"Environmental Justice and Education" SwatTalk
with Assistant Professor of Educational Studies Edwin Mayorga and Sustainability Program Manager Melissa Tier ’14
Recorded on April 30, 2019
Peter Jaquette: Good evening everyone. My name is Peter Jaquette. I'm a member of the Alumni Council, and we are sponsoring a series of what we're calling SwatTalks, alumni webinars presented by Swarthmore faculty, staff, alumni and students. Tonight's program is the second in our series on sustainability.
Peter Jaquette: Before we begin, I just want to let everyone know that this presentation is being recorded and it's going to be available at some future time, which we don't know yet, but it will be available for others to watch and listen. And we would like to take your questions after the presentation. Please use the chat box. It should be on the right hand side of your Zoom screen to type in your questions and we'll have plenty of time for questions.
Peter Jaquette: So, let me just get going here. Our topic tonight is Environmental Justice and Pedagogy for the Public Good. And we've got presentations, a discussion from Edwin Mayorga, Assistant Professor of Educational Studies, and Melissa Tier, who's a sustainability program manager and also class of 2014.
Melissa Tier: Hi everyone.
Edwin Mayorga: Hi everyone.
Melissa Tier: So, as Peter mentioned, this is a series. We've had one talks so far led by Nathan who you can see on the screen and Professor Betsy Bolton on energy decarbonization and the carbon charge, and we will make those recordings available. And we have one more session after this on May 13th called Getting Green Done, The President's Sustainability Research Fellowship led Professor Joy Charlton and our director of sustainability, Aurora Winslade. So, let's jump into today's presentation.
Edwin Mayorga: We also wanted to take a moment to go through a land recognition, and so to begin, we want to acknowledge that we're presently occupying the traditional territory of area's indigenous people wherever you may be, and in our specific location we're speaking of the Lenni Lenape people specifically. In making this land acknowledgement, we express our gratitude and appreciation to those whose territory we are on and we honor the indigenous people who have been living and working on the land from time in memorial. As we contemplate our relationship to the environment and working towards sustainability and environmental justice, the impossibility of freedom or justice on stolen land should never be far from our thoughts and actions. So, we want to just make sure that we take that with us as we go through our presentation and discussion today.
Melissa Tier: Thank you. We want to begin with a framework for sustainability that really incorporates the intersection of conversation that we plan to have tonight and it's also a framework that the office of sustainability regularly uses in our work and in our presentations and education.
Melissa Tier: So, at the very start, at the baseline of our framework is this idea of basic rights for all, the idea of equality and that permeates all sustainability work and should be at the forefront of our work. We need to do that though within the context of the resources available on our planet. So, the space where sustainability operates is this middle ground between achieving equality for all and acknowledging and working with the limitations on the resources of our one planet.
Melissa Tier: So, we'll be operating with this framework throughout this presentation. We're going to talk a little bit more about what environmental justice means, break that down a bit. And then in the second half, we'll be moving into two ways to operationalize this framework, one from myself an officer of sustainability, and another in Edwin's teaching.
Edwin Mayorga: So, in thinking about and working with our framework that Melissa presented here, some of the key questions that are driving our thinking are focused primarily on this notion of environmental justice, and in thinking about and working towards that, we're asking who's suffering soonest from environmental change, environmental processes, the relationships between people and the land, we're also asking who's suffering the worst impacts of these kinds of changes that we're experiencing as a world? We also ask who can't afford or can't access adaptation. So, the development of relocation or new technologies, we wonder who has access to that, who doesn't?
Edwin Mayorga: We're also thinking about who is causing the most environmental harm, whether it be certain buildings, infrastructures or networks and arrangements of different kinds of technologies or conglomerates of industry? These are the kinds of questions we're also asking, and finally, who has access to levers of power with decision-making? If there's questions around access and affordability, there are also questions of power that are not too far behind or better yet, underlying these kinds of questions and issues, so we're looking at that as well.
Edwin Mayorga: And key for us is really recognizing that already marginalized communities are most vulnerable to environmental harm and that they provide a key role in crafting solutions. And so really in asking these questions, we're particularly wanting to center communities that have been historically and in our present day, marginalized from both the levers of power as well as being disproportionately affected by climate change and environmental processes.
Edwin Mayorga: And then along those lines and continuing to work with the notions of environmental justice, we just wanted to share the general definition of environmental justice as a starting point but also it being just that, a starting point for the kind of work that both Melissa and I are trying to accomplish from our various vantage points. But the EPA describes it as the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin or income with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies. And as congressman John Lewis noted, a right of all and not a privilege for a few. So, that's our kind of baseline position or point of departure, and Melissa will take us a little bit further into some of the other thoughts that we've been working with.
