Updated: Jun 2, 2022
In celebration of Earth Month, CIL has rounded up various sustainable habits that our staff, a volunteer and a consumer do. We reflect on the accessibility of these habits, as well as the bigger picture of how collective action in changing systems and industries is how we will truly achieve an environmentally, socially, and disability just future.
Tinkering and Resurrecting
Our staff, John, Zayda, and Helena, all do their best to repair and upcycle things instead of throwing stuff out right away and buying new ones. John, our Residential Access coordinator, is not only handy with fixing wheelchairs and adding grab bars or ramps to homes but also repairs or repurposes items in his home to give things multiple lives. Zayda and Helena, our program managers, both mend their own clothes before getting anything new and upcycle old clothes into other items rather than throwing the clothes out into landfills.
The leftmost photo is a shark pencil case that Zayda upcycled and made herself with an old pair of jeans. The middle photo is a drink holder that Helena upcycled from an old pair of shorts. The rightmost photo is John’s garden bed made from bed frame parts!
Extending the life of your things by repairing or upcycling them helps divert trash going to landfills, which heavily pollute our air, natural soils, and waters . However, we acknowledge that repairing, sewing or upcycling often require certain abilities and skills, which not everyone has the time, money, or motor abilities to pick up. However, a simple task our Fruitvale Program Coordinator, Adelene, does, and that everyone can participate in is recycling and sorting your trash correctly. Throwing trash in the wrong waste stream (landfill, recycle, or compost) can hurt the environment too! Compost materials that end up in landfills cause the creation of methane, a harmful greenhouse gas . Unrecyclable trash that ends up in a recycled stream could contaminate that entire batch of materials, leading to machine malfunctions or the entire batch being sent to landfills rather than being recycled .
Another sustainable habit many of our staff practice is conscious consumption. Ash, our Youth Coordinator, focuses on shopping at and supporting small, local businesses. In a similar vein, our Community Connections Coordinator, Kacei, and Living Well Coordinator, Janice, both try to purchase community-supported agriculture (CSA) and local produce when possible! Shopping local compared to online shopping can reduce packaging waste, and is a good way to uplift the community economy. However, online shopping is accessible for many people who may have trouble shopping in person due to a lack of accessible transportation options or due to health concerns from a pandemic. Camiel, our other Youth Coordinator, is approaching parenthood, and her partner and her have been doing research to find more eco-friendly, ethical, and safe baby products. Things to research include the materials and sourcing of the products, the company's principles and how they treat their workers… etc. The options for more sustainable products are increasing, but unfortunately, not a lot of them are affordable yet. Even though in the long run they may be more cost-effective, their initial price may be hard for low-income families and disabled folks living on a fixed income to invest in.
Our Core Services Manager, Robin, shares that her mentality for conscious consumption is often determined by “want” versus “need”. Things that are a necessity to her, like her medical equipment, have to be purchased even if it includes plastic or one-time use products. But if her purchase is a “want”, like some fresh-baked cupcakes because she’s feeling like rewarding herself, she will invest more thought and effort into ensuring the purchase of the cupcake came with minimal waste. On the flip side, we want to urge folks to be kind to themselves and others when diving into sustainable habits. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you end up buying items with plastic, or choose to buy a cheaper item even though it may not come from a sustainable source. Taking care and treating yourself right is a crucial part in any advocacy fight and systems change work.
Volunteer - Tary Chong
Tary (they/she) has volunteered with TheCIL for over a year, supporting us in data organization, social media creation and more. They are Khmer/Chinese American, and they are hard of hearing and have ADHD. The drawing below is a piece created by Tary themselves! We truly appreciate Tary’s work and their shared values in an environmental and disability just world.
Tary shares their sustainable habits and thoughts on the difficulties people with disabilities face getting involved in the climate movement.
What are sustainable habits that you are proud of, want others to know about, or want to get more into the habit of doing?
As a plant parent/guardian of cacti, I believe the earth should not be celebrated once a year, it should be celebrated every day. I do my best to limit my use of driving by replacing it with walking and public transportation. I tend to my mother’s garden and my cacti. I don’t buy new clothes anymore because not only is it not sustainable, but [the fashion industry] is also bigotry and exploitative industry. Instead, I either shop at local thrift stores and/or step into people’s closets, including my mother’s to wear. (with consent, of course). I donate my old clothes or upcycle them as wash clothes, dusters/wipers, and towels. I want to engage more by participating in an environmental justice group to help with gardening and planting new vegetation.
How is environmental movement accessible or inaccessible for people with disabilities?
Folks with disabilities and/or the houseless are one the first communities to be impacted by climate change, making their living conditions worse. The systems in place, or lack thereof, make it hard for them day to day, like the lack of healthcare [or a well-funded in-home support and services government system]; the majority of us can’t afford to buy into the eco-friendly lifestyle that may be highly expensive. The government should help by providing more financial aid and creating legislation for more accessible environmentally-conscious lifestyles as well as a prohibition of discrimination against those with disabilities and communities of color. They should center folks most impacted by climate change to speak about their issues and provide ideas on how to solve them.
