BALTIMORE,Md. — In the chilly afternoon in the grassy Florence Cummings Park environmental activists award cash prizes to the top five recyclers from their three-month recycling pilot program known as Divert Baltimore. Their success comes as a part of a larger effort to move Baltimore City toward Zero Waste by increasing local recycling rates and providing green jobs to local residents.
Earlier this month, the five hired Block Captains weighed the last recycling bins and Dante Swinton of Energy Justice Network tallied the numbers. The results were in, and the 95 participating households in the Westport, Lakeland and Mt. Winans communities had successfully recycled nearly 4 tons of materials in just two months. The pilot demonstrated above all else that low income residents will recycle when provided the means, education and incentive to do so.
Marketed under the name “Westport/Lakeland/Mt Winans Recycles” this program was selected for these communities not by chance but by necessity. These residents are living in the shadow of the city’s #1 air polluter the Wheelabrator Baltimore trash incinerator (a.k.a. BRESCO) whose iconic smokestack has served as a landmark to the Charm City for over 30 years. “We thank the Energy Justice Network for educating our communities about recycling and zero waste practices. 30 years is a a long span of time. During this period, the Westport, Lakeland, and Mt. Winans communities have been continuously exposed to toxic pollutants, spewed from a smoke stack that sits within feet of our homes. We are continuously awakened by opportunities to learn and participate in initiatives like recycling programs and other zero waste practices that help to ensure greater health outcomes for our communities.” says James Alston of the Westport Community Economic Development Corporation . Over the three decades the incinerator has been in operation, residents of these and nearby communities have suffered from increased rates of asthma, diabetes, stroke and other related illnesses compared to other Maryland residents.
Critics often claim that residents of these and other low income communities simply do not and would not recycle, but the residents and results of this program prove otherwise. When provided with the resources, education and a little incentive, busy, low-income residents of all backgrounds can and will recycle. “I didn’t think we had a chance…we’re just trying to keep our block clean…just trying to do our part for the environment…We are still recycling!” says Wanda Hall the lucky grand prize winner ($1,200) of the five households to win cash prizes for being the community’s biggest recyclers.
This program did not stop at only handing out checks to those who recycled the most but also paid five leaders within the community to educate their neighbors and weigh the bins throughout this three-month program. Our five block captains who received $2,500 in compensation for their pivotal role in this program.
Dante Swinton, Baltimore Environmental Justice Organizer of Energy Justice Network, designed this program to demonstrate the powerful impact that only a few people can have when they are provided the tools needed for the job. “It’s common sense – everyone wants and deserves clean air, and well-paying jobs. When we invest in a green economy, we accomplish both, and the time is now.”
Energy Justice Network has worked mostly behind the scenes with Baltimore City officials, local activists and other environmental groups to assist in the many recent policies made towards Zero Waste. They are now working with Council member Ed Reisinger of District 10, home to Westport, Lakeland, Mt Winans and Wheelabrator, to introduce and pass a Clean Air Ordinance, a law that would raise emissions standards citywide, and is a key part of a long-term movement towards zero waste in Baltimore City.
Community leaders have been pivotal in guaranteeing our success in this program by lending their voices, support and resources to this project.“Congratulations to all of our neighbors who participated in the Divert Westport challenge. Let’s continue to inspire other neighbors to recycle as much as possible so that we can eliminate trash incineration in Baltimore and repurpose our waste into other uses.” Keisha Allen President, Westport Neighborhood Association.