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.

December 15, 2014

Transforming the Future, One Jar At A Time

Tompkins Weekly 12-15-2014

By Kat McCarthy

What if we lived in a world where single use products didn’t exist? What if the norm was to eat from real dishes that we washed when we were done eating? Eateries would once again be stocked with a plethora of plates, forks, knives, and spoons – and of course, dish washers. To-go mugs would be a staple, and for those rare occasions where dishes weren’t provided, you would have your trusty mess kit to use.

Maybe my visioning is grandiose. And maybe some might say this alternative view of the world is just a bit too optimistic. I, however, prefer to dream big. Think of the impact it would make if everyone brought a reusable mug with them the next time they went to the coffee shop. How many cups could we save from the landfill?

By the numbers, Americans discard 25 billion Styrofoam coffee cups every year and 2.5 million plastic beverage bottles by the hour (Environment Action Association). Single-use products are made from valuable resources: through production, the 16 billion paper coffee cups used per year require over 6.5 million trees, 4 billion gallons of water, and enough energy used to power nearly 54,000 homes for a year (The Nature Conservancy). Styrofoam and paper coffee cups are difficult to recycle, which means that they are most often put in the trash. All that energy and time to create a cup that is used for a few hours.

Reusing your own mug over and over therefore reduces your daily reliance on disposables while keeping materials out of the landfill. And if you are using a glass or metal container, it can be recycled at the end of life. As another benefit, many coffee shops offer discounts to individuals who bring their own mug.

One solution to help challenge the concept of a throw-away culture is EcoJarz. This young company with a strong local presence offers companion products to promote upcycling and reuse of jars. The company’s drink-top will fit any standard mouth canning jar – whether it’s an empty mayonnaise, salsa, or spaghetti sauce jar – and turn it into a glass to-go drink container. Made from high-quality stainless-steel or FDA silicone, the products offer a healthy alternative to plastic cups while providing the ability to transform an old glass container into a customizable to-go mug.

Considering that the Glass Packaging Institute estimates that in 2010 only 18% of food and glass jars were recycled, this product offers an important alternative to the landfill. Creating local jobs, EcoJarz provides a jarmazing solution to a single-use dilemma. What’s more, because of its flexibility, you can use the same lid for a child’s drinking glass, a travel mug that fits your cup holder, or an extra-large jar for serious hydration. The company’s newest product is the PopTop, a sealable wide-mouth drinking jar lid that makes it even easier for users on the go to avoid spills. The wide hole with a silicone plug is ideal for easy sipping, pouring and storing. And unlike disposable plastic products, these items are designed to last for many reuses to come.

The result of switching to reusable? Less waste and a more pleasurable dining experience. After all, doesn’t it feel like a luxury when you drink from a real glass, compared to a sticky waxed paper cup? And don’t you feel that much better for knowing that you aren’t adding to the landfill every time you grab a beverage out? Imagine if you had resuables at your fingertips every time you ate on the go.

Each person has their own technique to make going green just a little easier. For me, multi-function reusability is one of the many reasons I love EcoJarz. With my pint-and-a-half wide-mouth jar, PopTop stainless lid, and a long handled spoon, I have it all. Coffee or smoothie cup for the morning; soup container for lunch; and a receptacle for my leftover curry from dinner. The possibilities are endless, and with a jar, the mess truly is minimal. I can have my cake, and eat it too – provided that I bring my long handled spoon with me when using such a tall jar!

So whatever your product of choice may be, remember to bring your reusable cup, and join us in saving the world, one sip at a time. Then maybe someday, my vision of a reusable future won’t be so far-fetched.

Kat McCarthy is a co-owner of EcoJarz, a Master Composter, and a reuse advocate. More information about EcoJarz can be found online at

December 8, 2014

Environmental Racism and Sustainability

Tompkins Weekly 12-8-14

By Richard Franke

In his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963 Martin Luther King did not mention the environment. This is hardly surprising. King and the civil rights movement were struggling against southern violence and northern ambivalence.

Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” had been published just one year earlier. Her now famous book had resulted in part from a court case Carson learned about from white Long Island residents concerned about the effects of DDT spraying in their communities. After King’s speech and Carson’s book, the civil rights and environmental movements continued on their separate but parallel ways. King’s speech and the mass movement it reinvigorated led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Carson’s book generated a President’s Science Advisory Committee Report, and played a role in the 1967 creation of the Environmental Defense Fund and the 1972 banning of DDT in the U.S.

As the African-American led civil rights and the largely white environmental movements pushed through changes in American life, they nonetheless remained effectively segregated from each other, reflecting the segregation pervasive in this country. Some people of color saw the environmental movement as more focused on the rights of animals in our national parks than those of their fellow Americans. In his last (1967) book before his assassination in 1968, “Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?” King lamented how white solidarity had dissipated as the struggle against legal segregation moved to the greater struggle for full and genuine equality.

As it turned out, blacks themselves created the conditions for greater unity with white environmentalists. In 1982 black Americans challenged what came to be called environmental racism. Activists in Warren County—the poorest in North Carolina with 65 percent black residents—organized mass resistance to the dumping of industrial wastes in their neighborhoods. Up to 500 were arrested in what was a combination of civil rights and environmental activism. The concepts of environmental racism and environmental justice were born and brought to prominence in academic and policy circles by the African-American sociologist Robert Bullard.

