For years I’ve been appearing as a keynote speaker at many a conference all over the world touting the line that “Zero Waste is the new Peace Movement.” Since Zero Waste is pretty much associated with an empty trash can, this claim has perhaps sounded far fetched to my audience members, if not completely irrelevant. What does an empty trash can have to do with peace?
Normally, when I use this phrase, I’m referring to global conflict over dwindling resources—minerals, fossil fuels, even water. Scarcity breeds conflict and violence. Sustainable resource management and conservation breeds peace.
But this past month I was able to participate in trying to bring another form of “Zero Waste Peace” to a part of the world with one of the longest-standing conflicts in history – the Middle East.
I was flown there as part of a delegation from Boulder, Colorado, organized by Sustainable Israeli Palestinian Projects (SIPP) and funded by a grassroots Jewish community effort in Boulder. Our mission was to participate in an “environmental peace building” project in Israel, working with both Israelis and Palestinians to help clean up the historic Kidron Valley that runs from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea, and to spend time in Israel visiting projects in the field and speaking at the annual Israel Science and Environment Conference in Jerusalem.
The Kidron Valley is one of the most sacred locales in Jerusalem.
I’ve traveled a lot as a Zero Waste advocate, but never here. Jerusalem was an amazing place. Judaism, Christianity and Islam all started in this mystical city. The Kidron Valley is of sacred fame. It’s the site where Abraham made his journey to Mt. Moriah, where Jesus made his way from his Judean Wilderness baptism, and where the Second Caliph Umar ibn Al-Khattab sited the Al Aqsa Mosque and declared the Prophet’s Ascent. But this basin is in a decidedly unholy state. It is now a garbage dump and a conduit for raw sewage. The demise of the valley has been just yet another source of conflict in this area.
The problems and solutions in this part of the world are notoriously complex, but the focus on working together to achieve mutual benefit through progressive environmental initiatives like recycling allowed both sides to avoid the pitfalls of religion and politics. The sharing of knowledge and exchange of ideas between experts was valuable for everyone involved and a common bond was built upon the desire of making a small corner of the world a better place.
Meetings were held with the Executive Director of the Water and Environmental Development Organization (a Palestinian NGO), Yasser Dweik, Mayor Seiliman of Al Ubadiya village, and Nasser Al-Khatib, a project engineer. Mr. Dweik, a skilled and knowledgeable leader, is rolling out new demonstration projects in sustainable waste management in the most challenging of situations. The Mayor of Ubadiya is trying to launch a project that demonstrates how artificial wetlands can treat the untreated sewage from his town of 10,000 people.
We were able to travel to the Al Minya landfill and met with Yasser Dweik, director of the landfill, Mayor Sulieman (from Al Ubediya), and Nasser Al-Khatib, a project coordinator with a Palestinian environmental NGO.
The recent violence in Jerusalem and throughout Israel (beginning September 2015) is slowing the progress of the SIPP sustainability projects. Even as I was there, the tensions and violence were inescapable. Before our meeting, Mr. Seiliman was called to a local grade school to help turn back hundreds of children from marching out of school to go throw stones at the Israeli soldiers at a nearby security checkpoint.
But the work continues and will keep going forward as so many people of goodwill are committed to linking arms in peace as they fight to clean up their environment. In a small way, WhiteWave and Eco-Cycle are helping by bringing technical expertise, new ideas and international goodwill to this small group of people working together – instead of fighting.