Signs of Sustainability

We have a long way to go, but we're making progress. Here are some signs that we are moving towards sustainability.

October 27, 2014

Ithaca CRT: A Community Affair

Tompkins Weekly 10-27-14

By Kat McCarthy

At one weekend-long event on the Ithaca Commons, Ithaca CRT (Compost, Recycling, & Trash) helped divert more than two-thirds of waste from the landfill, resulting in over 4 tons, or 8,000 pounds of materials being composted and recycled. Where they were once trashed, items are now made into new products and a valuable soil amendment. Ithaca CRT started over seven years ago as a volunteer organization dedicated to offering special event organizers assistance in achieving a goal of zero waste generated at their event. It’s been a great success over the years as events reduce waste and attendees learn how to recycle – all while supporting a local composting business.

The CRT collection stations are something we have come to expect at events like Ithaca Festival, Grassroots and Apple Harvest Festival but, they are only one part of what it takes to divert material from the landfill. Event planners, vendors, volunteers, and attendees all work together with assistance from Ithaca CRT to make it happen. In a short period of time, fairs and festivals generate a tremendous quantity of unwanted materials that all too often become destined for the landfill. This opportunity sparked an idea: work with vendors to ensure all materials are compostable or recyclable, and then work with attendees to share a positive message about what goes where.

The recycling, composting, and reduction efforts of CRT that benefit our community are made possible through the help of numerous volunteers and the support of the organizers of local events who host CRT stations. Participating volunteers give back to their community while developing skills as effective public educators, increasing their knowledge of sustainable waste management and achieving a sense of accomplishment for helping safeguard the life-support systems on which we all depend.

Ithaca CRT is indeed a community affair – from coordinating efforts to staffing education stations to reducing our personal waste – you have a part and it all has an impact. With many visitors coming into our community, education stations are particularly necessary. And it doesn’t just stop there. Composting and recycling are just one way to reduce our waste. Reuse, for example, saves even more resources and also plays a role at events.

One simple action that you can take is to bring your own fork, spoon, or spork on the go. It fits in your pocket, feels better to use than a disposable, and reduces your environmental impact – how can you go wrong?

For those looking to take reuse even further, consider bringing a mug or dish in which to receive your food. Single-use products are made from valuable materials: according to The Nature Conservancy, production of the 16 billion paper coffee cups used per year require over 6.5 million trees, 4 billion gallons of water, and enough energy to power nearly 54,000 homes for a year. What a shameful use of our planet’s precious resources! All that energy and time to create a cup that is used for a few hours, if that. Throughout their lifetime, reusable cups can be used over and over, reducing your daily reliance on disposables. So, the next time you step out to an event, consider bringing your own travel ware.

Another positive, impactful, and simple action is to volunteer. Each year help is needed to staff stations – please consider sharing a few hours of your time to have some fun while assisting with these efforts. Interested individuals can reach out to for more information. Over the years, we hope to see this program continue to expand with community support. In fact, this year, we’re happy to announce that Ithaca CRT also received support for volunteer coordination from the Tompkins County Solid Waste Management Division (TCSWMD).

As the festival season winds down, please remember that composting and recycling doesn’t just happen at local fairs and festivals, but at home too. Approximately 17% of the waste in New York State is made-up of food alone – as a state we’re keeping about 1.5% of that out of the waste stream, according to the Department of Environmental Conservation. In Tompkins County our diversion rate is higher, due in part to CRT Volunteers, event attendees, local businesses, and residents at home. With curbside single stream collection and the many food scraps recycling and home composting programs through TCSWMD, residents around the county can replicate these practices year round. So whether you compost at home or away, volunteer at CRT station, or bring your own spork, please remember, it is all a community effort, and we thank you for making your impact positive.

Kat is a founding member and coordinator of Ithaca CRT, a volunteer Master Composter, and chair of the NYSAR3 Organics Council. She is also the Waste Reduction and Recycling Specialist for Tompkins County.





October 20, 2014

Making Connections: Sharing Rides, Sustainability and Successful Students

Tompkins Weekly 10-20-14

By Sophie Somerfeldt

Many of us remember that mix of feelings as fresh fall breezes and turning leaves usher in a new school year. To help make the year a successful one for students and their communities, several local partners are making new inroads around transportation, and you can play a part, too.

Transportation is something you might not think abut unless the lack of it stands between you and an appointment, a job, or an opportunity at school.