One of our consumers that identify on the autism spectrum, also shares her journey of taking on sustainable habits too.
What is one sustainable habit that you are proud of, want others to know about, or want to get more into the habit of doing?
I recycle and am conscious of where I shop to reduce my waste. The grocery store I go to is conscious of their packaging being biodegradable or recyclable. Before COVID, we could also use our own reusable bags, but during COVID they only allowed paper bags. I was able to ask them to bag my groceries using leftover wine boxes, instead of having to pay for the paper bags that I didn’t want. Afterward, I would reuse these wind boxes as storage boxes at home too. Once I am done using them, I recycle them. I live in Berkeley, and I separate papers from plastics and bottles here. I rinse and clean out my recyclables so it doesn’t attract vermin or other bugs, and it’s also easier for those working downstream. We should be considerate, especially with the pandemic and the possible health hazards.
How did you get into these sustainable habits?
When I was in grade school, there would be a newspaper drive where our school would ask everyone to bring in their family’s newspapers, that’s when we still had newspapers, haha. We would raise money to recycle newspapers, and everyone was pitching in to recycle. That was when I first became aware of recycling. I also learned that back in the day, there was less packaging and more options to bring your own containers to buy stuff. I think it’s really sad that there’s so much packaging now and causing so much pollution, especially in the ocean. It’s especially difficult now because COVID means more packaging is being used. I wish we could have more discussions, both from the community and from entities, on how we can reduce plastic waste even during a pandemic.
How do you think sustainability connects to the disability movement?
I also got into sustainability and conscious purchasing for my health. I was looking into art supplies and purchasing non-toxic and well-sourced supplies; I did a lot of research on what chemicals and materials are in certain products, and how exposure to these can impact your health. It’s a good idea to do research and stay informed on what materials have toxins or how your environment may be polluted because even though the effects of exposure to harmful sources don’t show up right away, down the line it can lead to worsened health conditions or long-haul disabilities. Living with a disability is not fun in this society. There are not enough laws and resources for disabled folks or cultural understanding in society surrounding disability. I was diagnosed with autism in my early 50s, and suddenly I am being treated as incompetent, even though I lived independently for 50 years.
Anyhow, the more knowledge we have, the more we can stay away from products and companies that pollute our planet; we can boycott companies, ask for legislation to monitor these products and how they affect people, and if necessary bring products off the shelf.
Emma, our Systems Change Advocate, reminds us that most of the world’s biggest polluters come from just a few multinational corporations and because society functions via capitalism, a root of power that works against the environment as well as the disability community. An average American’s carbon footprint is 16 tons , while the total United States greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in 2020 were around 6000 million metric tons, or 6 x109 tons . Therefore, the average American’s contribution to GHG emissions is 0.00000003%; 90% of emissions still come from electricity, agriculture, industry, transportation then buildings , so mathematically, individual action impacts little. However, one sustainable habit our Assistive Technology Coordinator, Morgan, wants to develop as an individual is to stay informed on and participate more in local organizing against polluters and corporations. Although this stems from individual action, when billions of people take on this act and attend protests or get involved, it becomes collective action that can garner more media attention and drive more pressure to reform. However, we acknowledge that outside events may not be as accessible for disabled folks due to pollutants and health conditions; protests or gatherings may not be the safest either, especially for disabled people of color, if the gatherings may involve policing and the possible need to flee. There are still many ways to contribute to activism online, both as a person with disabilities or as an ally. Spreading the word to get more voices involved, and making sure board meetings, advocacy group meetings, and all other organizing have a virtual option, and are accessible so more voices can to the table are all ways to contribute.
 Vasahelyi, Kayla. “The Hidden Damage of Landfills.” University of Colorado, Boulder. 15 April 2021, https://www.colorado.edu/ecenter/2021/04/15/hidden-damage-landfills. Accessed 15 April 2022.
 Cho, Renee. “Recycling in the U.S. Is Broken. How Do We Fix It?” Columbia Climate School. 13 March 2020, https://news.climate.columbia.edu/2020/03/13/fix-recycling-america/. Accessed 18 April 2022.
 “How to Help - Calculate Your Carbon Footprint.” The Nature Conservancy. https://www.nature.org/en-us/get-involved/how-to-help/carbon-footprint-calculator/#:~:text=The%20average%20carbon%20footprint%20for,is%20closer%20to%204%20tons. Accessed 18 April 2022.
 “Overview of Greenhouse Gases.” United States Environmental Protection Agency. https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/overview-greenhouse-gases. Accessed 18 April 2022.
 “Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data.” United States Environmental Protection Agency. https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/global-greenhouse-gas-emissions-data. Accessed 18 April 2022.