During a virtual town hall Simrata (Seema) Keshav, founder of Go Green Vernon Hills & Lincolnshire, explained how she rallied her community toward a seasonal curbside food scrap program.

“While we set the vision of the group broad, which is to protect the environment for all humans and all species, our initial focus was primarily single-use plastics and food waste,” she said. “And the reason for this is because of the broader impact that these two issues have on climate change and global warming.”

Engagement is important

Keshav was one of the presenters for “How to Get Your Community Composting in Illinois,” part of Seven Generations Ahead’s  virtual series Green Conversations: Connecting the Dots. The town hall took place Sept. 29, designated as International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste. Keshav’s presentation emphasized the importance of engagement with students, community members, and municipal leadership in order to implement composting services.

Jennifer Nelson, senior program manager for SGA and a founding member of the Illinois Food Scrap Coalition, moderated the town hall which had 58 attendees. It was scheduled “during the COVID-19 pandemic that’s brought a global wake-up call about the need to transform and rebalance the way our food is produced and consumed,” Nelson said.

Participants represented municipal, county, and elected leadership as well as educators, community members and business owners. All participants received follow-up links to valuable resources, a recording of the presentation on YouTube and slides.

Raising awareness

The town hall’s primary purpose was to raise awareness of municipal composting, efforts taking place around Illinois in the time of COVID-19 and the value of community engagement. Scientists and other experts emphasize food scrap composting’s role in solving the climate crisis.

Cynthia Kanner, executive director of the Environmental Defenders of McHenry, talked about the group’s role in reducing waste in their county. Volunteers and staff help create a sense of stewardship, specifically in the area of food waste. 

“Everything we do now has impact,” Kanner said. “We are returning food waste to our soil and helping our lives be healthier today. We are going to be passing that on to future generations, and also other species, as we are part of an ecosystem and not here on our own.” 

Another town hall presenter was Merleanne Rampale, public information officer and education director for the Solid Waste Agency of Lake County (SWALCO). Her presentation sought to show what can happen in just a few short years of time once efforts get started. “You’re going to find that people share information, people talk, and they learn that maybe this is something that [they] should be doing, too,” she said. 

Rampale has been an environmental advocate and educator at SWALCO for the last 15 years, overseeing outreach and education efforts in the region, in addition to creating and directing a number of the agency’s core programs, initiatives and events.

SWALCO has 22 participating communities in its food scrap collection programs, which allows residents to mix food scraps with landscape waste.  By placing food scraps with the landscape waste in “ride along” programs, residents get introduced to food scrap diversion with the long-term goal of having year-round food scrap collection programs. 

Door-to-door education

In his presentation, Jordan Francisco, a teacher and founder and CEO of The Learning Botanist, touched on door-to-door education and increasing residential awareness and education in the community.  He told town hall participants: “By finding community leaders and using social media, your community can spread the news of your new composting program.”

Finally, the town hall drove home the message that there is no “away.” Food waste is the single largest material sent to landfills and a major contributor to greenhouse gases. It’s imperative for residents in every municipality to find out who is their waste hauler, and to reach out to the leaders and decision makers in their communities and find ways to take action.

If another town hall is hosted on composting, what would you want the topic to be? Be a part of Green Conversations and help Seven Generations Ahead and partner organizations continue to build healthy and sustainable communities.