“I love entropy.” This is how my conversation started with Nikyta Palmisani, the Outreach and Education Coordinator for the Lopez Solid Waste Disposal District (LSWDD, aka The Dump). I scheduled coffee with Nikyta expecting to learn a few data points about Lopez Island’s garbage habits. I left that conversation with that and an entirely new perspective on human consumption.
Even though she never planned on doing what she’s doing now, it turns out Nikyta has been digging through garbage for years. As part of an undergraduate program at UCSD, she spent two months dumpster diving to collect material for a performance art piece she performed in front of the school library.
Though it hasn’t always involved trash, everything Nikyta has done in her career has involved the arts in one form or another. After spending several years as an actor, she became a yoga instructor, with many famous actors as clientele. While working at the Golden Door Spa in San Diego, Nikyta spent a few hours a week at a homeless shelter running an expressive arts program for youth. With support from Wallis Annenberg, she parlayed this into a very successful career as an expressive arts therapist, which took her around the world and eventually took her to the U.N. as an art director for a rainforest non-profit.
“The arts can speak louder than anything else,” Nikyta declared as she continued to tell me about her circuitous route that eventually led to Lopez Island. The arts very loudly told her to take a sabbatical in the summer of 2014, which is when she arrived on Lopez to spend a few months with her parents, who have owned property on the island since 2003. Like so many other newcomers to Lopez, she didn’t necessarily have a plan to stay. Then she met Sandy Bishop. It was Sandy who inspired Nikyta to apply for the position of Outreach and Education Coordinator at LSWDD. All of a sudden, Nikyta had a clear purpose on Lopez; and every bit of her experience up ‘til then – dumpster diving, art therapy and protecting the environment – could be applied in her new role at The Dump.
Since starting in mid-November, she’s brought a new perspective to “Zero Waste” on Lopez. “You can’t talk about waste unless you talk about consumption,” explained Nikyta as she described one of her most notable initiatives so far – the Creative Re-use Salons (CRSs), in which participants are invited to examine issues of waste through arts-based research. After meeting on Wednesdays at the Take It or Leave It (TIOLI), the first CRS group created art pieces to express issues related to human consumption and waste. That resulted in the “No Time to Waste” Art show that just concluded at the Community Center. Selected pieces from that show will be put on display at the TIOLI on May 15.
With Nikyta as guide, I got a chance to check out the “No Time to Waste” exhibit just before it was taken down earlier this week. I was thoroughly impressed – and sobered – by the creativity and poignant messages expressed by this art. Nikyta’s statement about the arts speaking loudly was certainly true in this case.
And if the message delivered by these amazing Lopezian works of art isn’t enough, how’s this for a loud message:
· In 1960, the average person was responsible for 2.7 pounds of garbage every day.
· In 2000, that number rose to 4.7 pounds of garbage every day per person.
· Every year, globally, we produce 25 million tons of e-waste.
Thanks to the vision of people like Sandy Bishop and the hard work of countless volunteers and employees like Nikyta, Lopez Island is chipping away at these staggering numbers. Since the creation of the LSWDD in 2012, waste patterns have shifted. The Dump collects 4300 pounds of items at the Take It or Leave It every week, only 300 pounds of which becomes garbage. That’s 2 tons every week that otherwise would have ended up in a landfill. According to Nikyta, there are three crucial elements to the success of the TIOLI program:
1) People are able to leave their donations for free.
2) Dozens of volunteers contribute their time to sort, reject and organize what’s brought in.
3) There are many people from the community who reuse these donations.
That population is made up of Lopezians and non-Lopezians alike. In fact, The Dump is by far the most popular attraction on Lopez – for both residents and tourists. This fame, combined with hard-working volunteers and innovative leaders, is why LSWDD was just named Recycler of the Year by the Washington State Recycling Association.
As with so many other aspects of this community, the rest of the world has much to learn from Lopez Island’s approach to sustainable consumption (and Nikyta’s love of entropy) . If Lopez’s art speaks louder than anything else, I hope the global community hears this: There truly is no time to waste.