Spotlight On…The Otesha Project

Screen shot 2013-12-16 at 11.45.28We first met the folks from The Otesha Project last year at Creative Facilitation training in Toronto. We were completely inspired by the work they are doing and the ways that they are using the arts to tackle sustainability and environmental issues. As a national youth-led organization they use experiential learning, theater and bicycle tours to empower Canadians of all ages to take action for a more equitable and sustainable world.

In this blog, Lindsay Fenwick, a team member from 2013, reflects on an amazing experience she had while on a bicycle tour.

Otesha believe that everyday, the choices we make can and do impact other people and the planet.  Our actions have tremendous potential to create positive change.  By building community, engaging as citizens, being conscientious consumers and using resources wisely, we can create the kind of world we’d like to live in.

Last September and October I was part of a team of 13 young adults who took part in Otesha’s West Coast Tour. We cycled for two months across the British Columbian Coast on a velo-Odyssey. As we traveled we passed through rural and urban communities exploring local sustainability initiatives and bringing our funky brand of eco-education by facilitating workshops and performing Otesha’s interactive theater piece, Cycling Through Change. In total we performed to over 4,000 students in schools and community groups.

Early in the tour our group decided to take “sustainability” to the next level with a unique experiment while on the road.

We decided to instigate a “pack in, pack out” waste protocol. This meant that we were required to carry anything that could not be composted or recycled with us on our bikes until the end of the tour. This also meant that we carried our recyclables and compost until we could find the appropriate facility. I’m not going to lie, carrying around a bag full of mouldy, rancid vegetable waste until you find a composting center is at least as disgusting as it sounds.

On paper it appears simple: just don’t buy anything that can’t be recycled. In practice, this means no Styrofoam food packaging, no take-out coffee cups, none of those onion bags, and definitely no grocery bags. The latter definitely got a few questioning looks as we attempted to carry food for thirteen hungry bikers in our comparably tiny arms: “Are you sure you don’t want bags? Just one or two?”

Screen shot 2013-12-16 at 11.45.40Lugging our garbage along made us constantly aware of how much and what we were carrying. It motivated us to make an effort, despite being tired and rushed, to accumulate few non-recyclable items, and reuse those we had. We brought old bread bags to bulk food stores to replenish our oats, raisins, beans, and lentils. We made earrings and rubber bands out of bike tubes. We collected granola bar and candy bar wrappers to make wallets and purses.

So what did we end up with after six weeks of carrying around our garbage? A variety of soft plastics, food wrappers, plastic bags, potato chip bags, candy bags, tissues, twist ties, toothpaste tubes, and a bit more. Shockingly, all of this could fit into two average-sized plastic grocery bags – a far cry from the Canadian average of 2.2kg of household waste produced per person per day!

The challenge demonstrated that, by being conscientious, it’s quite feasible to get close to eliminating landfill-bound items. Along our journey we met people who were doing even better than us. Patty Rose at the Comox Valley Compost Education Centre has reduced her family’s garbage down to one standard sized garbage bag… per year!

Sustainability is all about constantly striving to decrease our impact on this planet. Our commitment to reducing waste has inspired all of us and many of the people we have interacted with to question the garbage we create and why we create it.

By: Lindsay Fenwick

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