Melissa Tier: So, I wanted to bring up a commonly cited set of principles, set of definitions for environmental justice that come from 1991 from the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit that I believe occurred in DC, and was this great coming together of a lot of different movements that were starting to think about environmental justice or really had for several decades, and it was a really important conference that occurred to bring together these different trains of thought and movements.
Melissa Tier: And so there are 17 principles, and the first one we think really encapsulates so much of the rest. I'll read that one. First principle is to affirm the sacredness of mother earth, ecological unity, and the interdependence of all species and the right to be free from ecological destruction. The remaining 16 principals articulate a number of different rights. So, just to note some of them, clean air, land, water, food, and also the right to safe work environments. Many different types of self determination for all peoples and that they can participate as equal partners in decision making at all levels. These principles also lists the right to receive reparation for damages as well as acknowledging special legal status for native peoples.
Melissa Tier: Back to you.
Edwin Mayorga: Yep. Now, tied to our notion of environmental justice is a working notion of environmental racism, and specifically here we're drawing from the Energy Justice Network who describes environmental racism as the disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on people of color, environmental justice then is the movement's response to environmental racism. The other, just kind of quickly is, understanding environmental racism is also a recognition of it as a form of structural racism. So, it being an issue that is systemic rather than a kind of individualized understanding of prejudice or racialized prejudice, what we're really trying to think about here is the structural dimensions to that. And so specifically, making that time are the link between environmental change and how that becomes a site in which structural racism circulates.
Melissa Tier: I want to talk a little bit more about this interplay between race and the environment. As Edwin was saying, we're looking at this structural forms of oppression or of mistreatment, and so there are different ways that that comes about, both traditionally and in the modern age.
Melissa Tier: So, let's look at a little bit of the history of environmentalism or traditional environmentalism coming out of preservationists and in conservationist movements embodied by the man we have on the left side of the screen here, who is, as you may have guessed, John Muir, embodying a really individualist focused environmentalism, one that's about a man, a white man going into the woods and being away from society, enjoy nature that is very, very separate from concepts of what human society was thought to be at the time. And a lot of John Muir's writings and other writings of the time separated the beauty of the woods from the horribleness that they perceived to be kind of increased population density and increasingly urban environments, and also disregarded the people who were originally from the land that they were describing, and John Muir particularly was one who was extremely dismissive of indigenous populations in the places that he loved.
Melissa Tier: So, that history is very present in environmentalism and I think is rightfully challenged by a different trend of environmental justice that came, and a little bit separately starting in the 70s and into the present day from the traditional environmentalist movement that sort of eventually came together primarily through a consideration of toxicity, which is something we're going to talk about later in this presentation.
Melissa Tier: But what we want to counter with is some alternatives of how environmentalism could be moved forward, and that's through an environmental justice lens and one that's much less individualistic but focuses instead on the collective, on how we can protect our earth and the people on the earth together and in a way that meets that baseline of basic rights for all.
Melissa Tier: So, on the right hand of the screen we see here the Dakota Access Pipeline Resistance at Standing Rock. These are water protectors. And as you can see, an example of Standing Rock, there was really a primary focus or a primary leadership from people of color, from women, from a diversity of peoples, very unlike this traditional framework that some of us may have grown up with and is worth challenging so that we think about who is framing environmentalism and who has the opportunity to speak and be leaders. And we at Swarthmore, we want to make sure that we have a diversity of leadership and of participation from all students and all employees of the college as well.
Melissa Tier: So, how does environmental inequity play out? And we just wanted to list a couple of common ways. This is probably definitely not an exclusive list, exhaustive list, but we were just talking about race in the environmentalist movement. We continue to see to this day that those who are in positions of power, even in environmentalist organizations are predominantly white, and that's an issue. That's another structural issue where minority populations are not represented in the institutions that need to speak for them but need to be of them as well. But then there are many other ways in which there are environmental inequalities that show up in our cultural structures. A lot of them relate to health, so we're going to be talking more about toxics and pollution when we talk about waste. We see this in the built environment as well as in access as Edwin was talking about with our key questions, who has access to green spaces? And when there are toxics and pollution and all of that, who has mobility to leave their communities or to move away from the worst of the toxicity?
Edwin Mayorga: And as we're moving along here, we also, while we're thinking about environmentalism and environmental justice very broadly, that climate change is one of those key dimensions to this. And so continuing to think about how this is part of our conversation and our action and how we are thinking as well about policy, and so making sure that we are continually cognizant of some of the consequences of climate change, just to kind of list off a few things with respect, and how it links then back to environmental inequities and environmental racism, but specifically thinking about where and how heat waves, droughts, storms and hurricanes are being experienced, or the rise of the sea level, ocean acidification, longer fire seasons, the loss of biodiversity, and how that then attaches and maps onto increasing and amplifying inequality that have already existed structurally. And so that's certainly part of what we're paying attention to here.
