Remember the Connection
Updated: Sep 7, 2021
Casey Zorn, Sustainability Fellow, reflects on her tour of ecomaine and the power our individual actions have when addressing climate change.
Though it was only a couple of months ago, it seems like a lifetime since I was walking with my fellow Resilience Corps members between buildings at ecomaine’s single-sort recycling facility and waste-to-energy plant while Tropical Storm Elsa raged, pelting us with rain and trying to rip umbrellas from our hands. As ecomaine reps raised their voices to be heard over the combined thrum of everyday work and wind, I felt the irony of learning about waste reduction, one component of climate action, while in that same moment experiencing climate change in real time. (The irony was compounded by the fact that our tour had been rescheduled to this date due to an unseasonable June heat wave.)
To add heat to the fire, last week we were delivered a double blow by way of the IPCC’s 2021 report that made clear the irreparable damage of our human footprint and the catastrophic climate effects that are now being felt in “every inhabited region across the globe,” which was swiftly followed by news of the devastating 7.1 magnitude earthquake in Haiti and the Category 4 Hurricane that hit Louisiana. We, as humans on this Earth and residents of the State of Maine, are faced with the challenge of tackling a seemingly insurmountable problem while having to remember why and how our work in resilience and climate action still matters and can still make a difference.
Single actions create effects that have broader impacts than we could have ever imagined. This was a central theme as we toured ecomaine and heard the stories of recycling and waste management in our region. One person wrongly tried to recycle a gardening hose, and this single mistake injured an ecomaine employee when the hose snapped and recoiled inside one of their machines. A couple of people “wish-cycle” materials that are not able to be recycled by ecomaine, and if their waste constitutes enough of the truck’s haul to contaminate the whole load, an entire neighborhood’s recycling will have to be sent to the waste-to-energy plant and will not be diverted. One person lazily includes a lithium-ion battery in their trash instead of disposing it at a proper facility, and ecomaine has a fire like the one they experienced this past January.
But single actions can have positive effects, too. Every single person and household that recycles their waste properly adds up to a truckful of hauled recycling which adds up to mountains of diverted waste that will not end up in our oceans or landfills. One person who talks to their family or neighbors or classmates about proper recycling and common “wish-cycling” mistakes can create a chain reaction by which tens or hundreds of others in our region make better waste management decisions and avoid many of the mistakes we learned on our ecomaine tour.
Ecomaine proves how extraordinary individual human power can be. A single person stands and sorts #2 plastics from #3-7, all by hand, simply so that we can have a single-sort facility that eases our residents’ responsibilities, making recycling easier and more effective. We watched a single man sit at a giant crane machine managing two cranes at once during his 12-hour shift, pulling mound after mound of trash into the waste-to-energy plant while also scanning the floor of the trash storage bunker for any lithium-ion batteries or misplaced animals. We heard stories in which he had saved a kitten and a raccoon from the incinerator just by using his eyes.
While no single climate action alone can solve our current state of crisis, no single action is inconsequential. Climate action is about reminding ourselves that every action matters and is of significance because all of our actions are connected and they are all necessary. So, let’s continue to pull our recycling bins to the curb each week. Let’s talk with our neighbors about ecomaine’s Recyclopedia or Maine’s new Extended Producer Responsibility for Packaging law that will funnel new money towards municipal recycling programs. Let’s divert organic waste by recycling our food scraps or composting (Portland has a new free program for food waste drop-off that is the perfect opportunity for community participation). Every day is an opportunity for renewed purpose and continued action. Remember, reversing climate change and building resilience will not happen in a single day, but it can start with a single step. Remember the connection.
About Casey Zorn
Casey grew up in Somers, New York. She later moved to Medford, Massachusetts, where she attended Tufts University and studied Environmental Engineering and English. Casey enjoys hiking and mountaineering, having summited mountains including Mt. Rainier and Mt. Kilimanjaro. She is very excited to hike Maine and New Hampshire’s local treks now that she lives in Portland. She also enjoys reading and writing short stories and poetry. Casey is excited about joining the Resilience Corps because this is an opportunity to have a tangible impact on environmental health and sustainability. She is also excited to learn about how government and nonprofit organizations function in order to create lasting change.