When we first arrived at the GAIA offices in Berkeley, CA, Monica offered to make us some coffee. I already had my tea in my reusable mug (he he), but Phil will never pass up a cuppa joe. While she put the water on, we browsed her office. It is filled with GAIA’s publications, many on topics I have been trying to research myself since we began our journey: trash gasification, more information on incinerators, and more, the job creation potential of recycling, information on green energy subsidies for incineration projects, and many more that I didn’t have a chance to browse before the water boiled.
Monica Wilson, GAIA’s U.S. and Canada Program Director, has always been an activist. In grade school she campaigned for girls to play regular softball, not just t-ball (and was successful!). In high school she worked to set up her school’s recycling program. Working to change things is a lifestyle for Monica.
We first encountered GAIA as the ‘Global Anti-Incinerator Alliance.’ But as we began to speak with Monica we realized that their second name – ‘Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives’ – also speaks volumes about what they do. GAIA is an organization that brings together over 650 groups across 90+ countries. Each member works on issues specific to their local community, either working to close or stop incinerators or landfills, or to promote alternative waste management solutions. In particular, GAIA is a big promoter of ‘zero waste’ goals, and many members are groups that perform or support recycling services. Members share information, experiences, and support each others’ efforts.
GAIA and its members often work as major supporters of communities trying to stop incinerator construction. In particular, Monica told us about Pilar and Roxanne who are fighting to keep an incinerator out of their town, Gonzales, California.
Other GAIA members are groups that perform recycling services and advocate for recycle workers. Monica told us about recycle workers in Alameda County in the Bay area where workers are hardly compensated for their difficult and dangerous work. GAIA members also support recycle workers and waste pickers around the world, with groups in Brazil, Senegal, India, and beyond.
GAIA is in an interesting position because their partners are so diverse. While talking about garbage creation from ‘over consumption’ may make sense to a North American audience, it can have very different meanings for people living in less affluent contexts. Consume less may be an appropriate response if you own a Hummer and can’t find your seat belt under all the empty Starbuck’s cups, but it doesn’t quite make sense if your last five dinners were a potato baked in the ground after a hard day as a waste picker on a dump.