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Sustainable Missoula: Zero waste education in a virtual world

Has it really been a year? A year of mask wearing, hand sanitizing, Zoom meetings, and ordering take out? It is interesting to think that The Year that Wouldn’t End has actually gone by rather quickly.

Life before COVID seems like a distant dream, as we have settled into this new norm together. Local businesses have taken giant leaps and strides to keep their doors open safely, events have been reimagined, and education has gone virtual.

Saying it this way makes it sound much easier than it actually has been. At this point, many of us can probably add Zoom proficiency, website maintenance, and video-making to our resumes. The Zero Waste Education Team at Home ReSource is no stranger to this kind of work.

Our goals to shift cultural norms around what sustainability—fully realized—really means and to accelerate this shift by inspiring leaders to make these needed changes have remained steadfast throughout this pandemic. But our education and outreach methods, much like everything else this past year, have had to make some serious pivots.

Our Zero Waste Ambassadors Program (ZWAP!) is our award-winning, STEM-aligned 5th grade curriculum that teaches students all about materials — where they come from, where they go, and how we can knock out waste in our communities.

It is a critical piece of Home ReSource’s innovative approach to empower generations of Missoulians across socioeconomic sectors with the knowledge, skills, and desire to make choices that lead our community toward ever-greater social, economic, and environmental sustainability. Due to the unwavering and increasing importance of these issues, allowing COVID to take away this beloved program was not an option for us.

We have been hard at work shedding no blood, but plenty of sweat and a few exasperated tears, transforming our Zero Waste Ambassadors Program into an accessible, engaging, interactive online program. Pre-COVID, ZWAP! reached 100% of Missoula 5th graders through interactive classroom visits, a hands-on field trip to our reuse center, and a tour of Missoula’s landfill to teach students about local and global waste impacts.

Transitioning our fun in-person activities into a remote has been a challenge. We are not computer experts by any means, but what we lack in tech-savvy and know-how, we make up for with our enthusiasm for a just, zero waste world. Our desire to engage and educate Montana youth about creating a circular economy made all of our fist-clenching, teeth-gritting, technological issues manageable.

One year into this new norm, a couple iterations of the program, and about 10 million hours later, we are thrilled to launch our new website. The website includes five new interactive, self-paced, digital ZWAP! lessons; fun supplemental activities such as trash trackers, a scavenger hunt, ZWAP! the Game, a virtual tour of Home ReSource, and more; and other resources.

Wanting to know more about zero waste both in and outside our local community? The website is full of resources to help folks learn about zero waste and how to implement it in schools and communities. All of this is engaging enough for a 5th grader and intuitive and informative enough for all to explore and learn!

Home ReSource envisions a just and vibrant world built on the principles of sustainability where the potential of people, community, and materials is realized. Our commitment to educating, inspiring, and empowering the community to cultivate this vision is as strong as ever.

We are excited about our new website, but long for the day we can visit classrooms and host in person field trips again. With summer sun and vaccinations ramping up, we have high hopes that that day is coming sooner rather than later!

Visit the website at www.zwaponline.org

Michelle Barton is the Zero Waste Educator and Big Sky Watershed Corps member at Home ReSource. This Sustainable Missoula column is brought to you – via the Missoula Current – every week by Climate Smart Missoula and Home ReSource.

Sustainability Happenings

As COVID-19 has altered many community events, some have moved on-line or found creative outlets. Here we offer ideas about sustainable ways to stay involved in our community. If you like these offerings, consider signing up for Climate Smart’s eNewsletter here. And sign up for Home ReSource’s eNews via their homepage here.

Lot’s of events and ideas to celebrate earth day, week and month – stay tuned!

Now through March 21. Apply for a garden plot from Garden City Harvest! Garden City Harvest is taking new gardener applications! Each of the community gardens provides participants with a garden plot, tools, water, straw, compost, and educational resources to help them grow their own food. Apply by March 21 for the best chance of receiving a plot this spring! More info HERE or call 406-523-3663.

March 21-28. Film Screening & Director Q&A: The Story of Plastic. Gallatin Valley Earth Day and The Valley of the Flowers Project are presenting a virtual screening of the film, The Story of Plastic. Watch the film for free at any time between March 21 and 28 by visiting www.gallatinvalleyearthday.org. Also, join a live virtual talk on Thursday, March 25th at 7pm to hear the director, Deia Schlosberg, talk about the making of the film. REGISTER for this event HERE.

March 24, 6 pm. Missoula Connect: 2050 Long-Range Transportation Plan virtual open house. Missoula Connect is in the final stages of development before adoption in summer of 2021. Join us to learn more about the plan’s development that lead to the draft projects and programs lists. This open house is framed around providing a context to participants with an emphasis on opportunities for questions and feedback! You can also provide feedback by completing this survey.

March 25, 12pm. Virtual event. Homeword’s Annual Sustainable Communities Benefit. Homeword uses sustainable methods to strengthen Montana communities by teaching homebuyer education and financial skill building and creating safe, healthy homes people can afford. This annual fundraiser supports Homeword’s statewide empowerment of Montanans. Get tickets and donate HERE.

March 25, 5pm. Virtual event. Decarbonize Your Money: Investments and More. This free “happy hour” Zoom panel discussion will focus on how to decarbonize your money from personal investments and more. Join Families for a Livable Climate to learn about putting your privilege and money in the service of creating real change on a system-wide level.

April 2. 5:30pm. Electric Vehicle Rally, Adventure Cycling Parking Lot (150 E. Pine). Join Electric Vehicle owners to celebrate the joys and benefits of electric vehicles, driving up and down Higgins and ending at the Adventure Cycling parking lot. Happening every first Friday at 5:30pm.

April 6, 12 – 1pm. The First Step to Fixing Climate Change with scientist and climate communicator extraordinaire Dr. Katharine Hayhoe. Families for a Livable Climate virtual event.

Now through April. Montana Legislature is in session. Get the awesome “How to be Involved Guide” from Montana Free Press. To follow efforts for clean energy, climate, conservation and sustainability, consider connecting with (and getting the low down and action alerts from):

Through April. Missoula Valley Winter Market. Located in the Southgate Mall (in former Lucky’s Market). Market hours: Saturdays, 9am-2pm through April 17.

Through April 22. Thursdays, 7pm. Seeking Sustainability Lecture Series. In 2020, this lecture series celebrated 50 years of Earth Day by focusing on Missoula’s sustainability efforts & featuring 60 speakers. In 2021 many of those speakers will return to give updates on how their programs have adapted to the crises we face. Check out this year’s schedule and access the event link HERE. 2020 recordings are available HERE.

Through June 19 (dates added periodically). Virtual Fixit Clinics. Want to try fixing from home? Present your broken item to a global team of expert community repairers and get suggestions for things to try. After all items are presented, participants move to Zoom breakout rooms to implement the suggestions and, hopefully, fix the items.

Find more local activities and events at Missoulaevents.net and on Montana Environmental Information Center’s Conservation Calendar. And you too can help organize events – here’s the 2021 Calendar of Environmental Awareness Days – month by month break down of world day campaigns.