Melissa Tier: Great. So as a reminder where we are right now, we've walked through some aspects of this framework and shown how environmental justice, social justice is central to creating a just and sustainable world, just and sustainable communities.
Melissa Tier: So, I want to now show an example of how we make use of this framework in a particular domain, and I'm going to start with one of our big areas of work at the college, especially in recent years, which is to look at our waste systems and look at environmental justice or environmental injustices that exist within our structures. So, let's talk through waste at Swarthmore.
Melissa Tier: More a little bit pulled out from Swarthmore college itself, just to give you the context of the area. We see that in Delaware County, which is of course, where Swarthmore is, much like in places around the country and around the world, there is a clustering of waste facilities in already vulnerable communities. And we see that right here in Delaware County and actually almost infamous case of this, along the Delaware river in Chester, in the city of Chester and into Marcus Hook.
Melissa Tier: On the screen what you can see is just a snapshot of some of the clusterings, some of the waste processing facilities that are clustered in that area. If you can see the orange reddish colored one on the right side of that image, that's Covanta, the incinerator, which we're going to be talking about a bunch, which is where Swarthmore sends its trash to be incinerated, but there are many others such as Delcora and other refineries right in this area and have huge toxic effects on this community on which is predominantly, at least in this day and age, predominantly made up of people of color surrounded by communities that are predominantly white and predominantly much more affluent than Chester.
Melissa Tier: So, we're interested at the college in both actually changing systems so that we are not sending our trash to incineration, but also modeling how waste structures, waste processing, waste behavior can be done differently as our students learn it here on campus and then leave to other locations after graduation. So, we have what we call Material Use Hierarchy which we really spread widely among the student body and employees of the college, and our number one effort is to reduce our waste, to not even produce it in the first place is always key. After that is to reuse items. So, reduce and reuse are our closely related behaviors. But if we do have to produce waste, we are always prioritize diversion away from incineration. And here in Delaware County, we are required to send our trash to incineration, we don't have a landfill option, but incineration or landfill, we want to avoid both because of their toxic effects on populations and ecosystems that are in the immediate area.
Melissa Tier: So, we look toward compost and recycling with a priority on composting because it really is better for the earth. It's creating something. It's creating soil in a low energy way that produces very little, not none, but much, much less toxicity to the surrounding environment, unlike recycling, which is highly energy intensive, has complicated end markets and does have a bit more toxic pollution from its production.
Melissa Tier: So, zero waste, so as we call this our zero waste goal, and it certainly goes beyond diversion, and we're going talk about why we've come to focus a fair amount on diversion and the improvements that we've made. But zero waste is about imbuing a sense of environmental justice into our risk behavior, decision making and behavior, it's about reducing our waste as much as possible and then avoiding incineration to the greatest extent possible.
Melissa Tier: Here on the screen you see Vanessa Meng, she's a research fellow with our office, and over the past few years she's done an incredible job of leading us forward with some of our zero waste policy and implementation. So, just wanted to thank Vanessa and the many, many other students who've worked with us on these efforts.
Melissa Tier: So, I've mentioned that we've focused a lot on diversion and I want to explain why. Every year we do an annual waste characterization off campus where we randomly select a number of buildings and we pull all of the waste types out of each of those buildings, so compost, recycling, and trash, and we sort them. We sort the waste. We go through all of it. It takes about a day, and we see how well we're doing, how well the community is doing with sorting our waste into the right categories. So, this data, this is from 2018. What we found is that about 45% of our waste is currently being sorted into either compost or recycling. So, people are producing waste and the waste that they produce, they have to put it in a bin. We have compost pretty much everywhere at this point, which we'll talk about in a moment, but only 20% or so is going into the compost stream, 25% or so going into recycling.
Melissa Tier: What's really interesting though is when we resort the waste, we find out where it could've gone if people had just put it in the right bin. And then the contrast is really quite shocking. What we see is instead, nearly 80% of all of our waste once produced could actually be diverted away from incineration. Nearly 50% of it could be compost and a significant amount recycling and a real minority of our waste needs to go into trash, as in isn't compressible, isn't recyclable. So, even not looking at reduction or not looking at changing the items that we provide here on campus, a vast majority of our waste could be diverted. And so that has become really important to us because it's such a low hanging fruit of behavior change, and accessibility in understanding how to sort waste.
Melissa Tier: So, in all of our efforts around zero waste in recent years, and it's been about three years that we've been very focused on this commitment, it's been a great partnership with the many, many different departments, many different student groups. We now in fact have a zero waste student club called Sync Up for Zero Waste that started this past year, and of course, many departments on campus, including communications facilities and our environmental services department. Here's the department of environmental services, and they really are the leaders in managing our waste and knowing what the day to day operations look like and being essential players in the movement of our waste. And so they have helped to formulate all of our implementation in these past two years by knowing on the ground information and being passionate about the best ways to move forward with improvements.
