Blog post by Plant Chicago 2019 summer intern Moira Mulhern
For the past few months, I have been lucky enough to intern at Plant Chicago. Day to day, my tasks varied greatly, but much of my work centered around waste education.
Going through daily life, it is easy to feel inundated with trash. Simple and necessary things like food and water are often accompanied by some type of seemingly unavoidable packaging. Many of us have become accustomed to passively tossing our waste in whatever bin is most accessible at the time. After all, it can be impractical and irritating to carry around your recyclables or compostables all day, looking for the correct receptacle. Many of us are aware that waste is a problem; we’ve heard about the garbage patches in the ocean or the release of methane (one of the more potent greenhouse gas) from landfills. I can’t help but wonder why it is so difficult for us to change our ways when we know so much.
My personal goal this summer was to get people thinking about waste and present a case for the importance of reusing, reducing, and recycling. As such, I worked with Plant Chicago on various projects related to waste. These projects included designing a “waste guide” for waste station volunteers and visitors at the Plant Chicago Farmers Market, managing Plant Chicago’s interactive farmers market waste sorting station, and teaching people about materials decomposition in landfills and sustainable food-waste management systems like vermicomposting at community events.
This work forced me to confront some of my own environmental bad habits. I often slip into thinking about the apparent insignificance of my own actions in the grand scheme of environmental degradation. However, in creating the interactive materials decomposition guessing game, I learned information like the fact that it takes 450 years for a plastic bottle to decompose in a landfill (or over a million years for a glass bottle). In this way, I learned that individual action is actually quite important. I was also inspired to see that people wanted to learn about compost and recycling. After my interactions at the market and other community events, I feel confident that visitors will pass the information along, creating a domino effect of environmental responsibility.
When we toss something in the landfill or recycle bin, we don’t see what happens to it after it gets picked up. The invisibility of these processes hides a disturbing reality of a system ill-equipped to handle the amount and types of waste being produced. In line with Plant Chicago’s mission to cultivate local circular economies, I at the very least want my activities and work this summer to show people that it is possible and important to reduce our waste footprint.