Waging the Waste War Neighbor by Neighbor
You recycle newspapers, bottles, and cans. You try to use public transportation. And you always reuse your plastic shopping bags.Skip to next paragraph
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That's as much as any busy person can do for the environment, right? Wrong.
Welcome to Global Action Plan, a program that helps people live more efficiently and reduce household waste.
Here's how it works: Neighbors meet every two weeks, follow a special workbook, and share environment-saving tips like weather-stripping windows, installing low-flow toilets, and putting in energy-saving fluorescent lights. The price per person is $35 for the workbook.
Participants say it strengthens community ties and helps families cut down on costs.
This household approach to living less wastefully may not be the single answer to world pollution. In fact, over the past 10 years, demand for recycled products has fluctuated, with high costs for collection and processing.
And it's not a program that will help you save a lot of of money, although most people do save from $200 to $400 a year, says founder David Gershon. Rather, Global Action Plan is for people who simply want to improve their neighborhoods and preserve resources for their children.
Working together in neighborhood "ecoteams," participants report, on average, sending 42 percent less garbage into the waste stream, using 25 percent less water, cutting 16 percent of their carbon-dioxide output, and using 15 percent less fuel for transportation.
Dan Ruben, a health-care administrator in the Boston area, joined the program four years ago. He's reduced his household waste to four small trash bags a year. The rest is disposed of through composting and recycling.
"Ecoteams help you change your habits," he says. "Once you learn how much waste you use, you generally don't want to turn back."
So how do people get involved? Global Action Plan works primarily with city contracts. Staff members start by identifying 10 interested citizens in a city that has a contract with the group. Each of the 10 invite neighbors to their homes to tell them about the program. Teams are formed and meet for four months. The program also provides information to about a half dozen separate, self-managing ecoteams around the country.
Proponents say more-efficient living habits will help chip away at a mountain of waste. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, in 1996, Americans generated 210 million tons of municipal solid waste (including paper, packaging, food scraps, yard scraps, and other waste from homes and offices). All told, it amounts to 4.3 pounds of junk per person per day.
"Individuals are a major cause of the breakdown of the global ecosystem, and we are a major part of the solution," says Mr. Gershon, who started the nonprofit Woodstock, N.Y.-based program in 1989. "In the past, people pointed at business and said, 'You are the problem,' and pointed at government and said, 'You are the solution,' and they have avoided taking responsibility.... But clearly the individual impact is huge."
But now, individuals are pitching in to solve the problem. In Portland, Ore., in spring 1997, 10 Global Action Plan ecoteams (55 households) reduced garbage output by 50 percent, indoor water usage by 26 percent, household energy use (gas or electric) by 8 percent, and saved $227 per household yearly. Now in its third year with the program, Portland hopes to double participation by year's end.
Kansas City, Mo., has contracted with the program for about a year and has made significant garbage and water-use reductions. The hope is to extend the program's contract another three or four years.
The goal in these city contracts is to reach 15 percent of the citizens in a medium-sized community or, in cities, 15 percent of the citizens in 15 percent of the neighborhoods (in three to four years), according to Gershon. By then, the program will spread on its own momentum, he predicts.