As I push open the glass door to ReThreads, I am greeted by smiling faces and an abundance of vibrantly colored gently used clothing. I see some wooden folding chairs toward the back of the store. I walk back and introduce myself to one of the smiling women.
It turns out this woman is Teri, the Executive Director and Founder of Better World Betty (BWB), the organization who’s hosting this event. BWB aims to help businesses and individuals in the Charlottesville area become "empowered to take action with the knowledge and tools they need to reduce their impact on the environment."
I talk with Teri for a couple more minutes then start to browse the store while I wait for others to arrive and the show to begin. I am tempted by a few pairs of boots, but unfortunately they aren’t my size.
I talk with a few other folks while we wait. One guy works with companies to help them better manage their waste. “Mostly garbage,” he says. We briefly chat about food waste and whether his work touches on that at all. I had just finished a feature on the food waste issue we face around the world so it stuck out in my mind.
After more have shuffled in and had their browsing time, Teri invites us to grab some snacks because we're about to get started. She explains that Better World Betty helps businesses and individuals be their "best green self." She introduces Stephanie who is working with BWB and is leading the initiative to organize the Zero Waste Warriors, among other efforts. Tonight, she says, we'll be watching a couple short films in a series by Annie Leonard called The Story of Stuff and The Story of Solutions.
Life changing ideas
I can’t even begin to express the impact watching these short films has had on me. I don’t think this post is even the place to pick apart the topics they convey, but I have a feeling I’ll be coming back to them. I strongly urge you to watch them for yourself (embedded at the bottom for your convenience). Essentially, here in America, we are puppets in a carefully designed and refined system to keep us buying….stuff. Our stuff is literally designed to “break” after a designated amount of time so that we will buy more stuff.
Without going into the long story just yet, a quote from the film sums it up pretty well:
“Shortly after the World War 2, these guys [our government and corporations] were figuring out how to ramp up the [U.S.] economy. Retailing analyst Victor Lebow articulated the solution that has become the norm for the whole system. He said: “Our enormously productive economy . . . demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption . . . we need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate.”
Peer Pressure for Better, not more
During the discussion time after the videos, I express, what the Story of Stuff mentions as well, that one of the largest driving factors in our decision to buy stuff is media. We see commercials and somehow we’re convinced to buy the product.
Now the power of media is no longer in the corporations’ hands that are driving this system, it’s partly in our hands too. With this power, and each Small Act, we can influence what is considered “socially acceptable.” If we care enough, we can slowly shift the goal from buying more stuff just to buy more stuff to being conscious of the impact the stuff we’re buying has, and maybe choose to buy less stuff! We can choose for the goal to be “better” and not “more.”
Let's Team Up!
After the event close, I briefly chat with Teri again and express my intense interest in partnering with or volunteering for Better World Betty, and the desire to learn more about the organization. She reciprocates my excitement and I leave with a lightness in my step and a buzzing excitement in my heart. I’m ecstatic to get involved with such an admirable and forward-thinking organization.
A few emails later I’ve set up a meeting with Stephanie. Almost a week later, we’re meeting at C’ville Coffee, my favorite coffee spot around town. Stephanie and I chat for about an hour about how I can get involved with BWB and a little more about the organization, its direction, and initiatives.
Better Businesses, Smarter Citizens
One of the major initiatives that Better World Betty leads, in partnership with the Local Energy Alliance Program (LEAP), is the Better Business Challenge. Businesses participate in the challenge over ten months by collecting points throughout five key areas of a business’ daily operations: energy, water, waste, transportation, purchasing and leadership. The ultimate goal of this challenge is to increase efficiency, sustainability, and “meaningfully engage in corporate responsibility and environmental stewardship”.
Better World Betty also came together with GreenBlue to form the Charlottesville Area Recycling Task Force in hopes of educating the community about recycling, working to make recycling more convenient, and advocating for a more comprehensive and transparent recycling plan in the area.
One of the latest initiatives, and one that really excites me, is the Zero Waste Warriors group. The group meets on the first Wednesday of each month and is still in the development phases. The Film Night event I attended last week was part of the effort to get this group rolling. BWB started the group to get interested folks more involved in community outreach and education about recycling issues in Charlottesville. There has been quite a lot of controversy in Charlottesville over the status of its “recycling program,” so many of the area’s citizens are misinformed about how they can recycle.
C'ville Recycling Controversy
There is a misunderstanding about the difference between All-in-One recycling and Single Stream recycling. Single stream recycling is only provided by Republic Services and County Waste, which are private trash collection companies. These options allow you to toss all your recyclables into a single bin, which are sorted later in a facility that is separate from the trash facility. Single stream has much higher diversion rates so less items that could be recycled make it to the landfill. You cannot throw your recyclables in with all the rest of your trash and have them confidently sorted and recycled, as is the supposed method in use at Van der Linde waste facility. This “all-in-one” method only has about an 18%?? diversion rate and there is no transparency surrounding the operations or facilities involved in that method (there aren't even any consistent statistics or facts about their recycling percentage). If you really care about recycling here in Charlottesville, and you don’t have a single stream bin, you’ve got to head over to McIntire Recycling Center with your sorted stuff.
The Year of Recycling
Once the Zero Waste Warriors group has an established following, Better World Betty hopes to educate these members and then send them out into the community to enact their ideas. Some of the efforts will be dedicated to reducing the confusion about recycling here in Charlottesville, whereas others will be ways that members can put the “buy less stuff” principal into practice or simply new and innovative ideas to take recycling to the next level. Whatever the effort, Better World Betty hopes to make 2015 “The Year of Recycling” here in Charlottesville.