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  • Lars Lawson

Polly Barks: IRC Recycling Rock Star

Updated: Sep 15, 2021

Celebrate the awesomeness of Polly Barks by donating to the IRC in her honor. Your tax-deductible contribution will help the IRC reach its 30th Anniversary fundraising campaign goal and helps fund our education and advocacy projects – and more

It all started in 2015, as Polly Barks waited for a bus in Indianapolis. She had recently moved to a high poverty area, and unfortunately, the area was also high in pollution. While she waited, the view of plastic and styrofoam surrounding her inspired her to make a change. She explored the realm of zero waste and never looked back.

Barks is now a dedicated sustainability educator committed to change the way the world perceives waste. She acknowledges all the environmental threats we currently face, with climate change, pollution, deforestation, and other issues challenging our world. Barks creates change by teaching individuals about these issues and how they can help. 

“Everyone wants clean air, and everyone wants clean water,” said Barks. She is determined to educate people on the limits of these resources and about the opportunities to improve access to these resources. 

Barks also emphasizes the importance of community in the effort to create environmental change. She recognizes that she has privilege. Her recycling is collected, she has access to clean water, she can purchase fresh food, and she can buy products that are made without waste. Barks knows that not everyone has access to these opportunities. 

Barks distributed over $3,000 worth of zero-waste products to people who otherwise couldn’t afford the initial price. She utilized both the local food bank and general community outreach.

In her lessons, she teaches that sustainability-needs are different everywhere. There is no copy-and-paste solution for waste reduction for everyone. She encourages environmental experts within communities to educate the people around them with the sustainability opportunities available near them to improve both their own lives and their community. 

In 2018, Barks spent over 85 hours hosting in-person and online zero-waste education events. She shows people how to live more sustainably, especially through waste reduction. In this effort, she is a proponent of waste audits. By analyzing what is thrown away, people can then  understand what they waste the most. This knowledge can be used to create new habits, such as composting if they have a lot of food waste, or purchasing unpackaged goods if they generate a lot of plastic waste. 

Barks shows us that producing zero waste is not the only path to sustainability. The opportunities to reduce waste through small changes are endless. This waste warrior proves that with education, we can change how we view and manage waste. 

Written by Maura Heneghan


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