The Ann Arbor District Library and the city of Ann Arbor held their fifth annual sustainability forum Thursday night. Fifty members of the community gathered to listen to an array of speakers, including Rodger Bowser, the managing partner of Zingerman’s Delicatessen, Eileen Spring, president and CEO of Food Gatherers, a food rescue and food bank program serving Washtenaw County, Noelle Bowman, solid waste program specialist of Washtenaw County and Tracy Artley, Sustainability Programs coordinator of the University of Michigan Plant Building and Ground Services.
Matt Naud, the environmental coordinator of the city of Ann Arbor who facilitated the discussion, said he believes Ann Arbor has exhibited progress in initiating programs promoting sustainability. He also noted issues the city is working to address including the frequency of recycling, compost and the promotion of waste reduction.
Bowman explained the role of waste reduction in managing the city’s resources, an issue he said is specifically exemplified by the excess use of plastic bags.
“Plastic bags rank number four as the most common item found in litter surveys around the country,” Bowman said. “To manufacture these materials, about 11 barrels of oil are required per ton of bags manufactured.”
Bowman added that plastic bag disposal not only negatively impacts the appearance a city but also presents a threat to wildlife.
“The harm to wildlife has been devastating,” Bowman said. “That begs the question: Do we want to be a community that contributes to this negative environment?”
Artley brought the discussion back to campus, citing the University’s goal to reduce their waste by 40 percent from the numbers in 2006 by 2025.
Current University projects, Artley said, include a waste bin and labeling standardization effort, expansion of composting and zero-waste events.
Bowser described a few sustainable practices used at Zingerman’s Deli, including its continuous push for composting practices as well as purchasing store supplies in bulk when possible.
“Every single disposable that we buy is either recyclable, reusable or compostable,” Bowser said.
Spring also discussed the efforts of her organization, Food Gatherers.
“When we started we had a dual mission of food rescue and hunger relief. We rescue food from retailers, primarily grocery stores,” said Spring.
The sustainability forum is one of several events in the annual Sustainable Ann Arbor series. The goal of the program was to join representatives from the community with the public in order to provide information to residents about how to live more sustainably.
The panel concluded with a question and answer session during which members of the Ann Arbor community presented their thoughts and concerns.
Clark McCall, a resident of Ann Arbor, suggested the city provide compost services throughout the entire year, rather than between December and April.
“We haven’t had compost pick-up in the city for that long, maybe a couple years,” McCall said. “Ann Arbor is an affluent community with forward-thinking people. We have a responsibility to set the pace for other communities.”
Wayne Appleyard, chair of the city’s Energy Commission, attended the sustainability forum and shared his thoughts on the importance of addressing sustainability in Ann Arbor.
“We all need to do our part to reduce the impact on the planet,” Appleyard said. “We have overreached the carrying capacity of the planet so we need to make changes so our daughters and granddaughters can have as nice of a life as we do.”