Sustainable Parks Spotlight: Talking Trash With Patricia Perone
Despite being members of the City’s greenest agency, even Parkies admit to being confused by NYC’s recycling rules. And so on March 26, several dozen staffers gathered in the Arsenal Gallery to learn more about waste management and recycling do’s and don’ts. Leading the team of educators was Patricia Perone, a five-year veteran at Parks who is tireless in her mission to talk trash when not working to secure grants in the agency’s Planning and Parklands Office. Patricia is one of the agency’s 30 Green Gurus, volunteers from different divisions who promote environmental education in their work locations. For the relay, she received all-star support from fellow environmental educators Beth Nicholls and Karen Roos, both seven-year veterans at Parks and experts in their field.
The workshop opened with a melody, as Patricia sang “Let’s Talk About Trash, Ba-by” to the tune of Salt-n-Pepa’s hit song. With equal parts levity and seriousness, the discussion evolved to encompass several topics on trash disposal, including its environmental consequences (air, water, and soil pollution), financial costs (over 300 million taxpayer dollars spent per year), and end result (landfills in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, and South Carolina).
To bring new meaning to the familiar call-to-action “Reduce, Re-use, Recycle,” Patricia engaged the audience in defining these alternatives to landfilling. The phrase “Reduce, Re-use, Recycle,” it turns out, is arranged in order of waste management efficacy. Reducing consumption is the most efficient way to decrease waste, so Patricia urged, “Don’t print out emails.” The second best way to reduce consumption is by re-using materials (such as the ubiquitous water bottle), so she encouraged, “If you have to buy a water bottle, at least re-use it a few times before recycling it.” And finally: recycling. “Although recycling is a great alternative to landfilling,” she said, “it is also the most energy intensive and complex option of them all.”
In efforts to demystify NYC’s recycling rules, Patricia reviewed recycling do’s and don’ts, and led the audience through her popular recycling relay. Parkies were divided into two teams, each tasked to properly sort items into three waste bins--recyclable paper (“Just remember, the paper bin is virginal, pristine,” she said. “There are little angels dancing in it, so nothing soiled can be recycled!”), recyclable mixed materials (for plastic bottles #1 and #2, glass jars & bottles, and anything more than 30% metal), and garbage. As relayers raced from their lines to the bins, Patricia reminded participants to “let logic be your guide to recycling. First think of the material you are holding, then its shape, and then if it’s recyclable.”
“Recycling means turning waste into something new,” she added. “So when I have a dirty Kleenex I think, ‘I can’t recycle my boogers into something new, therefore a dirty Kleenex goes into the trash.’”
As points were being awarded, Patricia repeated why items should or shouldn’t go into the recycling bin. “First, with plastics, identify that the neck is narrower than the base,” she said. “Then see if its a #1 or #2. There are seven types of plastics, but NYC only recycles #1s and 2s.”
In the end, the Red team claimed a narrow victory over the Green team, beating them by just six points. And yet, when it comes to waste management, there is always room for improvement. “Recycling is just a part of the waste equation,” said Patricia. “Consumer choice is also a big part. If we abstain from buying non-recyclables (like styrofoam) and instead choose to buy recyclable products, and choose to buy products that are made from recyclable materials, then we can create demand for environmentally sustainable markets.”
But before choice comes awareness, and Patricia has a proven talent for getting people to start thinking about waste. After that, “everyone can answer their own questions about recycling,” she says. “Really, they don’t need me!”
The recycle relay helps NYC Parks fulfill the goals set out in the Education and Outreach section of the Sustainable Parks Plan. Sustainable Parks measures, improves, and communicates NYC Parks’ leadership in environmental sustainability to empower staff, educate and inspire park users, and serve as a resource for peers in the field. To learn more, visit nyc.gov/parks and type in keyword “greening.”
Written by Anna Hurley, Former Sustainability Initiatives Intern
QUOTATION FOR THE DAY
“I only feel angry when I see waste.
When I see people throwing away things we could use.”
(1910 - 1997)