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Year of the Community Organizer
Throughout this year, as the United States debated the national issues, I had reasons to travel to cities and counties in many countries on this planet. In most cases, I went there because I had been invited to participate in a discussion about resource management and community action. I increasingly saw in a lot of cities, grassroot movements of community organizers focusing in on local community sustainability and resource management issues. These movements have been predominantly community based because the issues are local financing and environmental impacts. This situation is pervasive throughout the world as local communitiesâ?? debate resources, jobs and paying for proper disposal.
In the time of one year, a lot has happened in the world of resource management. Prices for recycled secondary materials went from sky high to a dramatic low as the world economy has slowed down. Still major companies like Toyota and Honda advertise that they produce zero waste. Some leaders are now advocating that getting off of oil and on to conservation, wind and solar is needed to cool the climate, get the economy going and bring peace to the planet.
In my world these CNN and BBC reports have been the back drop to some pretty amazing travels.
A year ago last November we went to the Island of Hawaii to present my part of a Marine Debris Seminar put on by the Marine Science Department at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. My power point was a discussion about what happens to plastic in the ocean environment and what the plastic industry needs to do about it. This power point was given to several audiences on the Island while we were there. While we were doing that, we got involved in the Zero Waste Hawaii Island grassroots movement.
I was barely reintroduced to Southern California time and weather when Paolo wrote and asked if any one of us would go to Sicily and help him tell his union (organic farmers) and party (green) about zero waste. I agreed with the caveat that we travel around Sicily, so I could see it from a localâ??s point of view, have meetings about zero waste; and eat Italian food. It was a great trip and on Sunday we marched with 10,000 Catanians against the proposed incinerator and for zero waste. Paolo has an organic farm below Mt Aetna in the Catania Valley where I stayed and we visited and spoke about zero waste in Palermo, Siracusa and Paterno.
Back home from Sicily I spent most of the winter working on the Austin Zero Waste Plan and a Zero Waste Plan for Los Angeles. There is a great grassroots movement in Austin, a blueberry in a sea of red. Austin folks are organic and have energy and courage. We think we helped them get a good zero waste Plan to the city council.
In Los Angeles our team worked with the City to educate the base. Regional community meetings were held monthly for a year which developed guiding principles to achieve a zero waste goal. The Los Angeles project is based on community engagement in the development of the future resource management policies and implementation strategy.
April, known as mud month, had me in rural Central Vermont. Here 10,000 people make decisions on separation at the source and then deliver materials to local run depots. The zero waste concept is alive and growing in Vermont.
In May, Paul Connett, Eric Lombardi, Jeff Morris and I were invited to tour and make speeches on zero waste in several cities in Northern Italy. This was a real event, the four of us working together to put on 90 minute presentations and the fact that young people of Northern Italy successfully organized and pulled off these meetings to capacity crowds. Their technical skills added additional momentum to the movement by broadcasting the events through the Internet. My family in California was able to see Eric and I wave at them from the stage in Milan. The battle in Italy is over community control and zero waste is the clear winner over landfill or incineration.
Back home I am able to work in California in the San Cities (San Jose, Santa Maria, San Francisco, San Luis Obispo, San Benito and San Diego) to promote reuse, recycling and composting projects.
San Diego enacted a source separation and a C&D Ordinance which are being implemented right now. The San Diego County Citizen Advisory Committee is working to get a regional policy that will redirect compostable organics away from the landfill and back to the farms www.cool2012.0rg.
Which leads us back to Hawaii where in May the incinerator was defeated at the County Council and we were hired to develop a zero waste implementation plan. This led us to spend two weeks on the Island in September. We spoke at 12 different community meetings to over 400 people and in all cases we had consensus agreement on the new rules.
1. Make source separation a requirement,
2. Require c&d plans,
3. Pass takeback rules for sharps, pharmaceuticals and toxics,
4. Compostable organics out of the landfill, and
5. Rethink local planning and health requirements.
The meetings were grassroots and by consensus all who attended agreed that it would be good for the Island economy if the compostable organics were not put into the landfill but made available for the farmers and builders for soil amendment. Making the reusables, recyclables and organics available for local industries are key policies and opportunities to get to zero waste. The Island of Hawaii is at a tipping point. We also slept at an inn on a steam vent in the lower part of an active volcano.
Two weeks later, after a four-hour drive through the Canadian Rocky Mountain (glaciers) in minor snow flurries at night to the Fairmont Lodge in Jasper, Alberta Canada, there was a great crowd for the zero waste session. I drove back to Calgary a few days later slowly from the snow of Jasper trying to memorize the glacier and stopped many times. The next day I flew to the south to the heat and thunderstorms of Cancun, Mexico for a zero waste workshop presentation with Michael Huls to an international conference of engineering professors.
After the conference, Debbie flew down and she and I drove around the gulf side of Mexico staying: in Celestum, a fishing village by the flamingo preserve; in Campeche, a walled city built in the 1600â??s; and in Uxmal in a hotel 500 meters from the Mayan City ruins. I was impressed by the friendliness of the people, I was depressed that everyone has to use bottled water and that some of these bottles and other plastic were on the coastline in these rural areas. When I asked the guide what happened to the Mayans that inhabited these cities , he replied, â??we are still hereâ??.
The next steps for me are to implement these projects and more. Getting Cities and Businesses to support getting compostable organics out of landfill and back to farms, requiring businesses to redesign their packages and products, and reorganizing storage, collection and disposal with zero waste as a goal is a challenge for the next two years, but I think we have enough community organizers out there to get it off to a good start.
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