In 1987 the United Church of Christ published a report titled “Toxic Waste and Race in the United States,” which argued that race was the single most important factor in determining the location of commercial hazardous waste sites, outweighing even income, property values and rate of home ownership.

The environmental movement’s pattern of racial indifference slowly began to give way. In 1994 Robert Bullard came out with a 392-page edited collection titled “Unequal Protection: Environmental Justice and Communities of Color.” It was published by Sierra Club Books in what could be seen as an attempt by the white environmentalist establishment to open a path for greater white awareness of environmental racism. Bullard’s essay and those of his collaborators established in 14 detailed case studies the reality of environmental racism and its impact on communities of African-Americans, Latinos and Native Americans. The title of one of the essays neatly summed up the book: “Black, Brown, Red and Poisoned.”

More recently Van Jones’ 2008 book “The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems” electrified many white activists with its call for a racially unified movement and an understanding of “ecology” and “social justice” as equally important and interconnected goals. “The Green Collar Economy” combines an overview of racial and class inequality with an analysis of the environmental crisis and examples of communities that found ways to work together to make some progress. “Green for all” became a slogan associated with his efforts.

With Barack Obama’s election, Jones found himself in a presidential advisory role but was quickly removed when conservative critics uncovered disparaging remarks he had made about the Republican Party and that he had supposedly been involved with a Marxist group in the 1990s.

Have the separate paths of Martin Luther King and Rachel Carson converged over these past 60-plus years? White climate and sustainability activists now routinely acknowledge the need to incorporate the concerns of people of color and of overcoming poverty as essential to succeeding in sustainability struggles.

Organizers of the September 2014 People’s Climate March sent out an email of solidarity with protesters in Ferguson, Mo., including a call for donations to the legal costs of the family of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, who was killed by a white police officer. Building Bridges, a major coalition of social justice and environmental activists in Ithaca, lists “Creating a socially just, ecologically sound local economy” as a major goal. But have communities suffering from environmental racism found any significant environmental justice?

Richard W. Franke writes about the history of sustainability. He is professor emeritus of anthropology at Montclair State University, a resident of Ecovillage at Ithaca and a board member of Sustainable Tompkins.




December 1, 2014

Shopping for Meaning at the Gift Fair

Tompkins Weekly 12-1-14

By Kathleen Yen

Ithaca College graduate Meaghan Sheehan Rosen launched the first Ithaca Alternative Gift Fair (IAGF) 11 years ago in order to give people the opportunity to shop for gifts of ideas and meaning instead of material goods.

The inspiration to bring this concept to Ithaca began with a gift from Meaghan’s brother Seán. “I was a sophomore in college home for Christmas,” Meaghan recalls. “Seán gave me the gift of having the locks changed for a victim of domestic violence. I remember how touched I was to receive that gift which had a more meaningful, far-reaching impact than any wrapped box I might have opened that day.”

If you would also like to minimize the accumulation of “stuff” and the annual stress of holiday shopping, then mark on your calendar Saturday, Dec. 6, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Head downtown to the IAGF on the 300 block of North Cayuga St. on Dewitt Park at the First Presbyterian and First Baptist churches. If you can’t go to the fair, charitable gift donations can also be purchased online from Dec. 7 to 31 at


The IAGF offers our community an alternative to conventional holiday gift giving. Gifts do not have to be material items meant only for the gift receiver. Gifts can be a celebration of personal charity, community health and well-being and the preservation of the planet.

What’s more, the event provides critical support for over 50 nonprofit charitable organizations in Tompkins County by organizing a venue and an opportunity for shoppers and charities to come together in the spirit of service and giving. Shoppers have the opportunity to walk around the fair, look at displays created by participating nonprofit organizations, talk with agency representatives and decide which types of charitable gift donations fit their values and those of each friend and family member for whom they are donating.

“This event has made the holidays much more fun and fulfilling for me,” says Alicia Freedman, IAGF volunteer and shopper. “Instead of making the sad, almost obligatory trip to big box stores, I am able to do the bulk of my holiday shopping at the Ithaca Alternative Gift Fair and then buy a few small things for loved ones on the Commons and from other locally owned businesses. Every year at the fair I am floored by all of the inspired work of the nonprofits in our community, and I find the perfect gift donation for each person I am shopping for pretty quickly.”

There are hundreds of charitable gift donations to choose from at the IAGF. This allows shoppers to honor family and friends with gifts that truly support the receivers’ values. So, for example, instead of a wrapped package of “stuff,” your family member or friend receives a card and “gift” insert that says something like this: “Holiday Greetings! A donation, in your honor, has been made to Organization X to provide medical transportation to a child, adult or military-service person in need” or “A donation, in your honor, has been made to Organization Y to provide emergency food for a family in need.”

Gifts start at $5, and there are hundreds of feel-good charitable gift donations to choose from. While visiting with the various organizations, shoppers complete a shopping list, then go to the check-out table, where they make just one payment and get one receipt. Major credit cards are accepted, but cash or checks are preferred.

This event is organized by local volunteers, and the space is donated by the First Presbyterian and First Baptist churches of Ithaca. Visit to find out more and to view the list of organization