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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - New Haven, Connecticut, USA

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New Haven, Connecticut, USA
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Registered: December 2020
Posts: 1
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My name is Adrian, and I am a climate activist and organizer. I am 18 years old and graduated from Metropolitan Business Academy in New Haven, Connecticut in 2020. I currently am a freshman at Tufts University, but remain involved in the activism I have been doing since my junior year of high school. My project has two parts: working on recycling and food waste within my high school and school district, and volunteering with a local climate organization. I conducted this project because I care deeply about waste and believe that taking action for the environment wherever you are is an important way to make change.

Since my childhood, I've noticed the disconnect between my family's diligent recycling and reusing habits and the amount of waste produced out in the real world. I took a large interest in recycling and pollution in middle school. In high school, I learned about how my early interests in recycling and waste management and many other environmental topics all connected under climate change. I feel a personal responsibility to look out for my own and other'' waste habits. As I got deeper into social justice, I learned about environmental and climate justice, and how marginalized communities are being disproportionately impacted by the crisis. The climate crisis is too urgent for me to not pursue, which is why I am majoring in Environmental Studies and hope to work towards sustainability in my career.

A problem I believe needs attention is waste management focused on material and food waste. The world produces billions of tons of waste per year, with developed countries being the ones to blame for much of this. Even looking at my high school from which I graduated from this year, there are hundreds of utensils and plates thrown away every day, plus much food left uneaten which is discarded. Additionally, our paper, plastic, and other recyclable materials get disposed of in the trash since there is no recycling route. Metropolitan Business Academy is considered a somewhat small school with just over 400 people, but its amount of waste is surely not. It was distressing thinking about how much waste must be produced per day from all the schools in my district of New Haven, Connecticut, and how much recyclable material and perfectly fine food is sent straight to the incinerator or a landfill.

In Connecticut, recycling is mandatory, but this is not followed through by some municipalities and districts such as my school district. As for food waste, 40% of food in the US gets wasted, and 52% of fruits and vegetables purchased never get eaten. Connecticut also has a law that says food waste needs to be recycled, though it only applies to big commercial producers in certain locations. This is unacceptable, especially since there are so many people who face food insecurity and because natural materials should be returned to the earth rather than burned or decomposed to release greenhouse gases. The issue of waste needs attention because not many people in America seem to notice how much they are throwing away every day, and people fail to see where it really goes and how much damage it causes to our land, water, and communities here and abroad.

I would always take home extra fruits and snacks and others' recyclables since my school district does not recycle due to not having funds to create another pickup route and purchase another truck. Then, from January-March, I amped up the waste reduction efforts I had been partaking in ever since I came to high school. I went around the students in the cafeteria and collected their leftover fruits and snacks after every lunch period, then took my school's extra fruits to a local church on Fridays, which held a weekly free breakfast program on Saturday mornings. I also worked with a teacher to bring some more of the extra fruits to the science class I was a teacher's assistant for. I collected others' recyclables more diligently than before, hand collecting around five a day from others and filling my locker with plastic bottles and soda cans so much that I had to utilize a separate locker and a teacher's storage closet.

I also got involved on the school district level and started attending the New Haven Food Service Task Force meetings within the Board of Education starting in January to advocate for less plastic use in our school cafeterias and for food share/recovery opportunities to be implemented in our schools. I expressed to them my concern over the amount of waste produced, use of single-use plastics, and the opposition I had originally faced from kitchen staff for setting up a food share box in the cafeteria for students to place unopened snacks and fruits in and/or take from. My advocacy got the district to commit to choosing my high school as the pilot school for which to use the regional grant funding they received to establish a composting program. The program was meant to begin in Fall 2020, but was unfortunately put off due to the switch to remote learning.

Since 2019, I've been the co-founder of New Haven Climate Movement's Youth Action Team, a team of high school and college-age activists that mobilizes the community to act on climate emergency, and pushes for strong action and policy change on climate change in New Haven and the state of Connecticut. Since then, our team has grown into a group of around twenty active members. I had also brought my climate activism to my school community through making announcements about upcoming strikes, hanging flyers, collecting petition signatures for local action on climate change, and asking teachers to advertise our events so I could mobilize more students to get involved in the movement. An example of how I engaged my school community in 2020 was for Valentine's Day, when I asked classes to fill out their own red paper heart card with a reason why they love the earth, and my team at NHCM delivered a tall stack of all the cards in the form of a present to the Mayor of New Haven.

