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Sustainability starts in the community: A look at Reno-Tahoe efforts to reduce environmental impact

A jet skier rides along in Lake Tahoe in the foreground. A shore is in the background, along with snow-capped mountains with greenery.
Zoe Malen
KUNR Public Radio
Clean Up The Lake’s director of operations, Brad Flora, jet skis through Lake Tahoe, Nev., during a clean-up day on April 28, 2023. A team is there to collect litter from under the water’s surface.

With Earth Day’s recent passing, communities came together to celebrate Earth’s beauty and focus on what they can do to help the planet. But several groups in the Reno-Tahoe area make it their year-round mission to reduce environmental impact. These are just a few of the dynamic ways different individuals and organizations around the Reno-Tahoe area are caring for the planet.

Clean Up The Lake

As the days become warmer, many people will make their way to Lake Tahoe to enjoy the waters, but trash can often be found left behind. Clean Up The Lake (CUTL) makes it their mission to keep trash out of the lake — both onshore and underwater as deep as 80 feet. The organization stresses to guests that the lake is not a trash can and should not be treated as such.

CUTL Founder and Executive Director Colin West scuba dives underwater to collect litter that has made its way to the lake bottom with the gracious help of various members and volunteers on his team. The trash found in the lake is placed into yellow bags, which are then carried up to the water surface where kayakers and jet skiers will bring it to a raft to be later weighed and collected for data.

After this collaborative effort, the trash doesn’t get thrown away; it is organized and recycled for different purposes. One destination is in the hands of fifth-grade students who will turn it into art.

Cara Hollis, CUTL’s youth programs coordinator, ran the first recycled art session of the youth program at Bijou Community School on March 17, 2023. The CUTL team spoke to the fifth-grade class about the problem of trash entering the lake. They also brought litter collected from their various scuba dive trips and gave the kids the opportunity to make it into art.

The hope is that the kids, as the next generation, will be inspired to take action early on and redirect the issue toward a better path for their future.

Soulful Seeds

Earstin Whitten has been a gardener for over 60 years, starting back in Arkansas. He and his wife and co-founder Dee Schafer-Whitten created Soulful Seeds as a chance to give back to the community and supply food to those who may need it. With the help of over 250 volunteers, Soulful Seeds strives to reduce food insecurity in the Reno-Sparks area and offer fresh and healthy food to food pantries.

Not only does Soulful Seeds give back to the community, but it also contributes to reducing the community’s waste. The organization partners with the kitchen at Saint Mary’s and the Grand Sierra Resort to collect their food waste and turn it into compost. Because of its work, Soulful Seeds recently won a Golden Pinecone award from greenUP! for its sustainability efforts as a non-profit organization.

Urban Roots

Urban Roots, a non-profit organization in Reno, has a mission to change the way communities eat and become educated through garden-based learning. They provide various programs and workshops throughout the year for anyone who has an interest in garden education.

The composting workshop on April 16 was an opportunity for participants to learn how to start a personal compost and work through finding solutions for differing lifestyles. The workshop was led by Urban Roots Farm Manager Deborah Hug and local environmental organizations Down to Earth Composting and Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful. They discussed several issues, including the problems of food waste, the patience and science involved in composting, and how environmental movements affect the Reno community.

Great Full Gardens

Local restaurant Great Full Gardens provides sustainable and organic options from local vendors, farmers and gardens. But they also provide cooked meals to The Third Meal and Eddy House. In addition to helping feed the community, Great Full Gardens partners with RootEd to donate greenhouses to local schools. Their work to help the community both socially and environmentally resulted in greenUP! and the Reno + Sparks Chamber of Commerce designating them as a Green Dining establishment in 2022.

Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful

Kimberly Rios, sustainability education manager and green business advisor at Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful, and her husband, Gotzon Mujika Zumeta, reduce as much waste as possible when grocery shopping. They use reusable bags, purchase plastic-free products, and share tips on things they look for when choosing products.

They both make an effort to understand what the labels on their products mean and how they affect the environment. Recommended labels Rios mentioned were “Safer Choice” labels, recycling limit information, and the “1% for the planet” label, which is a larger organization that partners with products and companies to create positive change for the planet.

KUNR’s Zoe Malen is a student at the Reynolds School of Journalism.

Corrected: May 19, 2023 at 4:22 PM PDT
Editor’s note: Soulful Seeds partners with the kitchen at Saint Mary’s and the Grand Sierra Resort. An earlier version of this story included an incorrect partner.
Zoe Malen is a visual intern for KUNR. She is studying journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno with an emphasis on film and media production and a minor in videography.
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