In the ‘90s, recycling was the rage.
The motto we learned was “Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.” Concerned about saving the planet? Just throw all your plastic and glass into the big green bin, and everything will be okay — or so we thought.
But everything isn’t okay. Everything is very much not okay.
Recycling is still important, but it’s not enough. Single-use packaging and plastics such as water bottles, straws and grocery bags never decompose, creating unnecessary waste and an enormous resource and energy burden both locally and around the world. They also pollute our water supply and endanger fish, birds, and other wildlife.
According to Clevelandwater.com, “85% of plastics in the Great Lakes are macroplastics (plastics larger than 5 mm) and come from items such as cigarette butts, plastic lighters, food wrappers, grocery bags, beverage bottles, bottle caps, straws, plastic utensils, balloons and balloon strings, and even kids’ toys.”
Luckily, the tide is turning on plastic in Cleveland, thanks to a variety of initiatives such as the Skip the Straw campaign and Cuyahoga County’s recently enacted plastic bag ban, set to go into effect in January, 2020.
We can also thank the hard work of nonprofit organizations such as Drink Local Drink Tap (DLDT) for their efforts to educate and inspire people to make simple, everyday lifestyle changes, including their upcoming 4 Miles 4 Water on Saturday, June 22.
Run, walk, or simply show up for the festivities of this annual “all things water” extravaganza, which will also commemorate the 50-year anniversary of Cuyahoga River’s rebirth.
The event features a free festival, plus a four-mile race and one-mile walk along the banks of our once-notorious crooked river. From 8 am to12 pm, participants can enjoy water education stations, food, beer, cocktails, and games for all ages at this family-friendly event in the Flats. Proceeds from the race/walk benefit DLDT’s mission of creating and preserving access to clean water for all.
Like all of DLDT’s initiatives, 4 Miles 4 Water is a near-zero waste event. Founder Erin Huber Rosen explains that their “zero waste efforts… stay true to our mission, set an example for others, and educate people.” Remarkably, they recently had a single piece of tape remaining at the end of a smaller event. One piece of tape.
Rosen adds that while they always try to achieve zero waste at events, people often bring items and discard them, which is beyond DLDT’s control. However, at every waste station, composting, recycling, and landfill are available, and all vendors use approved compostable items. DLDT partners with Rust Belt Riders to handle the compost pickup.
DLDT got its start in 2010 after Cleveland-based activist Rosen attended the Sustainable Cleveland summit and decided to focus her efforts on water. She initially formed DLDT around issues facing the Great Lakes, intending to persuade people to “kick the bottled water habit.” The organization has since branched out with an international focus, working with teams of local residents in Uganda to provide access to clean water by building wells and constructing latrines, among other projects.
“When speaking in [a] classroom led by a Ugandan teacher in Cleveland, I learned that kids from Uganda were writing to kids in Cleveland, saying they had no water,” says Rosen. “I had always wanted to tie the local and global water conversations together and began trying to figure out how we could help. I went to Uganda in 2011 to learn, with a film crew [Making Waves], and the rest is history!”
4 Miles 4 Water aims to raise money for these projects while also providing education, advocacy, and family-friendly fun.
“Realizing that we wanted to reach the broader NEO public in a deeper way (outside of beach cleanups and community outreach events) and to ‘accidentally’ educate people about water in a fun way while raising money for our work, we dreamed up 4 Miles 4 Water with one of our partners, Pure Water Technology,” says Rosen.
But why the focus on water? Why not just focus on something like curbing plastics?
“Water connects everything,” explains Rosen. “It’s as simple as that. Water can also disconnect everything as well, including our peace, life,” and the future of our planet.
If you can’t attend 4 Miles 4 Water–and even if you can–Rosen has succinct advice for those looking to help the environment: go beyond recycling.
She urges people to “volunteer, donate, [and make] individual changes TODAY, not tomorrow. Treat water as if it were life, every day. BUY LESS STUFF. BUY ONLY WHAT YOU NEED. No more ‘on a whim’ purchased T-shirts, no more disposable plastic.”
Rosen knows that such a change in lifestyle is difficult: “This requires training yourself and making new ways of life in your homes.” Nonetheless, “it will save you money, uncloud your way to better well-being and help the planet now and for our children.”
Recycling is still important. But it’s not enough. It’s time to add a new “R” verb to the conservation conversation: “Refuse.”
As Rosen says, “There is truly no reason all of Cleveland shouldn’t be invested in trying to get to zero waste.” Let’s get started.
For tips on how to reduce your plastic consumption, go to the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes.