By Julie DesChamps
In his op ed “The Politics of the School Budget Debate and its Aftermath” (July2) for the Greenwich Free Press, Mr. Dan Quigley, chair of the Republican Town Committee, characterized my recent letter to the editor highlighting environmental justice and Greenwich’s unsustainable waste management system as a “highly aggressive political tactic by Democrats.” It is deeply disturbing and offensive that Mr. Quigley politicized the existential issue of environmental justice in communities of color, deemed my letter a political ploy and conflated it with the highly partisan wrangling over the BOE budget.
To be clear, I am not active in local politics and have voted for both Republicans and Democrats in elections. I am not a Democratic operative, as Mr. Quigley painted me, but a passionate environmental advocate who strives to promote education and initiatives in Greenwich toward a more sustainable future.
I would like to emphasize that the letter was my personal opinion alone, not a statement by Waste Free Greenwich, an organization founded as a community resource to promote waste diversion and sustainable living in Greenwich. Waste Free Greenwich is non-partisan and has worked with both sides of the aisle on its initiatives to fulfill its mission. In social media posts, representatives of all political persuasions are touted as sustainability leaders for their green deeds.
Despite Mr. Quigley’s accusation, my intention was not to politicize the issue of environmental justice or lay blame on a particular political party. Instead, I hoped to raise awareness in our community about Greenwich’s unsustainable waste management policies and their deleterious effects on communities of color, as well as the decisions of our elected leadership and their bearing on policy.
I called it as I saw it. BET and RTM members voted either in favor or against policies that support waste reduction in our town. The reusable ware system, which would have eliminated 80% of lunchroom waste in public schools, was killed in the BET, and PAYT was voted down in the RTM, in favor of tipping fees, a policy that will not incentivize waste reduction. Some RTM members, who vigorously opposed PAYT, used tactics that I found unfair and dishonest, like stifling equitable debate and burying facts beneath misinformation, which affected the outcome of the vote. Nowhere in my letter did I mention the political affiliations of the RTM or BET members named, and frankly, their partisan leanings are irrelevant. Three BET members, who Mr. Quigley identified as Democrats, went the extra mile to support the reusable ware system in the public schools; the others – both Democrats and Republicans – did not. Their votes have a significant impact on our municipal waste stream. More than a million disposable products
from cafeterias will again be incinerated this school year to the detriment of our air and soil quality and the Peekskill community, and students will continue to experience a cafeteria culture of waste contrary to classroom lessons.
Until Mr. Quigley’s op ed, I was not aware of the party affiliations of the RTM committee chairs mentioned, as this body is supposedly non-partisan. Bottom line, I was appalled by the unjust practices and misinformation campaign I witnessed in the months leading up to the vote and chose to speak out. The RTM decision to vote down PAYT and the opportunity to reduce Greenwich’s waste stream by up to 55% has severe repercussions for public health and the environment, especially in communities of color like Peekskill. These consequences simply did not matter enough to some voting members.
There are plenty of Republican leaders in Greenwich who deserve credit in promoting programs to divert waste in our community, and they should be acknowledged for their good work. First Selectman Fred Camillo is a steadfast proponent of both the food scrap and textile recycling programs, and without his support, these initiatives would not have come to fruition.
As a former member of the BOE and the Food Services Committee, Selectperson Lauren Rabin was instrumental in eliminating styrofoam lunch trays in the public schools, and she went to bat in the press to advocate for a reusable ware system. Current BOE members Karen
Kowalski, Peter Sherr and Joe Kelly have consistently voiced their strong support for a switch from single-use disposables to durable wares in school cafeterias and held Superintendent Jones to account, insisting that all options be thoroughly vetted and the most fiscally responsible and ustainable solution be advanced. I am grateful to all of them for promoting
these policies to reduce waste.
Mr. Quigley, this is not a Democratic issue. This is not a Republican issue. Environmental justice and sustainable policies should not be politicized. Green should be the new red, white and blue, transcending party and bridging divides for the greater good of the Earth and all its inhabitants, regardless of color, faith or politics.