Multitudes of communities, cities, countries, and regions are coming together with one global goal in mind. Dubbed the Zero-Waste Movement, and it got a significant lift this week as two of its leaders were granted the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize.
Rossano Ercolini and Nohra Padilla are two of the winners of this year’s Goldman Prize, which grants $150,000 to every one of the six grassroots environmentalists who have accomplished extraordinary impact, often against great odds. Frequently against incredible odds. On the surface, Ercolini and Padilla seem to not have much in common. Ercolini is a grade school from the rural farmlands of Capannori, Italy. While Padilla is a grassroots recycler-also known as a waste picker-from the embattled city of Bogota, Colombia.
Even though their experiences are different, they both share a common cause: organizing to reduce the amount of garbage – everything from bottles and cans to cell phones and even banana peels – that winds up buried in landfills or consumed in incinerators.
Rossano Ercolini is a grade school teacher. He began coordinating against incinerators in the 1970, when he learned of an arrangement to assemble one in Capannori. Worried for the wellbeing of his students, Ercolini began a campaign to help educate the local community on the dangers that come with incineration, including how the burning of trash produces particulates linked to respiratory problems such as asthma.
Throughout the next 30 years, Ercolini led a David-versus-Goliath battle, with education as his slingshot. During the 1990s, waste incineration was embraced by the Italian government as well as by most big environmental associations, who all bought into the premise that it is effective and safe technology. Big business and even the mafia supported the incineration because the 20 to 30 year lucrative agreements and large government investments that it included.
As a result, when the occupants of Capannori prevailed in defeating the incinerator proposal, they likewise had acquired the information necessary to develop a better way of handling trash. Ercolini himself was tapped to lead a nearby, publicly owned waste management company and began implementing a door to door waste collection system that boosted the amount and quality of the recyclable materials recovered.
Nohra Padilla is a third generation recycler. For quite a long time her family has made ends meet by salvaging plastic bottles, paper scraps, aluminum cans, and the like from garbage, and collection centers. They earned enough to pay the bills by exchanging these materials to junk shops and also to businesses, which in turn, used them as a raw material to create new products ranging from paper to blue jeans.
During the 1980s, Padilla started arranging her fellow recycling workers, making the first grassroots recycler cooperative in Bogota. From that point on she helped to form the Asociación de Recicladores de Bogotá, or Bogotá Recyclers Association, where she currently fills in as the executive director. The affiliation incorporates 24 cooperatives representing 3,000 individuals. Additionally, she assumed a vital role in forming Colombia’s National Recyclers Association.
“After years of battling for recognition from the Bogotá government, we will finally be treated as dignified workers and paid just like any large company would be,” Padilla says. “I believe this is a victory that can be replicated across Latin America.”
Padilla and the Grassroots Recyclers Association attempted to moderate the effect of the task, however, confronted many difficulties, certain that their local area benefits arrangement was executed. Rather than huge landfills like Doña Juana, Padilla and the affiliation have made a foundation to reuse squander rather than cover it. They raised almost two million dollars, around 75% from outside assets and 25 percent co-supported by the relationship, to construct the greatest grassroots-run reusing focus in Latin America.
This brings us up to speed on zero waste. Systems which are designed with the goal of eliminating the practice of sending trash to landfills and incinerators. Ercolini and Padilla’s stories show that zero waste is not only a personal choice, but a coordinated effort that works at numerous levels including the local community, municipality, nation, and region. Zero waste systems include, but are not limited to: composting, recycling, reuse, door-to-door collection of recyclable and compostable material, regulation of corporations to require them to buy back and recycle their products once they are used by consumers, such as glass sodas and plastics.
The stories show the capability of zero waste organizing and bringing people together across issues and sectors. For instance, Ercolini has organized at the intersection of food sovereignty and junk reduction, pushing for a “Zero Miles, Zero Waste” way to deal with promoting local food. Meanwhile, Padilla has shown how zero waste approaches, and recycling in particular, can integrate previously excluded workers into unionized labor, with a clear goal, to reduce garbage and carbon emissions.
Padilla and Ercolini’s work has made a model for building feasible no waste options in contrast to landfills and incinerators. The battles of the Colombian recyclers’ development, and the Bogotá Recyclers Association specifically, act as a motivation to recyclers all through Latin America and then some.
Meanwhile, the example of the Zero Waste network in Italy is being copied in many other places in Europe, decreasing the popularity of and need for incineration and sparking the creation of a continent-wide organization that advocates for zero waste.