by Michael Kowalchuk
Honorary New Hampshire native, slow food enthusiast and local doer Hayley Harmon sat down with us for our second conversation in the Friday Morning Coffee series. Hayley works at PLAN (Post Landfill Action Network), is a board member of the 603 Initiative and is involved with the Dover Arts Commission, the Dover Climate Change Steering Committee and the local 20x20 Pecha Kucha presentations. We chatted about everything from how to make change happen to the perceived rivalry between Dover and Portsmouth.
Hayley is proud Dover resident. Portsmouth is undoubtedly the “capital” of the Seacoast and Portsmouth residents never forget it. But, as one elderly woman anecdotally told Hayley, “Dover is the new Portsmouth.” Dover has a larger population than Portsmouth and has its own identity, community life, vibrant arts scene and burgeoning downtown. Hayley also has the sense that it’s easier to make big changes quickly in Dover even if the community lacks some of the organizational structures that Portsmouth has. At the same time, Dover residents seem more willing to branch out and explore nearby towns than their Portsmouth counterparts. Portsmouth residents are definitely missing out. There’s exciting stuff happening in Dover and throughout the region such as Leaven Beer and Bread, a bakery/bar in Somersworth founded by young NH natives who returned to their hometown after some time away.
As a student at UNH, Hayley designed her own academic program that combined economics, ecogastronomy and Italian. Those diverse interests eventually led her to PLAN, a startup founded by a local UNH grad which partners with colleges nationwide to envision zero waste solutions. As Director of Partnerships, she works with organizations from all over the country. Over the past year, PLAN’s network grew from 6 universities to 45 today. Despite this rapid increase, Hayley is concerned by the sometimes insular nature of the zero waste movement. She sees pockets of activity on the West Coast, New York City and Vermont but less engagement elsewhere. That’s no reason to give up, though. Hayley pointed out that PLAN itself was only made possible by founder Alex Freid’s limitless dedication in combination with a supportive academic/business community at UNH. She also noted that zero waste goes hand in hand with good old New England thrift. What we understand as “sustainable” or “green” today was common sense a couple of generations ago. To paraphrase Freid, “Waste” is just another word for resources in the wrong places; it’s all about logistics.
Hayley recognizes that while there might be some great “green” products out there, behavioral change can only go so far. She suggested pushing for change on a municipal level goes a lot farther than buying reusable water bottles. People aren’t likely to change their behavior unless the cost outweighs the benefits. The behavior vs. system change argument also tends to ignore that “green” products are oftentimes beyond the everyday means of many Americans. Finding ways to include more people in the discussion, build bridges between disparate communities and create a more diverse leadership are necessary for the movement’s ultimate success.
Since Hayley’s professional life revolves around reducing waste, the conversation turned to ways in which architects and the building industry can reduce waste and reuse materials from demolition and construction sites. There is certainly a lot of opportunity for this but financial constraints and a lack of political will have hindered past efforts. There is also the issue of coordination; parts and pieces fall by the wayside and some materials are rendered useless by the process. What if there was a central location where salvaged materials could be sorted and inexpensively resold for new projects? Speaking with Hayley, it seems like the possibilities for waste are pretty much endless.
Some other things we touched on during our conversation with Hayley:
·Dover residents pay for waste by the bag. I wonder how Portsmouth residents would reduce household waste if there was a similar fee?
· While there is some mass transit that connects the Seacoast, how could it be improved to meet the needs of people who work irregular hours and facilitate more social interaction between communities? Weekend party bus anyone?
· Do you ever find yourself being that dork who won’t stop chatting about politics at the bar? If you’re young or young at heart, The 603 Initiative might be right up your alley. The organization is all about fostering youth engagement in the Granite State and advocating for things like affordable housing, walkability and good jobs to attract young people.
· Even though Hayley has some reservations about behavioral changes in the fight against climate change, the problem takes poking and prodding from every imaginable angle. Individual actions, political lobbying and direct action are all parts of the solution but not the solution.
· There is no “away.” When you dispose of waste, it ends up somewhere and our actions have consequences.
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