By Jill Bernstein
Over the past four years, a public-private partnership called the Rural Environmental Outreach Program has been raising awareness across Arizona of resources available to help rural communities fight blight and solve waste-diversion challenges. As partners in this program, representatives from Keep Arizona Beautiful, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality’s Recycling and Brownfields Assistance Programs, and the Arizona Department of Transportation’s Adopt a Highway Volunteer Program have traveled to 30 cities in every corner of the state to provide informative overviews of resources, strategic planning and project development assistance.
The Rural Environmental Outreach Program began with Environmental Resource Roadshows (ERRs), which are free sessions focused on bringing information to rural communities. The presentations are scheduled during the lunch hour, in easily accessible locations, to make it convenient for elected officials, city and county staffs, business leaders, local community groups and members of the public to attend. ERRs explain the benefits of joining the Keep Arizona Beautiful affiliate network, how to use the statewide litter hotline and how to adopt a stretch of highway to keep clean. Participants explore ideas and resources for developing effective, sustainable recycling programs and combatting food waste, including grants and other sources of funding to help communities put potentially contaminated properties back into productive use.
A statewide survey of 36 communities revealed that the number one environmental concern citizens identified was illegal or “wildcat” dumping. The second most common issue was a lack of recycling resources. In response, ADEQ began developing a series of toolkits for communities to use, including its E-Waste Recycling Toolkit, and Keep Arizona Beautiful developed the Illegal Dumping Prevention Toolkit.
While the toolkits were a good starting point when tackling the issue of illegal dumping, it was discovered that communities needed more help identifying and convening key stakeholders, facilitating thoughtful conversations, identifying specific challenges and planning step-by-step approaches to create sustainable solutions. It’s one thing to get a site cleaned up; it’s a whole different challenge to prevent the problem from recurring. It requires education, outreach, and long-term waste-diversion solutions.
In response to this need, Keep Arizona Beautiful developed the next level of its Environmental Outreach Partnership: Rural Environmental Action Planning, or REAP. Working with a local host, stakeholders from as many areas of the community as possible are brought together for an in-depth planning session to clarify the specific details of the local problem, identify existing resources, identify needed resources, create a step-by-step action plan with clear responsibilities and reconvene at regular intervals to keep the process moving forward.
To date, the partnership has begun working with four communities through the REAP program: the Kayenta Township – Keep Kayenta Beautiful (on the Navajo Nation), the City of Safford, the San Carlos Apache reservation (Keep Apache Land Beautiful) and the White River Apache reservation. Initial action-planning sessions have been held to build step-by-step action plans for each community. The challenges of overcoming these issues are real, but the collective efforts of engaged citizens are making a difference.
The reach of the REAP program will be expanded in 2018. If your community is interested in learning more about available resources, contact a member of the partnership to schedule an ERR in your town. Or, if you want to tackle a larger-waste diversion challenge in your community, ask how the REAP program might work for you.
Environmental Outreach Partnership:
Jill Bernstein, Keep Arizona Beautiful, firstname.lastname@example.org; 602-651-1227
J.B. Shaw, ADEQ Recycling Coordinator, email@example.com; 602-771-5613
Jennie Curé, ADEQ Brownfields Coordinator, firstname.lastname@example.org; 602-771-2296
Jill Bernstein is the Executive Director of Keep Arizona Beautiful, a statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering communities to take care of their environment through litter abatement, recycling and beautification.