Commentary: Modern BioCycle

Nate Clark, BioCycle

Nate Clark
BioCycle April 2013, Vol. 54, No. 4, p. 50

I have spent a lot of time at The JG Press office over the course of my life, not surprising seeing that I am a third-generation Goldstein. In elementary school, office visits were mainly for taking advantage of the cake at staff parties or spending sick days locked away in the conference room with a television and a collection of Blockbuster rentals. By the time I was in high school, the majority of my brief pop-ins consisted of “water cooler chat” with Doug Pinkerton, art director on staff, about new bands I should look up, or what concerts I had seen recently. And on visits home from college I could be found in that same office earning some extra cash calling composting facilities for the biosolids composting survey or “Find-A-Composter”. The funny thing is, despite all those hours spent at the BioCycle headquarters, the first piece I ever read in the magazine was the tribute my mother wrote for my grandfather after he passed away in May of last year.

Now before I am accused of treason against the Goldstein name, let me be the first to tell you my lack of readership is not due to a lack of interest in the subject matter. I am enthralled by organics recycling, renewable energy from organic matter, biogas, and the like. I can’t begin to explain how excited I was when Vermont (the state I have called home for the past four years) passed Act 148 in spring of 2012, calling for the universal recycling of solid waste. Progressive action like this would not be possible if it wasn’t for the enduring hard work of those involved in the organics recycling industry, and the support, acknowledgment and technical assistance they have long received from the BioCycle family.

That being said, as a very recent graduate from one of the few universities in the country that has an entire college dedicated to the study of the environment and natural resources, I can be the first to say that BioCycle is certainly not a household name among young professionals entering into the environmental field. Why this is so disconcerting is because the volumes of knowledge and experience that The JG Press has developed and maintained over the past decades is of great value to my generation of environmental workers. At the same time, the inroads and expansion in organics recycling and sustainability being accomplished by my generation of environmental professionals each day on smaller-scale, community levels should be of great interest and value to BioCycle and its readership.

Organics recycling is no longer only sexy to large-scale industrial composters and those of us with the space, means and drive to maintain our own backyard piles. The web of composters that has developed and evolved since BioCycle was launched in 1960 is expanding to include new entities, some with the professional training of Master Composters and their professional networks, but many who are just “picking up a new thing.” People like a return on their investment. In terms of environmental action, composting defines this process.

Under The 59th Street Bridge

The most exciting examples of this expanding web are happening in communities spanning the country, from student action groups at universities to volunteer organizations in our major cities. Last week, my mom called me as she was standing under the 59th Street Bridge in Western Queens, looking out over a composting site that community composters have organized there. Complete with windrows, aerated static piles, and other small-scale composting operations retrofitted to fit in that environment, these community composters are utilizing the same tools of the trade that helped to create a profitable organics recycling industry, and are applying them on a scale that is accessible for average citizens trying to do their part.

But unlike those that make a living from organics recycling, the return on investment for many community composters isn’t financial, but comes from the ability to engage and participate in the environmental movement, and actually take control of the path human society is on. It was this buzz around the idea of composting and organic agriculture that originally brought my grandfather to advocate for the organics recycling industry. We now see that the industry has percolated to the common citizen.

Last month, I wrote that to convince the public that our environment is worth fighting for we need to convince them that their participation in environmental action matters. I described the importance of a space for the discussion and recognition of citizen participation in the environmental movement on the community level. The networks that BioCycle has established and maintained over the years among those involved in the organics recycling industry and the networks that we at BioCycle hope to begin to form among community-action groups are mutually reinforcing. There are so many opportunities to become involved in the sustainability battle. BioCyclehas spent over 50 years putting pieces of the puzzle together. It is time we see how those pieces will fit into the global pattern of environmental stewardship.

Nate Clark recently earned a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies from the Rubenstein School for the Environment and Natural Resources at the University of Vermont. He focused his studies on creating sustainable development through use of programs tailored to the organization that is employing them.

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