Melissa Tier: So real quick, very, very rapidly just so you are aware and you're welcome to look through in a little bit more detail, but just to explain where our three waste streams go. Our trash, as we've mentioned, goes to the Covanta incinerator in Chester. Our recycling, it kind of can shift which exact facility our recycling can go to, but for the most part of recycling is going to Gold Medal and Philadelphia. And then our compost goes very locally to a family-owned commercial composter in Media called Kitchen Harvest, and that's where the actual compost process happens offsite as opposed to about a decade ago when compost first started up the college and was cooked here on campus. We now send it off campus.
Melissa Tier: All right. I want to talk for another moment about the incinerator just to give you a little bit of a better sense of what it means for trash to go to incineration. So, here we have Swarthmore College on the map, you can see at the top, and only about 15 minutes away is Covanta on the Delaware River in Chester. But there's a huge difference, you can experience it as you drive from Swarthmore to Covanta, huge difference in air quality because of all of the waste processing facilities in this general area. This is a picture of the outside of Covanta. It's hard to see from this picture, but it is immediately adjacent to residences. There are tons of houses right here, it's on a main street, but there are trucks rolling by here, so they suffer from the air pollution from incineration, there's incredible air pollution from the trucks that are rolling through at pretty much all hours of the day, all week.
Melissa Tier: So, usually when I share this in person, I ask who has actually been to an incinerator, so think about if you have or not, but it's quite a remarkable experience, and I have a picture here to help give you a sense of it. This is the inside of Covanta. This is the tipping floor. So, this is where trucks bring their trash and then it is moved across this huge multi football fields space up onto ramps that bring the trash up to be incinerated.
Melissa Tier: You can see here on the top right corner that is a full-sized truck, just to give you a sense of scale, although of course, you can't from this picture get a sense of the sound and the smell and how really horrible it feels to your body to be there. We bring our students there and our interns there every summer, it's also very hot at this time, and one thing that they always say as they are watching trash move up ramps under their feet is that they can see how the trash doesn't need to be there. It could be composted, it could be recycled, it would be so easy to divert it into other locations if not, of course, to just not reduce it in the first place, to reduce our consumption.
Melissa Tier: Just for contrast, here's a picture of those same students at Kitchen Harvest, our compost facility. Obviously, they feel much safer on it. They love playing on top of the compost, and they've removed their face masks, and their helmets, and their earplugs and are enjoying the really beautiful soil. And it does not smell with our wonderful compost facility.
Melissa Tier: So, we've been doing a lot on campus. It's certainly not just about our sorting behavior, there's been a lot going on. You can see on the right some new signs that we've made. We have them for each of our waste streams, but compost of course, is particularly important to educate our community in how to sort waste. There's been a lot identifying targets for reduction. We've developed what we call the Worthmore Free Store, a free store available to all students all times of year. And we do a lot of zero waste and environmental justice education at orientation. And then excitingly, we've also installed standardized waste bins across campus, which look like this. They all have compost at every place that we've installed this. Here it is in the science center, here it is I think in my building in the Lang Center, every single waste station has compost, it also as recycling trash, and our new signs, it's color coated all the way down to our liners of our bags. And so we try to make it as easy as possible and as accessible as possible to sort waste properly.
Melissa Tier: This process, as I've mentioned, has involved so many different people in occurred over many, many years, and we think that it's really, at least, starting to be a model of how we can build more sustainable communities together and move away from the destructive and unjust systems that are embodied by the incinerator and by unnecessary over-the-top waste consumption. So, I hope that's a useful example of this model and I'll turn it over to Edwin for one more.
Edwin Mayorga: Yeah. So, just really briefly, as Melissa has unpacked a lot of the work that's done on campus, I wanted to speak a little bit about, or very briefly about, the kind of public ... As we're helping our students deepen their perspective and expanding their skills, a key aspect to this really is putting that learning into action and part of that is being able to engage the public, and part of that is through teaching. And so really, what I'm interested in is, or what I have been interested in as an educational studies scholar is thinking about environmental justice, and specifically in environmental justice pedagogy for the public good.
Edwin Mayorga: And so just very briefly, and I can go to the next slide, Melissa, thank you. I just wanted to share a little bit about my own background and how I've come to only begin to think about some of these things. This actually happens to also be Know History, Know Self week at Swarthmore, which is a week looking at and thinking about both the past and the present and the future of critical racial and ethnic studies here on campus. And that's the kind of framework that I apply and use in most of my research and my teaching. And so really, this work around environmental justice has been putting that kind of tradition and perspective in conversation with what we think about as environmental justice, and an example being People's Curriculum for the Earth that if you happen to have gotten a chance to read some of the articles, the article by Bill Bigelow that I shared, that Melissa and I shared, comes from this book.
