I could say that lately I’ve been thinking about the concept of building community and that would be true. Honestly, it’s something I think about all of the time, particularly building community around sustainability.
Being able to communicate is key in building community. In fact, the words themselves share the same root. How do we build community without being able to communicate in-person?
In her nonfiction book Big Magic, writer Elizabeth Gilbert encourages readers to follow their curiosity. Lately I’ve been following my curiosity by following different hashtags on Instagram. It’s slightly more fun than following people because there is wider variety in the posts. There are so many instagrammers posting about zero waste. Some of them I’ve met in-person but most of them I haven’t, but hope to someday.
Right now, as I’m writing this post, the hashtag #zerowaste has 5.2 million posts! That’s really heartening, isn’t it? It’s fun to think that I contributed some of those.
Illinois Environmental Council (IEC)
Illinois Environmental Council does really good work to further environmental legislation in Illinois. Since 1975, they’ve been bringing together the Illinois environmental community to influence decision makers and ensure clean air, clean water and healthy communities. In one of her recent blog posts, Executive Director Jen Walling wrote something that really struck me. She was answering a question she’d been asked over and over in public appearances: What can I do to help save the planet? She has four related answers. The three that I expected were: Get to know your lawmakers, Get to know your advocates and Take Action. The one that struck me was: Get to know your neighbors.
Here is her reasoning: Not only is knowing your neighbors one of the most important factors in determining whether you’ll survive a catastrophic weather event, it may end up being an incredibly important factor in whether we can pass laws that will reduce carbon emissions and prevent climate catastrophe. That’s because relationships are everything in politics and organizing. If your lawmaker won’t meet with you, knowing your neighbors is a good way to find someone in your community that may know your lawmaker or may be there to help in an election if your lawmaker isn’t voting the right way on environmental issues.
Maybe you’ve already seen it on our website. We are rolling out a new program called Neighbor Totes. We created this program for a lot of reasons: to make it easier for people who live alone to compost, to make it less expensive for those who can’t afford a personal bucket and to give people a reason to get to know their neighbors through sustainability.
I promise you that we thought of this name before we read Jen’s blog post!
We also had faith communities in mind when we conceived of it. Because faith communities typically gather regularly at a house of worship, it’s a natural fit for members to drop off their food scraps to a place they’re already going. It’s still possible for faith communities to host Neighbor Totes in different locations, at homes instead of the house of worship.
Neighbor Totes are also being used at multi-unit buildings like condos, co-ops and apartment buildings.
We want you to get creative about who could share a tote. Maybe you’re not exactly neighbors but your kids were all in the same preschool class or you all met in a yoga class. You get the idea.
Have you heard the term greenwashing?
Greenwashing is when a company or organization spends more time and money on marketing themselves as environmentally friendly than on minimizing their environmental impact. It is a deceitful advertising gimmick intended to mislead consumers who prefer to buy goods and services from environmentally conscious brands. This definition comes from this article on the subject. The Federal Trade Commission has what they call Green Guides or Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims, for guidance on environmental claims that can or cannot be made. There is a section on compostable claims.
Greenwashing makes it hard for the consumer because it makes it harder to understand if what you’re buying is truly compostable. It makes it hard for haulers like us because we’re supposed to guide you in knowing what you can or cannot compost. It makes it hard for the composting facilities because they have to deal with the contamination, the waste hauling term for when the wrong thing ends up in the wrong place. Though on some days, we want them to just deal with and figure out how to effectively compost all that we want to send their way, they need to be able to create a good finished compost product in order to sell it and stay in business.
We’ve always relied on the guidance of the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI). Their third party certification program ensures that products and packaging displaying the BPI logo have been independently tested and verified according to scientifically based standards.
They have an interesting section on composting on their website. In it, they state that generally speaking, most composters would like the material they allow into their facilities to break down in fewer than 80 days.
PLA plastic, the compostable kind, is not actually breaking down that quickly at commercial composting sites in Chicagoland. This is posing the same kind of problem as contamination does.
Customer service manager Chris Allender came up with the perfect word to describe what needs to happen: an evolution. In the same way that you have learned to waste less food by composting, an evolution needs to happen in our relationship and use of single-use plastic, even if they’re labeled compostable.
We can guarantee that every food scrap you give us gets composted, but we can no longer guarantee that all of the compostable plastic you give us is being fully composted. We’d like you to begin thinking about how you could eliminate PLA plastic from your waste stream. We will continue to take these until we get a little more clarity from our compost facility partners.
Compostable paper products that bear the BPI logo do not seem to have the same problems, so if you feel like the next step in your evolution still includes disposables, look for compostable products that fall into this category.
The best scenario is to do something we instinctively know already: reduce and reuse. The easiest switch-up is using metal utensils instead of plastic. I recently read that no virus can survive the dishwasher, so if you don’t have enough forks, maybe you could borrow some from your neighbors!