By Tonya Jameson
It’s not a secret that what we put in our bodies can kill us, but the Charlotte Solid Waste Services Department is on a mission to teach residents that what we put into our trash cans harm us, too.
The department launched the Healthy Communities campaign in 2016. It seems like an odd program for a department in charge of disposing of the city’s waste. However, Charlotte Solid Waste Services’ Denada Jackson said the area’s abundance of waste makes people sick.
At least of 25 percent of ailments such as diabetes and heart disease can be tied to the environment. Landfills cause a lot of air pollution because they produce methane gas, Jackson said.
“If we send less trash to the landfill, then we get less air pollution, which means we can get less people becoming sick,” Jackson said.
Healthy Communities is Charlotte Solid Waste Services Department’s attempt to decrease the amount of trash going to local landfills. The more than 1 million residents of Mecklenburg County generate 2,360 pounds of garbage per person per year, Jackson said. Charlotte residents generate 1,600 pounds of garbage per person per year.
That’s a lot of trash!
So much so that the Charlotte City Council has mandated that the Solid Waste Services Department reduce it. Healthy Communities educates the public through a variety of creative efforts to reuse, upcycle, recycle and compost household garbage, from clothing to leftover food. The department targets youth and parents. Representatives have talked to nearly 3,500 students in six schools. The department worked with local stylists to create a recycled clothing fashion show that drew more than 200 people in February.
Eliminating food waste has been a large emphasis, because more than half of the city’s trash is food waste. Programming includes vegan healthy cooking classes focusing on whole foods instead of packaged goods, which create more waste, composting, shopping smarter and better food storage to prevent spoilage.
John Howard, president of the Revolution Park Neighborhood Association, said he liked the shopping component. His neighborhood won the Food Too Good To Waste Challenge last fall.
“It definitely showed how you can use food differently,” Howard said. “They talked about eating food differently and shopping differently. It’s a different way to look at food and what we really do waste.”
Initially, the department focused on about 20 neighborhoods with low recycling rates. Many, were in predominantly minority neighborhoods. Now, the department is expanding the program to more areas and community groups.
The program completely changed Janine Davis’ outlook on food. Initially, Davis didn’t understand how trash was connected to healthy living.
“You detach yourself from your trash because it’s trash,” said Davis, the Healthy Communities ambassador for Hidden Valley. “I realized I could really help if I was a little more cognizant of what I did with my food waste.”
Davis, a WBAV personality, was the celebrity ambassador for Hidden Valley, which also participated in the Fall 2016 Food Too Good To Waste Challenge. The nearly monthlong challenge required participants to save weigh their food waste. The lighter the load, the better. Each neighborhood had a celebrity ambassador.
Davis had about six pounds her first week. It woke her up. She started paying more attention to how much food she prepared, so leftovers wouldn’t spoil. She cooked smaller portions.
“It took some effort. You have to be intentional and you have to think about it,” she said.
You also have to learn what Davis learned – one individual changing personal habits can help the entire community become healthier.