Going for Green in Lyons
By Kathleen Thurmes
Eco-Cycle has been around for more than 40 years. The organization got its start when a CU graduate student was doing a project for Attention Homes, a local non-profit. He wanted to do a fundraiser on their behalf, so he collected and sold some aluminum cans and newspapers. He was content to complete that project and move on with his life, but a group of women, now lovingly referred to as the “Eco-Cycle Grandmothers,” knew throwing natural resources in the landfill was a waste future generations couldn’t afford. So they worked with the student to start the non-profit recycler that is now Eco-Cycle.
In the very early days of recycling, those who had lived through World War II were familiar with the idea that discards are important resources to conserve for the creation of new products (like scrap metals to make fighter planes). But in the mid-70s, the majority of the community had never heard the word “recycling,” nor did they get why or how one would separate trash for this purpose. There was a steep learning curve that kept residents from adopting this “new-fangled” idea. So the grandmothers started a network of volunteers dedicated to teaching their neighbors how natural resources could be protected if used materials that would normally be thrown in the dump were recovered and given new life as a new product. It worked!! Recycling caught on, and participation in the curbside program grew exponentially. This method of peer-to-peer outreach became known as the “Block Leader Network” model and was replicated all around the country to help spread the idea and practices of recycling.
Fast forward to today, and this neighbor-to-neighbor approach is still being cited as one of the most effective ways to influence behavior change, according to many studies on the topic (one of the more widely-cited on Google Scholar being “Recycling as altruistic behavior: Normative and behavioral strategies to expand participation in a community recycling program” published in 1991 by Hopper and Nielsen).
Eco-Cycle has continued their tradition of focusing on peer-to-peer education throughout the decades, and the latest iteration of the volunteer program is called the “Eco-Leader Network.” Similar to the Block Leader Network, the Eco-Leader Network is a group of volunteers from all different areas of Boulder County who take responsibility for serving as a resource of sustainability information for their peers. The difference now is that Eco-Leaders share information on recycling, composting, Zero Waste and other issues, and they are not constrained to a specific residential block, but can serve as a resource to any group of people they define as their “community.” It is because of the Eco-Leader Network that Boulder County has some of the cleanest recyclables in the nation and has been able to adopt some of the most advanced Zero Waste programs and policies.
Imagine a world where on every block, at every business, at every place of worship, every community club, every school, every multi-family dwelling – everywhere – we had an engaged volunteer [an Eco-Leader!] who was trained by Eco-Cycle and up-to-speed on all things Zero Waste in our community, and shared that information with their networks. We would have an even more informed and engaged community that actively and quickly works toward implementing Zero Waste as a climate solution.
Zero Waste—reducing waste, reusing, redesigning products, composting and recycling—is the fastest, easiest, most cost-effective way a community can reduce its negative impacts on our climate. Zero Waste also helps conserve our dwindling natural resources for a potentially more peaceful and equitable use of resources globally. It creates local green jobs, builds a local green economy, and is a much more efficient and sustainable use of resources.
Zero Waste is a LOT more than just keeping materials out of our landfills. It’s critical to our survival and to the survival of the untold numbers of other species on this planet. The faster we move forward with Zero Waste solutions, the faster we can solve some of the greatest issues of our time. The Eco-Leader Network is on the forefront of creating the change we want and need to see.