During a recent conference in Sacramento, several state leaders and a variety of environmental agencies came together to help propel the region forward in the areas of toxic pollutant prevention, energy and water conservation, and smarter procurement of products. As leadership groups ranging from Cal Recycle, to Department of Toxic Substances, WSPPN and EPA came together, their relationship spoke of their combined goal: New Partnerships for a Healthier Environment. The cornerstone of this conference was its focus on the first of the Three R’s of sustainability; Reduction. For those who are unfamiliar, the three R’s of environmental sustainability include, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle; the latter of which, is the most widely known, however, not the principal of the three – regarding effectiveness.
The minimization of the use of resources has the most immediate, and long-term positive impact(s) on the environment. Reuse of resources has the dual effect of not using new resources, and, keeping waste out of the waste-stream. And finally, recycling; taking a product out of the waste-stream and creating a new product of equal value via the use of energy/water/fewer resources. Up-cycling is preferred – taking a waste product and creating a new, more environmental preferable product; and closed loop/cradle-to-cradle production and processing, lowering the impacts even further.
Why is this important? As we have securely entered into our second decade of the new millennium, with all of our national and global environmental initiatives, we are still facing extraordinary global environmental devastation. In every area, from plastics and eutrophic zones in our oceans, to desertification where great forests once stood, human impact has been negative. As a species, we have spoken often, about what we should do to help the planet, but are still lacking in relation to practice.
The conference included a variety of workshops including the design, use, and effectiveness of E-waste programs, used oil regulation and enforcement, producer responsibility, motivating behavioral change, consumer safety regulations, pharmaceutical ordinances regarding disposal legislation, and a host of other informative and important issues.
The keynote speakers, ranging from leading limnologists and chemists, to global coffee procurement and sustainability representatives, presented on the creation of “healthier” chemicals and policy reform, the Lake Tahoe/World Water Crises, and the challenges of a global coffee company on its quest to become more sustainable.
The WSPPN/HHW/Used Oil Conference provided agencies and individuals with tools and resources needed to rejuvenate sustainable actions. The conference played host to some of California – and Nevada’s – most influential policy makers and game changers, including: Debbie Raphael (Director Department of Toxic Substances Control), Caroll Mortensen (California Department of Resources, Recycling, and Recovery), and Jared Blumenfeld (Regional Administrator for US EPA’s Pacific Southwest Region).
Jared Blumenfeld, spoke of the link between environmental and human rights; and how they have become more clear over the last twenty years. “In a recent EPA poll”, he stated, ” the environment is a top issue for people”. Adding later that, “the strength of what we do as an environmental community, has to do with place.” As leaders in industry/government, he let attendees know that their attention to packaging reduction – in all industries – is important on a local/regional level. These reductions will save resources, money, and jobs. His challenge to the group was to see what they could do on a local level to reduce packaging and the impacts related to it.
All areas of environmental degradation on the planet can be traced back to humans. Our unconscious consumerism and lifestyle habits have created problems that affect our food and water systems, our air quality, biodiversity, and of course, our health.
The importance of education and leadership conferences such as WSPPN/HHW/Used Oil, will help decrease the impacts, and one day help stabilize the problems we are creating as a species.
Nikki Florio is a sustainability consultant and educator. She founded and directed the Tahoe Regional Environmental Education (TREE) Program; a tri-branch environmental program which included Environmental Education (Sustainable Living and Natural Sciences), Community Outreach, and Green Business (promotion and connection). During the decade it ran, TREE educated more than 30,000 students, community and business members regarding sustainable business, lifestyles and education, in the northern Sierras. Currently, Nikki is the president of Green with NV, and works as an integrated sustainability consultant, and strategic green business advisor.