Edwin Mayorga: And really, going back to that first principle of the environmental justice meetings, which is an affirmation of the sacredness of mother earth, ecological unity, and the interdependence of all species, and the right to be free from ecological destruction. And in there really for me, is seeing that this notion of ecological unity has a lot to do with, or includes notions like liberation and abolition and ways of rethinking our relationship as well to the land. And so these are the kinds of things that I think about, and specifically I draw ...
Edwin Mayorga: And you can go to the next slide, Melissa. Specifically, I'm a practitioner of Participatory Action Research, and a version of Participatory Action Research called Par Entremundos, or between worlds, which is if you're familiar with Participatory Action research, the basic idea is that from a kind of critical race and ethnic studies perspective, that we are all holders of knowledge, that we bring with us a variety of traditions and ways of being and doing and knowing that are very much connected to the land, our relationship to the environment, how we protect and serve as stewards of the environment.
Edwin Mayorga: And so what that then looks like as a pedagogy draws from a variety of traditions, and I'm just listing here a few very quickly, which has kind of popular education, Paulo Freire, if some of you are familiar with, this Freirean notion of practice, which is the linking of theory and practice, the traditions of critical race theory, Latinx Studies, decolonial and abolitionist kinds of theories and practices, as well as South American Liberation Psychologies, and an appreciation and a grounding in the social movement in histories and theories of social movement. And again, as I was saying a moment ago, how those then inform our relationship to the land, the kind of practices, histories and visions of the future that we can develop together.
Edwin Mayorga: And just quickly, again, this brings us back to our framework for sustainability where in the pedagogical approach that I'm trying to develop, inviting our students to think about what kind of impacts they have on the planet, what a kind of liberatory and ethical space for humanity looks like, and that we take seriously conceptualize how we think about what we mean by basic rights and what that means and in our relationship to the earth.
Edwin Mayorga: And so, what I'll close on is actually just very briefly talking about the Tri-Co Philly Program. So, this is a pilot program. Many of you may not be familiar with our program, but it's a pilot program of three semesters where in partnership with Bryn Mawr and Haverford, we have created a program for students to immerse themselves in Philadelphia in a variety of different ways, both through coursework, field experiences, a kind of full curriculum and a number of other kinds of related excursions within the Philadelphia area. And so it's a three semester pilot. The first semester is currently underway. And then the second semester which is coming up this coming fall is a sustainability focused semesters. So, I'm teaching what's called the core course, so it's the course that all of our students that are in the Tri-Co Philly Program needs to take.
Edwin Mayorga: And so I decided to focus my course on Philadelphia education, but thinking broadly about the city of Philadelphia and thinking about what sustainability and environmental justice and fighting for Philadelphia Education would look like, and also engage the students in a practice or an approach to thinking about how we can teach about sustainability issues to the larger public.
Edwin Mayorga: And so the image right there actually is an example of one of the groups that I'm interested in connecting our students with across our Tri-Co groups of students to connect with, which is a teacher action group, Philadelphia and the caucus of working educators, which are educator led groups. And one of the reports that they recently developed, or a kind of visual campaign that they were developing is using this report around the toxic situations of the schools in Philadelphia and connecting it to questions around a tenure real estate abatement program or policy that the city had instantiated. And so they've been visually trying to demonstrate the kinds of conditions that the schools are in and then thinking about within that same zip code, what kinds of building development is happening. And so those are just being one example of what we'll be exploring in the course.
Edwin Mayorga: And really, the idea is to draw from the various courses that the students will be taking. I'm also teaching alongside Victor Donnay from math at Bryn Mawr College, and our own Giovanna Di Chiro in Earth and Environmental Studies here at Swarthmore, as well as Josh Moses from Haverford College. And so our students, in addition to taking my class, will be taking this other course, and they'll be in various field experiences in these other courses. And so the idea is, or what I'm trying to do here is use my course as a way both to expose the to Philadelphia and the urban development of Philadelphia and its schools and the political issues that are affecting it, but also to then have us facilitate with the students, a development around pedagogy.
Edwin Mayorga: So, thinking about how they're taking what they are learning and then turning that into, what I hope to end the semester on is a kind of curriculum about and for the city, and so really having a series of lessons that the students will develop, and I hope, actually be able to implement in their various fields sites, to then curate together into a kind of curriculum that I hope people are able to then use so that it's not just kind of sitting in a digital kind of dustbin, but rather that it's something that people will find accessible, and user friendly, and will then be able to have some open access kinds of resources that they can then use either in their classrooms, in a K-12 kind of situation, or in community organizations, or by libraries, so that the conversations around sustainability, the development of the city and environmental justice can continue on in various places across the city. So, I'll stop there.
