Waste not

Sonya Hem

Photo By David Robert

The Northern Nevada environmental organization Environmental Leadership plans to set an example on Earth Day for reducing the amount of garbage we produce. Executive director Sonya Hem talked to the RN&R about the idea “zero waste.” For more information, Environmental Leadership can be reached at 323-3433.

What is “zero waste"?

“Zero waste” is a concept. It’s a whole-system approach that encourages recycling, minimizing waste and reducing consumption to ensure that products are made to be reused, repaired or recycled back into either nature or the marketplace.

Are you talking more to consumers or producers?

It really applies to everyone. What we’re trying to do with Earth Day is make sure that as much of the waste generated at the event as possible is either recycled or composted back into the system. So we are encouraging participation to reduce the amount of waste that they bring to the event, but we’re also trying to use compostable utensils and cups.

What are those made out of?

They’re made out of wheat resin and something called polylactic acid, PLA, and it’s a residue that’s a component of corn starches and food products. Actually, Wild Oats uses them in their deli. They look just like plastic, but it’s completely compostable.

How do you plan to set an example for producing less waste at Earth Day?

We try to use solar power for our stage. We try to recycle. We try to reduce waste. And so people will be able to learn about a variety of different zero-waste components. … We try to encourage the 100-plus participants—booth exhibitors and vendors—to also work on those principals. In fact, we’re offering a best-booth prize for the best zero-waste booth this year.

What else are you encouraging people to do?

We’re going to be offering cell-phone recycling at the event, and that’s important because cell phones have a lot of nasty toxics like cadmium and mercury and things that you don’t really want going into the landfill or into the water. It’s much better to bring them in to be recycled than to just leave them in the kitchen drawer. There’s also car-battery recycling at the Reno High School parking lot, which is where our shuttle will be located for additional parking.

What can individual households do to reduce waste?

There’s a whole slate of things that people can do. It can be relatively painless. You don’t have to be the perfect environmentalist to make a difference. I don’t like when people get greener-than-thou and say, “Well, you’re not doing this, and you’re not doing that.” I think as long as you’re trying to do something, it really helps. But as for what specifically people can do, for example, things you might not even think about, like drinking tap water rather than bottled water. We’ve got great water here in the Truckee Meadows. There’s no reason to buy plastic bottles and then recycle them. Just don’t even use them in the first place. Using fluorescent light bulbs instead of incandescent … can save energy and they can save you money. … Using rechargeable batteries is good.

The other thing people ask me: “paper or plastic?” The answer is neither. It’s really a good idea to use canvas bags. Bring your own. You can wash them. You can reuse them. They hold up. Adding a low-flow aerator to the faucets in your bathroom can save a lot of water each year. Recycling at home, unless you live in an apartment complex, where it can be difficult because we don’t have recycling yet in all our apartments, but if you live in a house, it’s something that you can do. Even if you do live in an apartment, though, there are things you can do. I would encourage people to give us a call, and we can certainly help them out with ways they can do that.