HomeEducationSustainability EducationFrom Trashed to Zero Waste – Where We Are and Where We Need to Be

From Trashed to Zero Waste – Where We Are and Where We Need to Be

Relentless news and stories about the damaging effect our actions are having on our beautiful planet can feel depressing and overwhelming. Rather than turning away or ignoring it, this pain, if we allow ourselves to feel it, is a powerful motivator to shift paradigms and society. Two events, this week’s Sustainability Film Series screening of Trashed, and last week’s Eureka Recycling’s Zero Waste Summit, illuminate two crucial places of the sustainability spectrum – feeling the pain and grief of what we are inflicting on our planet and using it to fuel the fire of radical change necessary to heal ourselves and our planet. Watching Trashed, a jarring documentary about the damaging global effects of our consumption-oriented societies, we can boldly witness what is happening to our world, and find active hope in the beauty of the Zero Waste Summit, focused on personal, civic and economic activism working toward a zero waste world.

This Thursday, November 3rd, is the kick off of Sustainability Education’s 7th Annual Sustainability Film Series, with a screening of Trashed, sponsored by the Bell Museum of Natural History, Institute on the Environment, University Services Office of Sustainability and University Dining Services (event details are on our Facebook event page). The documentary, narrated by Jeremy Irons, is an unflinching look at our waste problem on a global scale, including bold projects and people looking at ways to radically shift our systems and approaches to consumption and waste. Harrowing stories of deleterious effects on our natural systems are told, even as we go about our days seemingly insulated from the immediate effects of waste disposal. Yet, we see impacts from landfills, persistent organic pollutants and toxic nanoparticles from trash incinerator ash. Rivers, oceans and beaches are clogged with trash from California to Indonesia, as the number of garbage gyres in our oceans expands. Beijing alone has 400 landfills and counting. It’s hard to witness.

We know we are a part of the problem and yet it’s easy to want to look away. This is where feeling the pain and looking the issue squarely in the face, with other members of the University of Minnesota community, is so valuable. Jon Foley, former Institute on the Environment director, said in a recent essay titled The Space Between Two Worlds, “I’ve come to believe that the best place to live is precisely between two worlds — between the world of despair and frustration, which reminds us of the work we must do and the stakes involved, and the world of awe, wonder, hope, inspiration, and love, which refuels our minds and our hearts, and keeps us going”.

Anthropocenic Midden Survey of the Mississippi River Trash Tunnel (Photo, Kyle Samejima)

Anthropocenic Midden Survey of the Mississippi River Trash Tunnel (Photo, Kyle Samejima)

The work we must do to face and address the problem will be illustrated by two speakers presenting before the film. Sean Connaughty will be presenting on a project he and students from the Weisman Art Museum (WAM) Collective worked on over the summer and presented at Open Streets – Anthropocenic Midden Survey of the Mississippi River.

The project involved removing, cataloging and displaying trash collected from the stretch of the Mississippi River between the East and West Bank on campus. The trash tells a story, one we need to hear.

Kellie Kish, Recycling Coordinator from the City of Minneapolis will be speaking on the city’s Zero-Waste Minneapolis initiative and other efforts by the city to reduce waste. Two promising changes are a plastic bag ban to begin June 1, 2017 and a requirement that all to go containers be recyclable or compostable by April 22, 2017.

Straws and debris from the Mississippi River in the Trash Tunnel (Photo, Kyle Samejima)

Straws and debris from the Mississippi River in the Trash Tunnel (Photo, Kyle Samejima)

Student and university groups will be tabling at the film with information about social justice related to waste and ideas for reducing waste on our campus.

University Dining Services will be providing UMN Chicken & Butternut Squash & Wild Rice Wraps, White and Green Bean Salad with Fresh Herbs and Apples and Hot Cider­, while it lasts, before the film from 6:30-6:45. Compostable serving ware will be provided, but,If you plan to attend, please bring your own eating utensils that you stash in a bag and take home to wash. Let’s walk the talk of zero waste.

The second annual Zero Waste Summit, hosted by Eureka Recycling on October 22nd, 2016 in St. Paul, marks that place that Jon Foley described in his essay, the place “between the world of despair and frustration, which reminds us of the work we must do and the stakes involved, and the world of awe, wonder, hope, inspiration, and love, which refuels our minds and our hearts, and keeps us going”. The summit was a place of hope, love and inspiration, a gathering of change makers focused on creating a just, zero waste world, with local and national speakers and time for networking and brainstorming.

Word Map - Zero Waste Summit (Photo, Kyle Samejima)

Word Map – Zero Waste Summit (Photo, Kyle Samejima)

Eureka Recycling is a local company providing zero waste and services, from curbside recycling pickup to supporting zero waste events, education and buying co-ops. Their  “mission is to reduce waste today through innovative resource management and to reach a waste-free tomorrow by demonstrating that waste is preventable not inevitable”, while focusing on environmental and social justice for their workers and communities they serve. The idea of zero waste can seem radical and it is as things stand now in our society. As resources diminish, climate change escalates, landfills overflow and our oceans become more plastic than plankton, it’s crucial that we move rapidly in the direction of reducing endless consumption and designing products with total life cycle in mind. There is no waste in nature and it is critical that we shift systems to mimic the systems we rely on for our survival. As Albert Einstein said, “a clever person solves a problem, a wise person avoids it”.

Guest speaker Bryant Williams, Senior Director of the Rebuilding Exchange in Chicago, a nonprofit whose mission is to reclaim and repurpose building materials, while giving jobs and training to people with barriers to employment, talked about not wasting people or materials and referred to waste as the “redheaded stepchild” of the environmental field. Janiece Watts, an environmental justice organizer from

Destiny Watford, Free Your Voice activist (Photo, Kyle Samejima)

Destiny Watford, Free Your Voice activist (Photo, Kyle Samejima)

Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, pushed back against the white privilege aspect of “being green” and reminded us that zero waste was rooted in making do with less in the black community. Tim Denherder-Thomas, of Cooperative Energy Futures, spoke of disrupting the relationship between energy providers and users, putting wealth generation and power back in the hands of users with community solar garden programs. Destiny Watford, from the Free Your Voice human rights committee of the United Workers, spoke about the successful effort in her community to halt construction of a garbage incinerator. Humanizing all voices in the debate was key to the success of developing relationships with diverse stakeholders based on genuine care and connection.

MN DFL Re. Frank Hornstein (Photo, Kyle Samejima)

MN DFL Re. Frank Hornstein (Photo, Kyle Samejima)

Minnesota DFL Representative Frank Hornstein, is working on introducing zero waste legislation and Congressman Keith Ellison is working to restructure laws that give a $110 billion subsidy to big polluters.

The touchstone of the Zero Waste Summit voices and views is zero waste is happening and tangible in our communities, as it grows alongside social and environmental justice, and requires all of us to give it voice and traction in our culture, daily life, policy and laws.

Join us to watch Trashed, as a bold, fearless witness and leave connected to community and solutions.

Kyle Samejima

Communications Assistant

samej006@umn.edu

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