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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - Fairfield, CT, USA

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Fairfield, CT, USA
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Registered: December 2022
City/Town/Province: Fairfield
Posts: 1
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I dash to the front door, straining on my tiptoes to see what lay outside. The scene I observe both shocks and startles me: kayaks float down my childhood street, the bodies in them struggling to navigate through the abyss of storm water. Power lines and fractured trees are strewn every which direction, presenting an additional challenge for my fiercely determined neighbors. Though only in first grade at the time, I take a step back, reflecting on the enormity of the situation. Further, I declare it my mission to solve what had caused this all, what the adults in my life had referred to as Hurricane Sandy.
As the years went on, I recognized that Hurricane Sandy wasn’t something I could have solved. By the time I was looking out my front door, it had come and gone, leaving behind a destructive path felt by many friends and family. But the fact remained that my young self sought to eradicate extreme weather, so I took great notice whenever it happened. And that it did. Hurricane Nemo brought record snowfall just a year later. Every summer seemed to produce a new record high temperature. Yet through it all, I felt largely powerless, as if there were no way for me to alter the course of this distressing phenomena.
That was until earlier this year, when I decided to join my town's Sustainable Task Force. A long-established organization, the Task Force has enabled me to make a local impact in a number of ways including through analyzing town solar data (for the purpose of ending an unofficial moratorium on new projects), scheduling a meeting with the Zoning Commission (to advocate for the use of sustainable building materials in four new affordable housing units), and lobbying our Board of Selectmen to pass an Emergency Climate Resolution. Beyond these months-long initiatives though, the Task Force also served as the catalyst in my organizing an Apprentice Ecologist project.
Sitting in a meeting regarding FEMA grants, I began to engage in a conversation with one of the senior members of the Task Force. Pretty quickly, the conversation pivoted to my early experience with Sandy, and my wanting to reduce the occurrence of extreme weather in New England and beyond. To my surprise, the member shared with me that the recent increase in extreme weather could be attributed to two factors: climate sensitivity and carbon emissions. It was at this point that the focus for my project was born. Realizing I could unfortunately not influence the complex factor of climate sensitivity, reducing carbon emissions became my goal.
Having determined an objective for my project, I turned to the many ecological social media accounts I followed. Being autumn, it seemed that there were an endless stream of potential projects, but one unlikely one caught my eye: pumpkin composting. Having been done by a few nonprofits, I saw how the project was feasible, engaging, and reduced emissions (through diverting waste from landfills). That said, in looking at various posts, I also came to understand how differently each project had been executed. Some nonprofits required drop off at a central location, while others offered pick up. Some nonprofits distributed the pumpkins to residents who were gardening enthusiasts, while others distributed them to local farms. Realizing that this initiative wasn't going to be as simple as I originally thought, I returned to where the idea had been conceived in the first place, the Task Force.
Speaking with members who had already carried out projects on a town-wide scale, I quickly realized that the schools would be the best place to stage collections. Schools had Green Teams, committees of motivated students, parents, and educators, who would be willing to promote the initiative, and they were also widely spread, meaning all town residents would be able to participate. Meeting with my district's Executive Director of Operations, he confirmed that schools could be used, so long as a comprehensive plan with all other necessary details was presented to him.
One of these details was how exactly the pumpkins would be dropped off. Knowing that I wanted there to be at least a two week collection period, I was forced to consider prolonged storage methods. After a long period of brainstorming, I settled on a large open-top dumpster. A dumpster would be able to hold the immense quantity of pumpkins we were expecting, it could be engineered to drain appropriately, and it minimized the potential for unwanted odors building up. To streamline operations, I connected with the hauler that serviced all schools, and confirmed that they would be able to drop off something appropriately sized, approximately 12 ft by 7 ft.
The next detail was where the collected pumpkins would be distributed for composting. To determine this I reflected on one of my previous responsibilities on the Task Force, distributing 250 food waste recycling kits to members of the community. Remembering that the food waste collected from these kits was hauled to an industrial composting facility in upstate Connecticut, I emailed the manager there. He confirmed that the pumpkins would be a welcome addition.
The final detail was how this project would be funded. What had started as my small idea to reduce emissions had grown into something much larger, with schools, waste haulers, and an industrial facility all needing to be connected. Originally, I planned to finance the 4000 dollars needed through a matching grant from Sustainable CT. This would have meant that so long as the Task Force could rally 2000 dollars, the project would be given the green light. That said, as weeks went on, the prospect of raising so much money so quickly became increasingly unlikely, and I was forced to return to the drawing board. What I discovered in doing so proved to be far more valuable though, and ultimately led to the initiative being fully-financed.
Doing a deep-dive through town and state government websites I discovered something called the alcohol minis fund. Starting October 2021, Connecticut liquor stores had been forced to apply a five cent surcharge to all mini alcohol containers as these were being littered at an exorbitant rate. Unlike water, in which the surcharge is returned to consumers in the form of a bottle deposit, the surcharge for alcohol minis is passed onto towns, who are supposed to use the funds to enact environmental measures to reduce municipal waste. With my project clearly fitting the parameters of one such measure, I quickly drafted a proposal, and leveraged the network of the Task Force to get it in front of the Assistant Director of Public Works. Amazingly, my proposal was approved, and with this I returned to my district's Executive Director of Operations, who approved the plan as a whole.
With all of the planning done, the actual project ran relatively smoothly. Dumpsters were dropped off on November 11th and collection took place from November 14th to December 2nd. Individual Green Teams promoted the event through common materials I created, and posted signs indicating the location of the dumpsters. While we did encounter the problem of some people disposing of trash in the dumpsters, the efforts of myself and other volunteers resolved this on a weekly basis. At the end of the three weeks, the dumpsters were picked up, weighed, and brought to the composting facility. While I was generally satisfied with the number of pumpkins collected (having infrequently monitored the dumpsters) I didn't realize the true scale of work we had completed until the report from the hauler came back.
Opening my email one evening, my eyes widened as I saw the table of values before me. Between 7 schools, we collected 6 tons of pumpkins! A staggering figure, I sat back for a second, before turning to my final task, the transformation of this data into actual insights. I knew that if our pumpkins had ended up in a landfill they would have produced methane or nitrous oxide, which contribute to the greenhouse gas effect. What I didn't know was that according to the US Composting Council, every ton of food waste collected reduces emissions by the equivalent of 6 metric tons of carbon. Correspondingly, our efforts reduced 36 metric tons of carbon! Doing an alternate conversion, I learned that our efforts had offset the equivalent of nearly 90,000 miles driven by a gas powered vehicle.

Sharing the above insights with members of the Green Teams as well as the Task Force was perhaps one of my proudest moments. Together we had achieved an unforeseen scale of impact, and had united the community in a manner uncharacteristic of previous initiatives. Looking to the future, I have already made plans for how to improve/scale up the pumpkin composting project, and am currently in contact with surrounding towns, in hopes that they will implement the initiative next year. Above all else, I am immensely grateful that I had the opportunity to serve as a steward for the environment, fight climate change, and counter extreme weather, just as my first grade self would have wanted.
· Date: December 31, 2022 · Views: 66 · File size: 21.3kb, 1548.6kb · : 3024 x 4032 ·
Hours Volunteered: 80
Volunteers: 35
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 16 & 8 to 70
Trash Removed/Recycled from Environment (kg): 5443
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