Community Engagement Fuels Sustainable Future for Peaks Island, Maine
Saren Peetz is a fourth-year College of the Atlantic student from Hudson, Ohio. “Through this project, I feel my interests have finally found a home, together, on islands. I am excited to continue this kind of work in both the Samso and Mount Desert Island communities this fall.”
[Editor's note: This is the third article in a 4-part series (read Part I, Part II and Part IV) from College of the Atlantic students studying ways to develop and implement renewable energy solutions for the Maine coast in a unique multidisciplinary, multigenerational field-based course developed by College of the Atlantic faculty and the Island Institute under the auspices of the Fund for Maine Islands. College of the Atlantic is an University partner on EcoWatch.]
It is hard to believe that, a month ago today, I boarded the ferry to leave Samso island. I feel my class and its participants have accomplished so much in just four weeks—in great part thanks to the inspiration of this little island in the middle of the Kattegat Sea.
Peaks Island, Maine—formerly a section of Portland—has 1,000 year-round residents and approximately one square mile of land. Photo credit: Saren Peetz
Samso gave us the ability to experience the possibilities for the future of Maine islands firsthand, and gain momentum for our own potential back home. This momentum allowed us to hit the ground running—literally—once back in the states.
I drove up to Bar Harbor on Saturday after flying in from Europe, and by Sunday evening I was back down in Portland boarding a ferry to Peaks Island—part of a three-person team focusing on Peaks through the Collaborative for Island Energy Research and Action (CIERA) program.
Located 20 minutes off Portland, Peaks Island has around 1,000 year-round residents and approximately one square mile of land. Fellow College of the Atlantic student Lauren Pepperman, islander Sam Saltonstall and I are working to decrease the dependence on heating oil and propane on the island.
While some teams in CIERA are struggling with the costly production of on-island electricity, Peaks receives its electricity from the mainland. Although we benefit from mainland prices for that particular utility, Peaks islanders are still paying as much as $1 more per gallon for heating oil than the mainland.
Like many islands in Maine, vacationers flock to Peaks during the summer. This swell in population during the warmest time of the year, while beneficial to the economy of the island, facilitates the construction of poorly insulated housing stock. Over the years, summer cottages became year-round housing, resulting in high heating bills for islanders. Our team recognizes that better home efficiency and converting to electrically driven heating systems could move Peaks away from the issue of high-cost heat.
While sitting in the Samso Energy Academy as we initiated this project’s journey, my team came up against the very first—and perhaps the most important—question in this process.
How do you get a community on board with such a project?
Soren Hermansen and his wife, Malene Lundén, leaders of the Samso project, have stressed time and time again to the CIERA group the need for a community to not only be in support of your work, but also to be involved within it.
The project needs to be “our” work—not “my” work or “their” work. It is inclusive.
We learned that, for Samso, this meant networking within different groups on the island, holding community meetings and engaging various community leaders.
Following this model, Lauren, Sam and I developed and sent out a survey to Peaks islanders while we were in Denmark.
As part of the survey, we asked them if they would be interested in helping their neighbors save money on energy bills. We recognized this as a loaded question.
The obligation is obviously to say yes, but this was somewhat intentional. We want islanders to start seeing energy costs as a community issue—and one they need to tackle together.
The results of this survey were presented at the first energy-related community meeting on Peaks Island on Oct. 13.
Lauren, Sam and I were expecting 20 to 30 people to attend. Nearly 50 did.
Slowly, as more people take initiative and rise to the occasion, it is possible for the community as a whole to become the leader of its own progress. Photo credit: Saren Peetz
During the meeting, we presented to the community information we obtained during the Samso experience and held breakout sessions to identify the challenges and potential for progress in energy work on the island.
I would not say that the atmosphere of the meeting was either pessimistic or optimistic, but rather realistic and hopeful for the future.
It was the community meeting that brought Lauren and I down to Peaks for the weekend.
In just the three days we spent there, I was amazed at resourcefulness of the community members of this tiny island. We met with the resident architect, the contractor, the school principal, contacted a former energy auditor and walked past the house of an islander who is a consultant for wind power. (He wasn’t home at the time, otherwise we would have stopped to say hello). All this knowledge and potential packed into 1.1 square miles. Amazing.
It has been essential to bring nearly all these talented local specialists into the project. They have conducted energy inventories of the local school, formulated future plans and offered contracting knowledge. Through this process I have learned that using the community as a resource not only benefits the project directly, but also fosters ownership of it amongst those involved. Slowly, as more people take initiative and rise to the occasion, it is possible for the community as a whole to become the leader of its own progress.
Soren and Malene were honest with us about Samso. These projects are not always triumph and glory; there are struggles and challenges along the way. As leaders of such projects, it can be difficult to remain motivated, to keep the end goal in mind. Project leaders can burn out, and their projects with them. Yet even after seventeen years, Malene and Soren have remained passionate about their work and their island. How they possibly managed this has been my question throughout this course. What keeps leaders going throughout marathon projects?
My experience these past few weeks with the members of the Peaks Island community may hold the answer to this question.
When the community is given the opportunity to take ownership of its own projects, the leadership burn-out of individuals may be mitigated. The weight of the project does not rest on any one person. This allows the initial project leader to take on a more facilitative role, as Soren has done on Samso. In this way, the role of community ownership is important throughout the life of a project, and not only at the beginning. It is what allows a project to be sustainable.
For this reason, we chose the school on Peaks Island to become the community model in energy efficiency and sustainable heating.
Participants in a Fund for Maine Islands course pioneered by College of the Atlantic and the Island Institute chose the school on Peaks Island to become a community model in energy efficiency and sustainable heating. Photo credit: Saren Peetz
Everyone pays taxes to the school, and many people on the island have school-age children. This entails an automatic sense of ownership over what happens there on behalf of the community. As we go about plans to supplant the current boiler with heat pumps—a strategy that could easily save the school tens of thousands of dollars a year on heating alone—and insulate the basement, we are already gaining support from Peaks islanders.
With a little time and proof of success, this support could flourish into leadership on projects in the future.
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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