Resilient Communities Fight Back: Equity in Zero Waste

Zero Waste Youth Convergence 2018

By: Valeree Catangay


On March 18th, 2018, I attended the Zero Waste Youth Convergence at the City College of San Francisco. Packed with zero waste related workshops, panels, and discussion sessions, the convergence was geared toward students and young professionals. The event itself was zero waste as attendees brought their own utensils, tupperware, and cups for breakfast and lunch! Zero Waste Youth works to empower youth through learning, envisioning, and actions toward a zero waste future. The organization has chapters across the world in Brazil, Sweden, and the Philippines.

This year’s theme of resilient communities and zero waste equity was reiterated throughout the day as the workshops were filled with conversations about environmental justice. The keynote speaker was Maricela Mares-Alatorre, a community organizer for Kettleman City, California, home to the largest hazardous waste landfill in the western United States. It was frustrating to hear how her community has been mistreated by Waste Management’s huge toxic waste dumping business, yet inspiring how Maricela has been leading residents in fighting back against proposed projects such as a waste incineration facility.


“The goal of this event is to bring professionals, activists, and young people together so that we can work collaboratively towards protecting and raising the voices of communities that have been damaged by the unjust dumping of toxic and hazardous waste while creating a space for an open discussion about equitable pathways to zero waste.” - Zero Waste Youth USA

At another panel titled “The Fate of Recycling,” speakers in the waste management industry discussed China’s recent ban on recyclables with a 0.5% contamination rate or above from foreign countries and the implications for this new policy on the United States. Because the infrastructure of current U.S. waste facilities can lower the contamination of recyclable items to only 5-10%, China’s policy has posed a huge problem for the nation.

There was also a session on several successful zero waste programs in the Bay area. UC Berkeley students presented their university’s zero waste initiatives, including pursuing GBCI’s TRUE certification for a hall on campus -- which would be the first zero waste institutional building in the country. Sara Fuentes, a sustainability manager at Commercial Industrial Waste Applications, highlighted her company’s successes in engaging high schools to increase their waste diversion rates and experimenting with emerging technologies for dumpsters and waste bins. Mark Gagliardi, senior recycling specialist at the City of Oakland, discussed the progress of Oakland’s Zero Waste Sustainability Initiative of reducing the city’s waste disposal by 90% by 2020.

The Zero Waste Youth Convergence provided a window to the many amazing zero waste efforts going on in the area and around the world. Head to zero waste youth website at for more information and keep an eye out for upcoming events!


Denise Braun Ryan