By Cybthia Mewborn
Street Sense vendors were invited to collaborate with the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) on a waste reduction and recycling program in September. Many other groups, including Sierra Club and DC Clean City, contributed as well. As a Street Sense vendor I was given the opportunity to serve as an educator at the event.
The education program, led by student Poonam Sandu, clearly showed that there are better practices to be put in place for reducing and managing waste.
Sandu and her sister were inspired to plan the waste reduction event with Taste of DC after witnessing excessive accumulation of waste during an Indian festival they attended last year. They had a vision for a world empowered by better disposal methods, and Poonam was awarded funding at an annual CGI event through her school, George Washington University.
Taste of DC held a public festival, similar in scale to the Indian festival the Sandu sisters had attended, and educators were stationed throughout to show people how to minimize the amount of waste, and why this is so important for a sustainable future.
Prior to the event all the vendors took a training course on the different types of waste and how to dispose of them.
Sandu’s method divided waste into three categories: compostable, recyclable, and garbage. Even though Americans waste about 20 pounds of food per month most food items besides meat, dairy, or eggs can actually be composted, so that it can break down naturally; plastic bottles, cans, and paper obviously can be recycled; and what’s left is garbage.
Large scale adoption of this method is a blueprint for globally cutting landfill dumping and reducing emissions of methane gases which causes climate change. We would be separating out future hazards by recycling and composting them today.
Sandu adopted the motto, Rethink, Reduce, Recycle and Reuse for the program, and that was clearly illustrated to participants.
Witnessing the whole concept in motion was unbelievable. I heard participants say “I didn’t know that could be recycled” and “DC is really changing for the better with recycling.” Some returned several times just to see if they had figured out what was compostable or garbage. The amount of garbage reduced was mind- baffling; a full bag of recycling, one-third of a bag of compost, and only three-forths of a bag of garbage was collected at by post!
Not only did this program demonstrate what happens when recycling waste management is put into effect, but Sandu and her staff made the Street Sense vendors involved feel comfortable, dry and safe. Ben’s Chili Bowl also provided lunch!
It really felt great to be part of a first time event that could change how DC disposes its waste materials, and to see people really excited about the subject. The event achieved its environmental goals while engaging the homeless community. Congratulations !!!