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Rethinking Waste in Red Deer, Alberta

By Starr Brainard, 2015-2016 Independent Researcher in Canada

I am currently about three months into my Fulbright experience. Come spring, I will be happily getting my hands dirty collecting production data from various alternative farms in Central Alberta. In the mean time, my research consists mostly of of emails, literature reviews, and online surveys. While necessary and informative, these steps of my research aren’t pushing me out into the ecosystem of plants, animals, and most importantly people in my host community. I am fortunate to be interning with my community host organization ReThink Red Deer and be a Fulbright Canada-RBC Eco-Leader. Through ReThink Red Deer and The Fulbright Canada-RBC Eco-Leadership Program I have been able to engage my local community in meaningful and rewarding ways over the past few weeks.

To quick bring you up to speed: The Fulbright Canada-RBC Eco-Leadership Program provides small grants to current grantees and alumni of the Fulbright Canada program to partner with local organizations in order to make a significant positive environmental impact in their community. The mission of the non-profit ReThink Red Deer is to promote citizen-driven leadership by providing learning and practical opportunities for sustainable living in Red Deer and District.

The weekend of March 12 & 13 was the Fifth EcoLiving Fair hosted by ReThink Red Deer at Red Deer College. Since before arriving in Canada at the new year, I have been involved in the planning process for this event. It was amazing to see our efforts come to fruition in a fun and informative two days. Exhibitors sold organic local produce, worm composting towers, and heirloom seeds; and informed attendees of local initiatives and organizations. Workshops trained people how to build pollinator hotels, collect seeds, and keep bees and chickens in the city. Electric cars and art about sustainable food were on display; recycled urban lumber was being milled in the courtyard, and a Repair Cafe was hosted to teach participants to fix their things rather than throw them in the landfill. The energy and enthusiasm of all vendors, participants, and volunteers was tangible and infectious.

The EcoLiving Fair also marked the arrival of three Joracan composers to Red Deer College (RDC). My Eco-Leadership project is to install three community sized composers at RDC to pilot a food waste recycling program with the campus vendors. Composted food waste can then be used for landscaping onsite rather than shipping the waste landfills. This grant also seeks to engage the community, so delivery of the composting systems was accompanied by a workshop about how to compost, delivered by the Jordan director himself.

But the fun didn’t stop there. The very next week I was back at RDC to host another event that pushed students to rethink what they do with their waste. I collaborated with the RDC Makerspace, a place for informal and self-directed learning filled with 3D printers and robot parts, to host “Junk to Funk: a Design Challenge in the Makerspace.” At the event students were informed about the ongoing EcoLeadership Program and encouraged to challenge the Throw-Away Culture in which we all live. Teams of pizza-fueled students were given 45 minutes to make a creation from waste and construction tools provided for them. The creations were scored on their “recycle-ability,” encouraging students to consider the next stage of life for their creations after the competition; “structural integrity,” encouraging students to channel their inner engineers; and finally “funkiness,” encouraging students to get their creativity on.

While all the creations were wonderful, the winners were a modeled aquaponic growing system, an aluminum can camping stove, and a cardboard biplane. Winners walked away with gift-cards of their choosing from the campus store.

All in all, I feel honored to be able to work with Rethink Red Deer, Red Deer College, and be a Fulbright Canada-RBC Eco-Leader. Sharing my passions with community members and receiving such an enthusiastic response invigorates me and inspired me to go above and beyond in my research steps to come.

If you are interested in following my research or getting in touch my blog is https://starrbrainard.wordpress.com/ and my email is brainard@ualberta.ca.

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