The importance of participation in school-based extra-curricular activities to students’ overall success is hard to overstate. Kids are kept engaged and safe during high-risk after-school hours. Moreover, research—and our experience—has shown that students who participate in school-based activities such as sports, drama or other co-curricular involvement, are more successful academically. They have an opportunity to reinforce school skills, connect with other successful students, and strengthen their sense of belonging to the school community.

Yet many of the very students most in need of the benefits of extra-curricular engagement face transportation barriers to participation: those who are unable to walk or bike to or from school, and whose families lack the financial and time resources to provide such transportation. School early/late bus limitations can leave some students without transportation to an activity, or with a significant walk home, often on dark streets without sidewalks.

Transportation access can have far-reaching impacts on a student’s success. For example, the Boynton School Transportation Liaison helped create an elaborate transportation plan for one student who could not otherwise participate in musical practices before and after school. Despite time-consuming transportation and rehearsals, the student’s grades immediately went up and remained higher during the period of her participation in the musical.

Later, this student landed the lead part in her new school in Newfield. A combination of transportation strategies helped bring about school engagement and success that may have eluded this young student, potentially affecting her entire life trajectory.

One solution to transportation barriers among students and others can be found all around us: other drivers. Ironically, the number of cars and drivers on the road is so high, it causes its own problems: the high costs of roads, greenhouse gas emissions, local air pollution, and slow or stopped traffic due to congestion, which only makes matters worse. The low-cost, do-it-ourselves solution of sharing more rides helps solve both problems at once.

The School Success Transportation Coalition (SSTC) is a local working group that helps support our students and communities by working to eliminate lack of transportation as a barrier to success. This fall, we rolled out a new ridesharing initiative to help all students interested in participating in before- or after-school activities. We are distributing a Ridesharing Guide created by Way2Go of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County to and through school coaches, drama directors and other activity leaders. The Guide encourages each activity group to designate a parent/caregiver volunteer Rideshare Coordinator, offers guidance and support to that volunteer, and allow families open to sharing rides to sign up. We are already seeing more families share rides and more students free to join their peers as engaged students.

A volunteer Ridesharing Coordinator can play a pivotal role in helping families consider sharing rides with others who live nearby, or whose kids share an activity, but who they may not yet know. For support for ridesharing in any school—or any setting—contact Sophie Somerfeldt at Way2Go, at 607-272-2292 or

When a shared ride isn’t found, TCAT bus passes are also available for students who can use TCAT to get to or from a school activity. When budget cuts eliminated funding to continue last year’s ICSD successful pilot bus pass program, the SSTC stepped in to help it continue in a streamlined form. TCAT has generously donated up to $2,000 worth of youth passes for eligible students. The Fine Arts Booster club has contributed another $500 for student passes, and fundraising continues. To learn more or get involved with the SSTC, see .

Like many habits, our transportation habits can shift if we make many small tweaks over time. And precisely when many of us feel squeezed for resources and time, we can reach out to our neighbors, family and (new) friends to find more of both. By making and strengthening ties that go beyond our familiar circles, we can build the kind of community that will help us all succeed, now, and in the years to come.

Sophie Somerfeldt is Way2Go Educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County.

October 13, 2014

Healthcare: Discovering our way to well-being

Tompkins Weekly 10-13-14

By Eric Clay

For Stu, it was the moment he realized how much he depended on the letter carrier and the cashier at the nearby convenience store. These nearly unknown neighbors had his back. They noticed when he was not healthy or sounding confused and encouraged him to go to the doctor or take better care of himself. Stu did not like the interference of family and tolerated feedback only from the closest of friends.

For Anne, it was when she realized she was not alone, that all those years of caring for children and friends, helping them to learn good habits and stepping in during illnesses meant she could call on them or others who could help her. She just needed to learn how to ask, and how to decide who to ask, without guilt or shame.

For Gary, it dawned on him slowly. The child of a single mother, from a cash-strapped, chaotic household, Gary was an excellent student, but never learned to brush his teeth or have a bedtime routine. A professor suggested he take care of his teeth because taking care of them would keep him healthy and add years to his life, and a friend noted that he had a hard time relaxing at the end of the day without drugs or alcohol. From these observations, he came to slowly realize that self-care was health care.

The names are fictitious, but the stories are real.

Have you ever thought about who the #1 provider of healthcare in your life is? If you haven’t, you might want to, because it’s yourself.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that paid, professional health care cost us an average of $8,400 per person in 2010; a life-time of such care would cost $663,600.

