment.
When systems are easy, like having a mingled collection barrel for recyclables as we do here in McMinnville’s curbside trash pick-up service, more people tend to participate. When a system that actually works more efficiently is implemented, it requires people to sort into separate bins, and participation drops as many people just do not buy into the need to take the extra moment. We need to encourage change for that issue.
McMinnville, as well as other municipalities throughout the Pacific Northwest, now has a new problem to overcome. China had been a reliable purchaser of our unsorted recyclables, but they are reducing what they will take because much of our collection is tainted. As easy as it is, people are not sorting correctly, throwing food waste into the bin that collects paper, for example. It should not be that hard to be compliant. Any suggestions on how to persuade people to participate fully will be welcome!
However, we understand it IS a bit more confusing than it first seems. To be told many plastics are recyclable, even to see a recycle symbol on something selected in the hope of being sustainable, gets frustrated because our waste service, Recology, can not handle all kinds of plastics. So we still have a way to go to get the best system in place.
We are getting to a point where we probably will need to increase our personal trash collection fee in order for Recology to set up a sort system in house.
OR, instead, we can individually opt to not buy products with packaging that causes problems like this. Believe it or not, there are laws in many nations that the manufacturer of an item must have a system in place to collect back packaging that is not workable in the locality. In other words, if applied here, each time you receive a package with styrofoam, you would also receive a way to send back that plastic. By putting the responsibility on the manufacturer, alternative packaging ideas that are sustainable will be developed.
For example, back in the 1980s I purchased items from a company that marketed water filters, air filters, nutritional supplements and nontoxic effective cleaning supplies. Ordered items arrived in recyclable cardboard with puffed rice packing peanuts. They were actually edible (not tasty, though). I understand the environmentally minded cosmetics and personal products company Lush uses these for packing.
It really is up to each one of us. Each one of us, in the interest of living on a planet that can be healthy, needs to opt for the healthier choice.
Reducing use of nonsustainable materials is the FIRST step, not recycling. Recycling is the lazy way….and not particularly as effective as we hope. But learn what you can do and we’ll get further along the way to becoming Zero Waste.
So it only takes one person…..YOU.