Melissa Tier: 20 minutes, a little over to take your questions. We're happy to go back to any slides just to hear from you. For now, just a reminder of our third session that's coming up in two weeks. It's on a Monday instead of a Tuesday. But in the meanwhile, we're happy to have a chat.
Peter Jaquette: And just a reminder, if you have a question, please type it in the chat box and we'll address it to our presenters. While we're waiting for some questions to come in, maybe I could ask one. There's been some publicity and in the news about recycling and how China's higher standards for covered materials has caused recycled materials to back up in the US, and I think some proportion is a half of Philadelphia's recycling is now going to the incinerator in Chester. Is this something that's unique to Philadelphia or you see it elsewhere in the country?
Melissa Tier: Yeah, it's such a great question and I'm glad we have some time to talk about that because I just kind of glanced over it. Yeah, there's been, almost years now, some real confusion in America about recycling. But I really liked the way that you phrased it, Peter, it's that China has increased its standards, it's upped it's recycling standards, it's saying America and other countries who have been sending their recycling there for years, your streams need to be cleaner. You need to have less contamination in your recycling streams because we want to actually be able to turn the materials sent to us into new materials. So, with those increased stringent rules, America just had his wake up call saying, our recycling streams are not clean. They're very messy and it's really just offloading our terrible recycling systems to another country and in a very unjust way on a global scale.
Melissa Tier: And so we have a reckoning right now in this country with how to actually manage recycling. It is not unique to Philadelphia, although 50% is particularly high. That's going on because the recycling facilities in the area are struggling to get a clean enough stream from their clients to be able to ship when Philadelphia's recycling was particularly bad.
Melissa Tier: The college feels certainly more confident than where Philadelphia as a whole city is. We have much more fine control over wherever cycling goes. We're able to talk to our hauler very directly. We're able to communicate to our recycling facilities, so we have a better grasp of where our recycling is going and ensuring that it's making its way to recycling eventually, and not without any hiccups, but we're in a much better place. Philadelphia though was working to really think about how to like incentivize recycling facilities to do a better job, and I'm hoping that this means we're going to really rethink recycling and also look towards alternatives like composting.
Edwin Mayorga: Yeah. I was just going to add very quickly, I think from an education perspective, is how do we ... Because one of my concerns has been with regards to this focus on recycling and not having the clean enough recyclables in order to actually send them off and whatnot, is I think to the point that you've made at the very end, Melissa, in your comments, which is I think we have historically kind of put all our eggs in the recycling basket rather than thinking more comprehensively about an environmental plan, a sustainability plan that is inclusive of many other things rather than focusing solely on recycling, which is actually probably the least effective in terms of the kind of impact that I think people are trying to envision in having a clear sustainability plan.
Edwin Mayorga: And so, the question that I ask myself then is if that's the case, what kind of teaching do we need to do in order to initiate a shift in our thinking and in our kind of framework? And that, to me, actually has to start very young and in families and communities in libraries and in those kinds of context where you're engaging families in conversations about what are your practices? How do you go about that? What is your vision as to how you connect to this larger issue of sustainability? Because I think there is a sense that climate change or environmental issues are important. I think sometimes it's hard for us as individuals to fully see our connection to the larger policy issues and institutional kind of city level or even kind of campus level mechanisms in which, I think from my perspective, we all need to be participating in those. But it's one of the heavy lifts, in my opinion, that need to be addressed from kind of infancy all the way through the lifespan from an educational perspective.
Peter Jaquette: Thank you, Melissa and Edwin. Another question here, and there are several questions that may be relate to this, is to compare Swarthmore and the other two colleges in Tri-Co in their sustainability programs and the interest from the college's student bodies in the program. Let's hear a little bit about that.
Edwin Mayorga: Yeah, I'll speak quickly on that. So, the intention with the Tri-Co program, the Tri-Co Philly program is to roughly equal representation across the three colleges. And so last I heard from Calista Cleary, who's our coordinator extraordinaire is like jumping between all three colleges. I believe we're at about six Haverford students maybe and then eight Bryn Mawr students, and we're trying to have about a cohort of roughly 21. And then I want to say it's another seven from Swarthmore. Somewhere along those lines. I may be misquoting her, but the idea is to have representation. And the interest has been comparable across the three institutions, and I think it's been interesting because our semester in particular is the sustainability one, the other two semesters are not focused in that way.
