Leading Cincinnati's sustainability efforts

The City of Cincinnati Office of Environment and Sustainability recognized Erin Fay as October’s Leader in Sustainability for her committed efforts to reduce waste and help others do the same.

In a campaign to engage residents in the 2018 Green Cincinnati Plan, the Office of Environment and Sustainability highlights a different area of the plan each month. Individuals are encouraged to practice the topic of the month, and community members can nominate each other for a Leader in Sustainability recognition.

The theme for October was waste reduction, recycling, and compost. Fay received multiple nominations for her TerraCycle work, as well as her frequent and useful social media posts on reducing waste.

Fay strives to live a plastic free, zero waste lifestyle, while balancing life as a mother, working as a real estate agent, and managing the Pleasant Ridge Montessori TerraCycle program.

“Reduction of waste is my passion,” says Fay.

TerraCycle is a national company that collects plastics such as chip bags, toothbrushes, wrappers, and other items that typically can’t be recycled in home bins and collects them via non-profits and schools. They work with corporate donors to turn the recycled plastics into raw materials.

Four years ago, Fay took over the TerraCycle program at Pleasant Ridge Montessori (PRM).

The plastics that are recycled must be cleaned and sorted into groups called brigades. The PRM program collects items for 12 brigades, including deodorant containers, toothpaste tubes, and granola bar wrappers. Furthermore, TerraCycle requires items to be sent in large quantities so storage is a challenge.

Fay sorts, cleans, and stores most of these plastics in her basement as well as in a nearby church.

Pleasant Ridge businesses, Walnut Hills High School, and many of Fay’s friends and neighbors participate as well.

“It’s exciting in some ways, and highly overwhelming,” Fay admits, because she even accepts bags of plastic on her porch. “A majority is people I know … but anyone is welcome to do it.”

There are two goals: to keep plastic out of the landfill, and to benefit Pleasant Ridge Montessori.

About 1,000 pounds of plastic goes out to TerraCycle to be recycled every year and, in turn, about $1,000 goes to Pleasant Ridge Montessori.

“It’s awesome, but it’s messy,” laughs Fay.

“What really makes Erin stand out is her sentiment that living a sustainable lifestyle is a journey made up of small decisions, not an overnight transformation,” says Office of Environment and Sustainability member Liz Congleton.

“Being a Leader in Sustainability is about helping people see the steps on their own path to being green,” she continues. “The Year of Living Sustainably campaign focuses on the little changes people can make today, and Erin exemplifies that idea.”

Fay also discusses the fact that in the practice of sorting and recycling specific items, we learn more about what we are buying and what we are throwing away.

She says a good place to start is to reduce your waste first.

“You have to want to make it a part of your day,” says Fay, who is happy to share more information with anyone interested. “Getting the word out in Cincinnati has been really exciting.”

Fay assures that her effort to live a plastic-free, zero-waste lifestyle is not seamless, especially living with a husband and son. “I’m doing the best I can,” she says, but adds with an evident smile in her voice, “I think I’m all right with Mother Nature.”

To learn more about green living, go to Erin Fay’s talk at Imago called Plastic Free Living during Green Umbrella’s First Friday Conversation on Dec. 7. Children under 12 get in free; for ages 12 and up, tickets are $5 and can be purchased here.

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Read more articles by Emily Dillingham.

Emily Dillingham is a Cincinnati native and University of Cincinnati graduate with degrees in English and Geology. She writes full-time for a local material science company and lives in Brighton with her husband and pack of dogs. Follow her on Instagram @keeperoftheplants