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May 22, 2007


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Sustainability Town Hall forum held at Liberty Hall

The next time you go to the grocery store, why not save your plastic bags to reuse, or better yet, bring a cloth bag? That was one of the many ideas discussed tonight at a sustainability town hall forum held at Liberty Hall. Enlarge video

People use more power to keep their microwaves plugged in constantly than they do to actually cook things.

That's according to Simran Sethi, a writer who was one of 15 panelists Monday night at a town hall forum about how to make Lawrence more environmentally friendly.

About 200 people attended the Sustainability Town Hall at Liberty Hall, 642 Mass.

Among them was Constance Wolfe, who approached the microphone to tell the panelists she worried about her own impact on the environment but was looking for everyday ways to make a difference.

"I just feel so overwhelmed," she said.

At the urging of moderator Tim von Holten, the group of panelists came to her aid. Sethi, a recent Lawrence transplant who writes for, rattled off a list of easy ways to make a difference, including bringing your own bags to the grocery store, using a reusable aluminum water bottle, buying foods grown close to home instead of shipped in from far away, turning off lights when leaving a room and unplugging unused electrical appliances.

Panelist Bryan Welch, a Lawrence area resident who publishes Mother Earth News magazine, added using compact fluorescent light bulbs and installing more insulation to the list.

"We could go on all night," Welch said.

Hosts for the event were Liberty Hall, the Wakarusa Music and Camping Festival, Zephyr Energy and The World Company, which owns the Journal-World. The panel included city and county commissioners, community leaders and representatives of city agencies.

A common theme throughout the event was that people don't react well to having changes forced upon them, even if it is for the cause of protecting the Earth.

"I think people ultimately will do what's rational economically," said panelist Charles Jones, a county commissioner.

Said Welch, "No one wants to be guilt-tripped."

One audience member asked why the city doesn't have a curbside recycling program. Panelist Bob Yoos, the city's solid waste manager, said the city is preparing a survey on whether there's enough demand for a program and whether residents would be willing to pay the costs associated with it.

He said it would take an upfront investment of $5 million to $6 million, plus an additional $1.9 million to $2.8 million per year, which translates to anywhere from $8 to $12 tacked onto monthly household utility bills.

In the meantime, panelists pointed out, there are plenty of private businesses in Lawrence offering the service.

Yoos drew applause from the crowd when he suggested that the state begin a program to charge a refundable deposit on bottles and cans.

Talking about recycling, though, is just scratching the surface. One audience member stood up and said, "The problem is overconsumption."

Another audience member described the difficulties she had with contractors while trying to build an environmentally friendly home. She said city building codes need to be revised to promote more "green" building practices.

Erin Besson, 24, stood up to say, "I feel that Lawrence as a whole doesn't promote cycling."

Audience member Mininder Kaur described going to a store in South Africa and being charged to use plastic bags - which, incidentally, were made in Kansas from corn products. She said human cultures have been finding ways of dealing with the waste they create for "eons," and that people shouldn't act as if it's a problem that has come out of nowhere.

"What we lack is a will," she said.


RKLOG 10 years, 9 months ago

"One audience member stood up and said, 'The problem is overconsumption.'" Amen to that. Overconsumption is one of the few things that citizens of all income brackets have the power to control. You don't need a license or building permit to reduce.

pelliott 10 years, 9 months ago

We really need to hit the codes hard, it is illegal to build with sound, tested methods and material that have successfully been incorporated in many other states and cities codes. The standard cookie cutter developers will scream at this. But is the codes to protect the people or the developers? That is a question for this commission. Can they serve both the developers and the people? It actually would serve the good developers those who want to offer a quality product.

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