Like a few of the other original Tahoe Truckee Earth Day committee members who had been involved with the event from its infancy, I stepped aside this year from organizing efforts. It feels strange for all of us who passed the torch to watch from afar, but as with all things volunteer, it’s also a huge relief not to be consumed with the stresses and never-ending chores of putting on a colossal community event. I was curious how things were coming along for this year’s event at the Village at Squaw Valley and excited to learn about how it was going for Earth Day veteran and IVGID Waste Not guru, Madonna Dunbar, and one of the new head honchos, Emily Williams. (Williams is co-chair along with Lisa Cashel.)

Moonshine Ink: As one of the longtime Earth Day organizers, what do you look forward to most about the event each year?
Madonna Dunbar: In general, I look forward to the event every year. As a planning committee member for more than 10 years now, I have had the opportunity to see this event grow from a small gathering of a few hundred people to become the area’s largest regional event focused on environmental education, sustainable lifestyles, green businesses, and the promotion of individual change.  

I think people come to Earth Day every year to learn how they can make changes towards a more sustainable lifestyle in appreciation and support of this beautiful area where we get to live, work, and play. Also they get to have a rocking good time!

MI: What do you dread, if anything?  

I dread missing most of the day’s entertainment, because I am too busy with our Drink Tahoe Tap and Waste Not booth and running the zero waste project!

MI: What are your biggest challenges with the zero waste effort, and why is it so important?
MD: Getting people to take the time to sort their trash. We are so tuned in as a society to simply jettison a used item in the nearest trash can. Each year I am challenged to remain enthusiastic about the zero waste efforts, since it seems a gargantuan task to teach people how to sort their own garbage. People see garbage as waste. We need to shift our thinking and look at these materials as easily reclaimable resources. Our trash possesses a huge ‘urban mining’ potential.

The zero waste efforts are an integral component of the ‘walk your talk message’ we promote at the Earth Day events.

We recruit a small army of volunteers (25 to 30 people) to staff the zero waste stations, plus haul and weigh all the materials. This is a huge effort — to monitor, collect, and divert the waste from 6,000 people. It is a killer! However, the efforts greatly reduce the environmental footprint of this event and serve as an interactive education method.
MI: Is there anything new you are attempting to implement this year with zero waste?

MD: We are dressing all the zero waste volunteers in very visible, lime green T-shirts to help brand the zero waste project and identify the volunteers more easily to the audience. We are adding zero waste stations over by the Squaw Cable Car in order to broaden the area of coverage for the effort. We are asking people to forgo bottled water and are providing water dispenser stations.

And now some questions for Emily Williams…

MI: Could you tell our readers briefly what your background is, describe your day job, and explain how you got involved with Earth Day?
Emily Williams: I’ve been working in the outdoor recreation and environmental education world for over 15 years, and have been with the Tahoe Rim Trail Association as the Director of Trail Use for two years. I’m fortunate to direct all of the programs and education offered by the Tahoe Rim Trail Association — everything from 15-day backpacking trips to youth programs. I also serve as the vice-chair of the Parasol Community Collaboration, and through the collaboration was contacted by past Earth Day leadership about taking on the role. My colleague and friend, Lisa Cashel, and I had a brief meeting with the past Earth Day chair [Suzanne Wilkins] and we somehow both accepted the role of co-chairs for the 2010 event.
MI: Has the task of taking over Earth Day organization been overwhelming, moderately difficult, or a breeze for you?
I’m very fortunate to be sharing this role with my co-worker and very close friend, Lisa. It’s very convenient that we already work together, and this was an easy transition for us to spend time away from the TRTA to work on Earth Day. Because this is our first year, there have definitely been overwhelming moments that we have worked through. We’ve been working hard to pull all the many pieces together, and are extremely thankful for the others on the Earth Day committee that have been so instrumental in helping to make things happen. Being chair of this event would be so much easier without a full-time job; it really is a lot of work. Although, the first year is always the most difficult. I’m excited to move forward after this event with more organization and a better idea of how things operate.
MI: Has the down economy been a factor in getting sponsors and booth participants?
The economy has definitely been a factor in financial sponsorships. Many people don’t realize that this 6,000-plus person event is created and coordinated by a committee of all volunteers, most of whom give their time in addition to working full-time jobs. The entire event is run on a very small and closely monitored budget, so having past sponsors at the $500 level say that they aren’t able to donate this year takes a huge toll. We’ve had to really tighten everything in our budget this year, and are very thankful for the in-kind sponsorships given to us from folks like Moonshine Ink and the Sierra Sun.

MI: Any final thoughts?
EW: Celebrate your community, all things local, and come out [to Earth Day] and have a good time!

For info about Tahoe Truckee Earth Day, visit

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