Edwin Mayorga: And so I think the nice thing about that is that in being different, the different semesters we've been offering appeal to different sex of students across the three colleges, and so I think that's been a really good thing. And so the interest has been fairly steady and it's just a different crew of students or subgroups of students that have really jumped on into it.
Edwin Mayorga: And then the other question was about the schools having programs roughly comparable. I wasn't sure what that meant.
Melissa Tier: Well, if I could jump into this one.
Edwin Mayorga: Oh, yeah, I'm sorry. Go ahead, Melissa.
Melissa Tier: No, no problem. Just that our environmental studies program, which now has a minor and a major is a Tri-Co program. So, it's co-designed with faculty in all three schools and the students and their requirements work with all three institutions and they shuttle back and forth to take classes at each other's institutions. So that I think is very neat.
Peter Jaquette: Okay, great. We have a question about the draft climate urgency plan and the first category of actions in that plan, in particular, the environmental justice aspects. Thoughts about that.
Melissa Tier: So, I think this is going to take some explanation. I appreciate the question. So, we've been working really at a college level institutional policy making level to create a response to and commitment to what it means to respond to the crisis and urgency of climate change. That's very much in the works. So, we've been working on and getting a lot of community input on it throughout the semester that will continue. So, stay tuned on that.
Melissa Tier: But what whoever asked the question is or I think referring to is that we have a series of statements about what our priorities and commitments are that are in draft form right now, and the very first one is a commitment to environmental justice. And then I think the point there is to foreground that and all the things that we've been talking about tonight, and credit to Carr who brings this up a lot, that we heard a really great ... It was said in just a really great way by the current provost, Sarah, that we need to focus on environmental justice as we work on climate solutions because why else are we trying to change things if not change them for the better for all people. So, that has to always come first as we think about what systems can we create in the future that will not lead us again to the very crisis that we're in today. Hopefully that answers the question.
Peter Jaquette: Great. Thanks, Melissa. Another question we've got is, to what extent can we expect public school teachers to develop their own local environmental curriculum? What's more effective, the individual teacher or the school board?
Edwin Mayorga: Great question. I think my sense is that ... This is more anecdotal than what I've collected in terms of quantifiable data at this point. But anecdotally, I think there are individual teachers that have been doing this environmental curricular work on their own, and I think that while that may be wonderful for the individual groups of students that they work with, I think what Jack is asking here is really ... or the point I think they're leaning towards is the question of the effectiveness of having a school board support a kind of development of environmental curricula. And in fact, in Philadelphia School District, there is a green initiatives program that is a district-wide initiative. And so that is both in the curriculum but also seeking to develop more sustainable approaches to just kind of the practices around building and trash, similar to what Swarthmore is developing and enacting.
Edwin Mayorga: So, from my perspective, I think that's much more effective, it's also a tall order because of the size of Philadelphia School district. Previous to this I was in New York City, and New York, that's 1.1 million children, it's over 100,000 children, young people in the school district here, and so it's a lot of different moving pieces, but I think if we don't have a kind of institutional approach, I think individual teachers' efforts will ultimately in vain. And so for me, it's really about how we can get school boards and schools as entire communities or ecosystems to shift in their policies and practices.
Peter Jaquette: Thank you, Edwin. There are a couple of questions about materials here, so maybe Melissa, that's up your alley. I was really impressed with going through the waste streams and really finding out what's there. And we've got a couple of questions about composting. What are examples of materials that should be composted that aren't? And then a question about materials that would be or should be reduced.
Melissa Tier: Yeah. Yeah. Great questions. Happy to just give a couple of examples. So, I pulled one off my desk just as a nice one. So, we've been really making use of these reusable utensils. I just have the knife and the chopsticks here, but there's a fork and a spoon as well. We gave those out for the first time at new student orientation, so all new students have that utensil set, comes in a nice case that says [Footprint 00:53:06]. And we also have been giving them out to staff and faculty at different events, like we have a spring gathering for employees at the college, we gave those out last year. And I really truly have been seeing them used. They come [inaudible 00:53:21] and students keep them on their backpacks. I've see them using [inaudible 00:53:25]. They don't need them in triples because we have metal utensils there, but I do see them all around campus.
Melissa Tier: I think another way, another waste item that we've done a lot of reduction for is plastic water bottles. So, although we don't have a ban, we've really shifted a lot of culture on that. For example, during events like orientation, Garnet weekend, and alumni weekend, we've moved toward exclusively using water coolers, hot moments of the year, but we no longer offer water bottles at most times during those events, instead there are water stations throughout campus. So we work really hard on setting up so that we don't have to use plastic. I think there's a lot more in terms of reduction that we need to work on, and that's going to be a priority going forward.
Melissa Tier: I just have a note, a side note that a lot of our reduction efforts are related to our energy systems, and you should definitely go check out, when it's available online, Nathan and Betsey's talk about our energy systems and reduction there.
