Nohra and Rossano hail from opposite latitudes of the globe. She is from the embattled city of Bogotá, Colombia. He is from the rustic farmlands of Capannori, Italy. Though their environments and experiences are very different, they share a deep common cause: the responsible management of solid waste to benefit communities, workers, and the planet.
"I am a grassroots recycler, which means I provide a critical public service by salvaging re-usable and recyclable material that would otherwise end up in landfills, dumps, or incinerators," says Nohra. "This is a key component of a zero waste system. Through our network of cooperatives, grassroots recyclers collect 100 times more recyclable material than the formal recycling industry in Bogotá."
Unfazed by powerful political opponents and a pervasive culture of violence, Nohra has organized Colombia's marginalized grassroots recyclers (also known as wastepickers) to make recycling a legitimate part of waste management. In March, the Bogotá Recyclers Association -- co-founded and led by Nohra -- won a landmark victory in which the city agreed to pay them official wages nearly on par with what they pay to big recycling companies.
An elementary school teacher, Rossano Ercolini began a public education campaign about the dangers of incinerators in his small Tuscan town that grew into a national Zero Waste movement. "It all started with a fight against an incinerator. Since then I have helped close down 50 incinerators and have also helped achieve the spread of the zero waste movement across Italy" says Rossano. "Thanks to the Italian network Rifiuti Zero (Zero Waste) and with the support of GAIA, the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, there are now 123 zero waste municipalities in Italy covering more than 2.3 million people."
Together, Nohra and Rossano's awards constitute well-deserved recognition of the growing movement against incineration, and of grassroots recycling and zero waste. Communities around the world -- including in the Basque region of Spain, Mumbai in India, and San Francisco -- are making progress with innovative plans to dramatically reduce their waste disposal levels. Initiatives like these, together with worker and community programs to reduce waste, have successfully diverted an estimated millions of tons of material from landfills and incinerators.
"Nohra and Rossano's work in Colombia and Italy are premier examples of zero waste in action," says Christie Keith, International Coordinator of GAIA. "They show how comprehensive recycling, citizen and worker participation, alternatives to waste incineration, and policies to support these systems can
transform 'disposable' communities into empowered communities -- communities leading the way toward a zero waste world."
Zero Waste, Jobs and Emissions
Zero Waste programs create jobs and grow economies by keeping valuable resources in the economy, instead of throwing them out in landfills or destroying them in incinerators. A GAIA report released in 2011 showed that a national goal of recycling 75 percent of the nation's waste can create 1.5 million jobs by 2030.
What's more, this movement is helping to reduce energy use as well as global warming. For example, the amount of energy wasted by not recycling aluminum and steel cans, paper, printed materials, glass, and plastic in the United States equals the annual output of 15 medium sized power plants. Zero waste systems reduce methane gas emissions from landfills and the need for new products and the emissions that result from their creation. For example, deforestation accounts for 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions. By reducing paper use and recycling paper, more trees are left standing, and ancient forest soils (which hold a great deal of carbon) are left undisturbed, thereby reducing the 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions generated by the paper and pulp industry.
Learn more about the prize winners:
ATTENTION EDITORS: Photographs and broadcast-quality video of all the winners in their home countries are available by request or online at www.goldmanprize.org.
About the Goldman Environmental PrizeThe Goldman Environmental Prize was established in 1989 by late San Francisco civic leaders and philanthropists Richard and Rhoda Goldman. Prize winners are selected by an international jury from confidential nominations submitted by a worldwide network of environmental organizations and individuals. For additional information about the Prize and previous winners visit www.goldmanprize.org.
About the Global Alliance for Incinerator AlternativesGAIA is a worldwide alliance of more than 650 grassroots groups, non-governmental organizations, and individuals in over 90 countries whose ultimate vision is a just, toxic-free world without incineration.
GAIA website: no-burn.org
GAIA twitter: @GAIAnoburn
GAIA Facebook: Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives