Pick any item – a shirt (cotton or polyester?), microwave oven, aluminum lawn chair, lawn mower (gas or electric), outdoor barbeque, or cell phone. Where did each raw material and component come from? Were the people and their families who mined or synthesized the item allowed to enjoy benefits from their labors, and was no harm done to their health and environment? The same questions arise during assembly and manufacturing; and, were exposure safeguards in place during these processes? What about the cardboard, paper, tape, and protective wrappings used during packaging and shipping, and the costs of transporting them to Ithaca? And, finally, what actually happens to each component during the recycling or waste disposal process?
This year Words Into Deeds is partnering with Finger Lakes ReUse and student groups at both college and high school levels to promote greater awareness on the part of the community and youth of the immediate and hidden costs, both financially and environmentally, of producing, packaging, transporting, using, then either disposing of or recycling common commercial goods. The project aligns with Sustainable Development Goal #12: Ensure Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns.
Finger Lakes ReUse is a local not for profit founded in 2008 that embraces the concept that reconditioning and reusing are more cost-effective and much better for the environment than discarding https://ithacareuse.org/. Donated items are restored and if needed repaired, including electronics, then sold at minimal costs primarily to lower income clientele. In 2017 over 100,000 visits were recorded at their two sites in Ithaca. ReUse additionally provides job training opportunities, and recently launched a community funding program that links with local service providers to provide lower costs for essential items. ReUse recently applied for an Environmental Justice Community Impact Grant that includes financial support for an educational component.
As with all Words Into Deeds programs, students begin with a study and disscussions of key human rights documents, using for example the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and workshops on social justice and equity, using the metaphor of a Ladder of Prejudice. Practical applications are introduced by examination of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, followed by a focus on the many facets of SDG #12.
Workshops and discussions are held at two venues. I have been invited to participate in two courses with Professor John Weiss at Cornell University, The History of the United Nations (Fall) and International Humanism (Spring). After in depth study of key documents, students are required to first present “actionable” plans, and then undertake community-based outreach projects. High school students are expected to meet weekly in a seminar area available at the downtown ReUse Center, where I will lead workshops covering the same documents and help them develop projects. In preparation for these projects, both groups of students will have rotations among the several service providing sections at ReUse, and will share their ideas for possible educational projects.