Melissa Tier: Compostables. Most of our single use items on campus that we offer as opposed to kind of purchasing chips or something, but our single use items are now compostable. We've made that move over a couple of years. So, all single use utensils, cups, our clamshell containers for salad or sandwiches or something, soup containers, it's all compostable, and we've done a lot of work to find those items to make them accessible to purchase. The more that we've purchased them, they've actually come down in price. A lot of compostables are not actually more costly to produce, there just isn't the demand for them, so they can be pricey. But we have seen an influence that we've had on that market locally, so that's very interesting.
Melissa Tier: The one that gets me right now is some of our to-go lunches that we bring from outside caterers, students pick them up because they're running between classes. We've got them in the science center in the Kohlberg coffee bar, and the vendors that we work with right now are offering those in plastic containers, and I'm really dead set on getting those switched to compostables.
Peter Jaquette: Great. There are a couple of questions around, I'd say, getting this message out to other institutions, particularly other institutions, the educational institutions in the region. I'm just thinking of local school districts. Is the Swarthmore Wallingford School District interested in these kinds of issues or are other school districts that are connected with the college?
Edwin Mayorga: Yeah. Melissa, did you have thoughts on that?
Melissa Tier: Feel free to go first?
Edwin Mayorga: I mean, I was going to say, I think what I do hope ... So, I personally haven't been part of any moves towards kind of sharing some of the work that we've been doing on the campus in the high schools directly to this point, but my hope is that through this course, through the Tri-Co Philly Program that we would be able to start thinking about those things. And really for me, it's really how do we develop good partnerships between Swarthmore and other institutions, whether they be K-12 or other higher education institutions, or other community institutions and spaces, and really thinking strategically about how our resources and skills are not things that are just going to be imposed on people, but rather how do we really cultivate partnerships and trusting relationships with those communities so that we can actually share information, share knowledge, expertise, and experience, and perspective in a way that everyone benefits.
Edwin Mayorga: And so I think that's one of the things that I hope that the class can start to cultivate in both our students and in myself working with my other colleagues, even within the Tri-Co, and then some of the different field sites that we'll be partnering with.
Melissa Tier: Yeah. I mean, just to add on, we definitely do you see partnerships starting to develop. I think it's mostly in the local area surrounding Swarthmore as opposed to students and their vast networks going off in and bringing these. Though of course they're starting to do that, it's just hard for us to keep track of. But just a fun example I heard, a student who is applying to an internship with our office wrote in her application that she recently was in Upper Darby, a nearby town in Delaware county, and she had some food and something that like technically is compostable, like maybe the plate really was compostable where she was, and then she was walking around this town and there are no compost bins. And she's a first year student and it just sort of shocked her, although she didn't grow up with compost bins around but she'd gotten so used to it so quickly at Swarthmore that it really was a very stark contrast once she left campus.
Melissa Tier: So, I would imagine that's happening for a lot of students to see, "Okay, Swarthmore isn't doing zero waste perfectly for sure, but it's making really good moves and how can we start to bring that to other locations?" And we do have a lot of students who are working on creative projects right now about how can we share some of these models in the borough of Swarthmore, with some of the restaurants or other organizations that are in town. We have another group of students who have just, just started working with community activists in Chester to reactivate a network that existed particularly in the 90s. Actually if you read the reading about Chester, it was mentioned the Campus Coalition Concerning Chester or C4, that has really just been reinstated as of a couple of weeks ago, and students are moving fast and being creative with how to partner with local residents. That's not in the schools per se, but I think there's a lot of collaboration of community members directly with them, as Edwin was saying, building ideas together.
Peter Jaquette: Well, thank you very much, Melissa and Edwin. We've just about run out our hour, and it's only 7:00 PM here in California back on the east coast. I appreciate your spending late into the evening with us all. And I just remind our listeners that we've got another session coming up on May 13th with Aurora Winslade and Joy Charlton and I hope you'll come back and hear that presentation.
Melissa Tier: I'm so sorry. Someone caught on the chat that we have the wrong description for Joy. She's an anthropology professor, so we'll get that straightened out [inaudible 01:00:38].
Edwin Mayorga: But thank you all for participating, and yeah, and I will say that if anyone ever wants to get in touch, you can visit myself on Twitter @eimayorga, or email me at E-M-A-Y-O-R-G-1, firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions. I don't know if Melissa, there's a good way to get in touch with you if they have questions.
Melissa Tier: Yeah. You can email email@example.com and that reaches everyone in our office.
Peter Jaquette: Great.
Edwin Mayorga: And thanks so much, Peter.
Peter Jaquette: Have a good evening.
Melissa Tier: Thanks all.
Edwin Mayorga: Take care everyone.