Yet the value of unpaid self-care and the care one gives to others over a lifetime may be as much as 4 times more valuable based on a wage rate of $10-$20/hour, which is less than the cost of such help when billed to insurance but often more than such workers actually make.

This will be a new perspective for most people.

This essay suggests new opportunities for understanding and providing the healthcare we need and will hopefully change how we conduct our lives as neighbors, friends and family.

Shared Journeys and Area Congregations Together, in concert with other community groups, hope to take small steps towards developing a community-wide appreciation of informal care. As the pilot unfolds, the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research at Cornell University will document and evaluate informal health care practices to determine what may or may not work.

Informal care involves paying attention to our eating habits, sleep practices, prescription and non-prescription medications, misuse of substances, exercise, physical activity, sexual relationships, emotional connection, and intellectual stimulation. Informal care is how we pay attention to the risks we and those we love take. It is also how we offer direct, physical care as well as share information, perspectives and advice with others. Informal care covers much of our health care with each person at the center of his or her own informal care community.

Yet informal care is greatly enhanced by effective formal care. Paid professional care is most effective when it makes sense to the recipients and their informal communities. We need both approaches.

Each person’s informal community is often larger than the staff backing up a healthcare professional. For resilient adults this may be 30 to 70 people, near and far, who make up their informal community regardless of age or culture. If your jaw dropped at the numbers, most people initially count only a handful of people, but after careful reflection, they make startling discoveries.

Politicians and the healthcare business community tend to support market-based or government-led healthcare. Neither system addresses the core issue — most care especially at the end of life comes from the unpaid efforts of the informal community. We need to deal with our real healthcare environment and build organically from there.

Our informal communities are the people with whom we voluntarily share our lives. They provide a more realistic, ecologically sound approach than the crisis approach to care. Most of us don’t see ourselves and our informal communities as the primary providers of our health care. Nor do we appreciate the degree to which our friends, family and neighbors shape our expectations for health and well-being

For twenty years Shared Journeys has fostered the balanced integration of informal community and professional care. We have learned that before the anxiety and fear of a crisis takes hold, healthy informal communities of care can operate as large networks of reciprocal relationships of people with mutual respect and regard, even if there are longstanding conflicts and inequalities among individuals.

When an individual and her or his specific informal community are aware of their roles prior to a health incident, they prevent the occurrence of the incident or minimize the impact of an ongoing health crisis.

Healthcare professionals promote team approaches to effectively integrate informal and paid professional care with the patient at the center of decision making. Unfortunately, paid professional care and informal care often function in incompatible ways. Similarly, formally organized volunteers—who are professionally recruited, trained and supervised—often cost almost as much as paid professionals per patient contact and function in the same way.

Informal community care is largely invisible to both healthcare providers and organized volunteers who enter a person’s life at or after the onset of a crisis. Informal care communities develop around individuals over years and decades of interaction.

We have concluded that informal community care is usually both too subtle and too fragile to engage with a highly disciplined and regulated healthcare industry as an equal care partner, unless the specific individual’s informal community is already self-aware and strong before the crisis.

The barriers to interaction are five-fold:

1) Unpaid, informal caregivers choose when and how to care for themselves as well as who and how to assist other individuals. They cannot be held accountable to employment rules or compensation that defines the provision of paid care or professional standards for volunteers;

2) Paid professional providers cannot relate to the 30 to 70 people that constitute an informal community, nor can they relate to the many roles a patient plays within that community;

3) Informal communication requires an openness and discernment about the trustworthiness of individuals in the informal community that is neither possible, nor legal due to privacy restrictions for professionals;

4) The productivity of informal communities arises out of the sheer number and redundancy of relationships and roles, which allow people to step forward or not, knowing someone else will step in; on the contrary, professional care is spare and efficient, at its best;

5) Individuals and informal communities know what is possible and worthwhile from many different perspectives–cultural, religious, scientific, economic and political. While open to engaging others, medicine is increasingly defined by a scientific framework. It also takes time to learn to communicate meaningfully with a specific individual’s informal community.

Better use of the informal community leads to improved health outcomes at no additional monetary cost. Shared Journeys’ experience suggests that earlier attention to the informal care community may help prevent health issues and may help alleviate those conditions that do occur. A strong informal community, especially if it can work with professionals, allows the paid healthcare system to perform more limited, strategic functions more effectively and efficiently.

In the weeks and months to come, we hope to share with local residents more about the importance of informal care networks, how to identify each individual’s informal community and strategies individuals may use to engage it more effectively. For more information, contact

Eric Clay is the Co-Founder and Community Coach of Shared Journeys.