But even when my school went remote in March and my senior year was cut short due to COVID-19, I kept my activist efforts going outside of school. After being in communication with the Mayor about the need to invest city money in projects to cut greenhouse gases and testifying to the Board of Alders, we successfully got the city of New Haven to commit a total of $600,000 in their budget towards climate projects in June. They set aside $550,000 in capital funds this year for infrastructure projects that combat climate change plus an additional $50,000 in general funding as they finalized their yearly budget.

Our team is continuing to push for the city to establish a Climate Justice and Green Jobs Fund that would go annually towards green staff and climate-related action such as clean energy jobs creation, energy efficiency outreach, and transportation improvement in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while improving the well-being of vulnerable families in New Haven. Other of our efforts starting this year are working with the Board of Education to implement climate change/climate justice education in New Haven Public Schools, pushing state senators to support a Connecticut Green New Deal, and working with the city of New Haven to electrify more buildings.

I've also kept up my environmental agenda through being a youth speaker at climate-related virtual events this year to continue to educate more Connecticut residents about the climate crisis. These involvements include being invited to be the emcee for Sunrise New Haven's Green New Deal Earth Day livestream in April, being a panelist on a Food Justice Town Hall by the New Haven Symphony Orchestra in August, and being a speaker on WNPR on Connecticut's Waste Crisis in December.

Volunteering with New Haven Climate Movement has influenced my plans for the future because I can definitely see myself continuing organizing for climate action. Being environmentally conscious is ingrained in me, and activism and organizing has further fueled the fire inside of me. I hope to be part of the solution to the many problems I see, especially in recycling and waste management. It disturbs me that people and businesses are going on as usual, and that only makes my work more urgent. I feel this work is important because as far as individual actions go, we need to target this on a systemic/policy level to achieve wide scale change.

My action in my high school district this year on recycling and food waste was important because wastefulness happened every day, and no one did anything to address it. The district had barred off food sharing for years for liability reasons, and it seemed like teachers who cared about the waste grew numb to it over time. My initiative to take extra food to a local church benefited the community by providing more fresh fruits for the needy, and helped the environment by not putting more methane-producing organics in the waste stream. My personal recycling mobilization helped divert dozens of recyclables from my school's waste stream. The composting project I pushed for would benefit my school community by teaching students how to properly dispose of food waste and perhaps make them think twice about their waste habits. These projects have inspired me to partake in food recovery and sustainability initiatives when I am on campus for college in 2021.

Additionally, my efforts this year with the New Haven Climate Movement benefited the community by successfully allocating resources for the city to utilize in fighting climate change. Many times, the excuse is that there is no money in the budget to do certain things, but now we can finally ramp up climate efforts. The funding will benefit the environment since it will be used to pay for projects to bring down greenhouse gases. We are currently brainstorming its exact usage, and some ideas are hiring staff to work on green transportation or establishing a grant for New Haveners to apply to for funding emission-cutting projects. The actions our city will take to reduce emissions will result in a healthier and more resilient city. It is also important because it can inspire surrounding cities to follow suit, which we need if we are to tackle climate change and take responsibility for our contribution to widespread environmental destruction.

I have gained valuable skills and connections from all of these projects, and it has empowered me to see myself as a young person in a leadership position. It felt rewarding to bring over extra fruits to those in need, and it made me wish I had started doing this earlier in high school. My waste reduction efforts allowed me to feel more connected to my school and community and appreciative of the great allies within it, and showed me that being involved in city politics or the Board of Education aren't as inaccessible as I thought. Despite a very different experience with organizing virtually this year with few public actions due to COVID-19, I still found ways to get my message heard.

Being a youth climate activist and organizer has shown me the amazing things that can come out of putting your drive to good use. My commitment defined me as someone who can no longer hope for change without taking action. Building off of anthropologist Margaret Mead's words, I now understand firsthand that no change has ever been made without a "small group of thoughtful, committed citizens."
Date: December 31, 2020 Views: 4531 File size: 17.6kb, 48.1kb : 529 x 435
Hours Volunteered: 500
Volunteers: 1 for school/district, 20 for climate activism
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 18 & 14-55
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