Gail Everett keeps an 18-year-old bag of garbage in the basement.
“It’s an attractive way to start a conversation,” she said with a laugh.
It should be noted that the basement isn’t in Everett’s home; it’s at Richland City Hall, and the bag of deteriorating waste is only kept for educational purposes.
When Everett was hired by the city 21 years ago, part of her role as the communications and marketing specialist involved starting an environmental education program.
“We’re the only city (in the Tri-Cities) that owns its own landfill. I was hired to educate the public to reduce its own garbage. I went out to the landfill when they were excavating part of it, and I was able to get samples,” she said of the bags she collected 18 years ago. “I’ve had these samples, and in all that time, they haven’t deteriorated very much. Because once garbage is buried, it receives very little moisture, sun and oxygen. It really opens your eyes to the problem.”
The city shows off the old garbage at public events, such as the Benton Franklin Fair, so people can see how long waste stays in solid form.
Everett said it’s easy to forget about a plastic bottle or the packaging a product arrives in once it’s tossed in the garbage because it’s out of sight and out of mind. But the waste only travels as far as the Horn Rapids Sanitary Landfill at 3102 Twin Bridges Road.
Recycling is the key to help the city reduce waste, Everett said.
“Getting folks to change their habits was difficult. I went out to the schools and talked about taking care of our planet and not littering,” Everett said. “Kids would go home and teach their parents. Then we got curbside recycling. Residents were embracing the environmental issues.”
In the late 1990s, Richland teamed up with surrounding cities to host a Tri-City Earth Day celebration. The event evolved to encompass the entire month of April, and donations from local businesses and residents poured in to help launch environmental and earth-friendly activities.
Organizers decided to form the nonprofit Sustainable Energy & Environmental Network, or SEEnet. The group is dedicated to educating and assisting the environmental stewardship and sustainable use of energy resources and technologies. Stewardship includes Mid-Columbia Earth Month cleanup projects and green business networking. SEEnet is also responsible for funding projects such as the Electric Vehicle Engineering Club that attracts high school students from throughout the Tri-Cities to design, build and operate/race electric derby cars.
The organization was an instant hit, but Everett and other volunteers who manage the site realized the website needed more.
“They were asking questions about (environmental events or green living), and we realized the answers needed to be at our fingertips,” she explained. “It’s not just events in Richland, it’s Tri-Cities wide. Every city does something different. So we wanted one source that encompassed all of the cities, and it makes it easier for those folks living there to participate.”
In January 2014, SEEnet launched GoGreenTriCities.org, a one-stop resource that showcases a community calendar with year-round environmental events, educational resources, green businesses, how-to information including recipes for green cleaners and links to other green-focused websites.
“There’s a contact form on Go Green Tri-Cities, and you can send any kind of Earth eco-friendly event such as a hike, bike ride,” Everett said. “We like to throw runs and marathons on there too. Even if you’re just going to watch, it’s nice to know what’s going on in the community.”
Eco-friendly events—including such activities as farmers markets and hiking—are free to post and are uploaded by volunteers, including Everett, who finds the calendar helpful when planning family outings.
“What I use it most for is the calendar of events. I actually got on here and found out about a backpacking school put on by REI — everything from packing the 10 most essential items to water purification—it was awesome,” she said. “My husband said he didn’t need a class, but we went and learned about equipment and what shoes to wear because your feet will swell a little bit, and what to keep in mind when you’re shopping for your equipment. I dragged my husband with me, and he didn’t think he needed to go, but he said, ‘I learned a lot.’”
The Everetts are not the only ones benefiting. Since GoGreenTriCities.org launched, the website has recorded 20,000 views for ways to reduce, reuse and recycle, 1,100 for conserving energy at home and another 1,100 for how to hand-wash your dry cleaning.
Currently there are no paid positions to manage and collect content for the website. The group receives $4,000 to $6,000 a year in donations, and money is used for marketing, prizes for eco-friendly events—such as the recent photo contest for kids—and supplies for the students involved in the Electric Car Derby.
Along with donations, SEEnet is always looking for volunteers to help with cleanup projects.
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