November 2019 - Sustainability Champion of the Month: Leslie O'Malley

Leslie has a passion and a gift for what she does, and that doesn't go unnoticed. After joining the City of Santa Cruz Resource Recovery Education and Outreach team in 2016, she has developed many programs to educate the community to Recycle, Reuse, Reduce, Rethink and finally Refuse. We were delighted to interview Leslie and learn more about her and her work.

November 06, 2019

By Alessandra Alvares & Olive Latham 

Leslie at the Dimeo Lane Recycling Facility

How did you become interested in waste reduction and sustainability?
I am a child of the “Give a Hoot- Don’t Pollute” and the “Crying Indian” Campaigns of the 70’s. Nature walks and crafting with up cycled materials in Art Class were part of the regular curriculum. Conservation and Environmental awareness seemed to be front and center back then. The EPA was created and the first ever Earth Day was celebrated.  That combined with a Grandparent that grew up in the Great Depression and raised a family at the peak of World War 2 where the mantra was “Do your Part to conserve and recycle”, I suppose I was destined for a career in Discard Management. 

What are the main challenges with your implemented initiatives? What has been the biggest obstacle so far?
The biggest challenge implementing new initiatives is educating people about the changes and updates and why it’s important to follow them. All the recent press about recycling and the need to decrease contamination has brought new opportunity and increased awareness that items accepted for  curbside recycling can be different from area to area. The three things everyone can do to improve their recycling practices no matter where they are is to find out, when in doubt (avoid wish-cycling), keep it simple and keep it clean.

How did you make your Waste Reduction Pilot program applicable to a wider audience of youth?Elementary School Students from a variety of schools in Santa Cruz participate in field trips to City of Santa Cruz  Dimeo Lane Resource Recovery Facility. The 90 minute experience includes an interactive discussion about the 6 R’s- REFUSE, RETHINK, REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE and ROT. followed by a walking tour of the Recycling facility. Students and chaperones witness first hand the sorting of materials collected in Recycling carts all over the City. Finally, students test their new skills with a Sorting game before they get back on the bus, pledging to tell 3 people 3 things they learned on their visit to the Resource Recovery Center.

What components are most crucial to the success of the various programs you have implemented
Involving as many stakeholders as possible is vital to the success of any new program. It is important to get Buy In and support. Once that is achieved, getting the word out  through as many means as possible is the priority. In addition to print and online media, we updated the tools and resources on our website . Additionally, we have increased our ability to conduct public outreach through our Master Recycler Volunteer training program. 

How has your Master Recycler Volunteer Training Program impacted/benefited the Santa Cruz County?Approaching its 3rd year, the Master Recycler Volunteer Training Program has leveraged our small Waste Reduction teams ability to educate residents and business owners on strategies to reduce waste as well as explain the technicalities of proper recycling as it relates to the City of Santa Cruz. Master Recyclers are primarily residents within the City of Santa Cruz itself but we do have a few that reside further south like Live Oak, Capitola and Aptos. The 7 week training program  covers the differences in materials accepted by the County of Santa Cruz and through their contracted hauler, Green Waste. These differences are technicalities that are important to know but because both jurisdictions promote Waste Reduction or Re-Fusing and Re-Thinking as the primary objective, the Master Recycler Volunteer Training program benefits the whole region. 

What does sustainability mean to you?
To me, sustainability means ALL stakeholders take equal responsibility as stewards of the finite resources we all depend on.   Consumers and small government alone can’t shoulder the responsibility of the end of life of consumer goods, while we can ReFuse and ReThink every single purchase we make, choose to ReUse and RePair as opposed to running out and buying the latest and greatest “Gotta have it” because THEY said we need it,  manufacturers must do their part to move towards truly circular production cycles where there is no such thing as waste, only resources used as feedstock for the next production cycle. 

What do you envision for the future of sustainability and your program?
I anticipate a broadening of the areas we educate and conduct outreach on. Food Waste and Wasted Food  are becoming more common topics of concern. This is in part due to new regulations and policy handed down from the state but also from consumers that want to know what they can do to decrease the amount of GreenHouse Gas Emissions that come from sending food to the landfill.

What recommendations would you have for someone beginning a zero waste lifestyle?
First, be gentle with yourself! A few people might be able to jump immediately to producing only a mason jar full of landfill-able trash in one year but most of us can realistically make small changes that will add up to make a difference over time. 

The average person generates between 4.3 and 4.6 pounds of trash per day, conduct an audit of what you’re throwing away. How much of it is single use related to food and beverage? A good amount I would bet. I encourage people to start with the BIG 4. Cups, Containers, bags, and utensils. If you find yourself still reaching for a single use disposable water bottle, make sure that is the first thing you give up. Commit to only refilling a reusable stainless steel water bottle, EVERY TIME.  Are you a big coffee or Tea drinker?
Vowing to carry a reusable coffee cup and using it for every cup of “To Go” coffee will really cut down on your trash creation.

Containers are another area worthy of attention. If you eat out often, tuck a reusable container in your bag or backpack. A new law (AB619) makes it legal for you to bring your own container to a restaurant. No need to take a one time use container home, even if it is compostable, it’s still disposable.

A whole other area for containers is grocery shopping. You can practice bringing your own clean jar to fill up from the bulk bin as opposed to buying food with unnecessary packaging.

How about having at the ready a reusable utensil set and cloth napkin? Save all those single use forks, knives, spoons, chopsticks and straws from being used and thrown away.

Finally, bags. State policy on Plastic Bags has made it easier to remember our shopping bags, but have you noticed how many plastic bags still find their way into your home? Most grocery stores sell reusable produce bags that are reasonably priced. You can also use Bees-Wax Wraps in place of plastic sandwich bags and cling wrap.

Once you have mastered your food and beverage container discards,  move to other areas of your life. Avoid single use anything in all its forms, look for packaged goods in non packaged alternatives. Invest in clothing and electronics that are made to last. Repair things that are broken. Shop second hand and join the sharing economy. Want to try out an Insta Pot? Someone likely has one you can borrow for a meal or two. No need for EVERYONE to own their own.

Leslie is co-teaching a class with Kristen Lee this November 20th, "Beyond the Blue Bin: Understanding Zero Waste", part of the Sustainability Certificate Program, designed for graduate students, staff and faculty. Don't miss it!