October 2021
Making Sustainability Accessible for Rural and Low-Income Communities
by Jessica Thacker, Program Manager Canyonlands Solid Waste Authority
Sustainability. Renewable energy. Green solutions. Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. We hear these terms laid down as veritable solutions for the variety of environmental issues we face as a society. We all want a tidier and healthier world to leave for future generations. However, what happens when real world issues such as lack of accessibility and financial burdens prevent individuals and communities from meeting these well-intentioned but lofty goals?

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As “green living” becomes the fashionable way of life, rural and low-income communities wonder how to utilize this mindset in a way that is financially feasible, non-disruptive to their work and life schedules, and makes sustainability equal for all. Through community-wide education, encouraged participation in locally managed sustainability programs such as community gardens, and introduction of infrastructure that is directly beneficial to impacted communities without added burden. We must find a way to live sustainably in a manner that does not exhaust our habitat, stimulates the local economy, and increases neighborhood quality. Sustainability and its interconnectedness with rural capabilities and financial capacity is a vast topic with many pathways that cannot obviously be captured within this singular article. Nevertheless, this writer hopes that the information contained within this article will assist those who wish to reduce their environmental footprint but financial struggles have previously prevented them in engaging in this behavior.

Prolonged unsustainable actions can adversely affect rural and low-income communities by creating a meager quality of life for residents and businesses through a diminished natural atmosphere. In Moab especially, where pristine and unaltered terrains are essential to an individual’s ability to survive and prosper, accessible sustainable practices are crucial. If you as an individual have been wanting to become a better steward to your little slice of red rock heaven, please consider the available options that Moab has to offer at little to no cost and are readily available resources.

The Community Recycle Center: This recycling hub of Moab offers source-separated recycling free of charge to Grand County residents. Special events are also held periodically such as the Cash For Cans where residents can receive money for collected aluminum cans while simultaneously removing potentially litter and trash accumulation on local properties. (www.swssd1.org)

Local Thrift and Resale Stores: Moab is home to several thrift and secondhand stores that accept a variety of gently used donations. By bringing your unwanted items to these local organizations and businesses, individuals are supporting the local economy, generating jobs, removing volumes from the waste stream, and even supporting other local non-profit entities.

Youth Garden Project: Youth Garden Project (YGP) offers bi-weekly events called “Weed N’ Feeds” in where interested individuals can volunteer a couple hours’ worth of weeding and gardening labor in exchange for a fresh garden meal. (www.youthgardenproject.org)

Moab Solutions: Along with their efforts to provide accessible recycling to the entire community and beyond, Moab Solutions also organizes and collaborates with other local entities to support litter cleanups, recycling collections, or ecological restoration activities. (www.moab-solutions.org)

This list is by no means exhaustive and provides only a glimpse of the affordable recycling and sustainable programs functioning in Moab and surrounding communities. A viable environmentally conscious way of life isn’t something that can necessarily be achieved overnight. Adjusting your mindset from usual practices can trickier than you think. Fortunately, there are several small steps that individual can incorporate in their daily routines to live a “low impact” life:

Addressing Food Waste: Shop smart to reduce potential food loss. Consider composting as an alternative to directly throwing out food. Buy local/regional produce and other food items such as honey, meat, herbs, and more. Buy food that is in season. Grow a small garden or provide volunteer labor in exchange for produce at local farms and community gardens. Pack your lunch rather than a quick run through the drive thru.

Smart Energy & Resource Consumption: Take shorter showers – avoid baths. Run only full loads in your dishwasher/laundry. Make the most of Moab’s arid climate and dry your clothes on a clothesline. Choose plastic-free packaging products. Utilize reusable items such as cups, containers, and utensils – especially when traveling. Install old and high-energy consumption lightbulbs with energy-efficient LED bulbs – recycle your old bulbs. Unplug appliances such as a coffee pot when not in use to reduce “phantom energy” consumption.

Implementing Household and Business Recycling: Recycling can be daunting and expensive! Train your mind to start small scale on your journey to smart recycling. Considering removing one item, such as cans or glass, that you previously trashed and attempt to prevent all of these items from ending up in your garbage. Once you’ve managed to ingrain that specific behavior, expand it to include another item then another item until the majority of your waste becomes recyclable rather than “trashable”.

Other Simple Movements: Use reusable shopping bags instead of single use plastic bags. Charge your phone on airplane mode – charges much quicker this way! Go paperless with bills. Learn the art of upcycle for breathing new life into an old item. Walk, bike, skate, skateboard, or any other mode of transportation to reduce carbon emissions. Attend sustainable and eco-centered workshops and classes, when possible, to learn about even more methods for “going green”. Sustainability doesn’t have to be a lifestyle that is out of reach for rural and low-income communities and is unique to each individual in how it is manifested and achieved. There are many resources at your fingertips and the care of our environment can be achieved through education, outreach, and mutual community support. The largest of impacts can began with the smallest of intentions – the sustainable future is yours for the making!

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