The end goal of a just transition is an equitable and regenerative economy. That means an economy centered around well-being and care of all people and the environment. It means instead of throwing resources away, we recycle and reuse them.
In the U.S., most of our “waste” goes straight to the landfill. This includes more than three out of every 10 pounds of paper and paperboard, almost four out of every 10 pounds of yard trimmings, and almost all of our food waste. (We only composted 4.1% of our food waste in 2018!) We send millions of tons of useful materials that could be recycled or composted to landfills, polluting our soil and air in the process.
Many of us in Washington are appalled by this reality. We know we can do better. We know we can create a circular economy that meets all of our needs and doesn’t devastate our planet.
One program supporting the just transition to an equitable and regenerative economy is NextCycle Washington. NextCycle Washington, funded by King County’s Solid Waste Division, Washington Department of Ecology, Washington Department of Commerce, and Seattle Public Utilities, offers two opportunities to local entrepreneurs and their circular economy projects: a Circular Accelerator and Renew Seed Grants.
“By nurturing projects that incorporate waste prevention, repair, reuse, recycling, and/or composting models, the NextCycle Washington program helps develop equitable local economies while reducing waste, keeping materials in use longer and regenerating natural systems.” – NextCycleWashington.com
NextCycle’s first Circular Accelerator launched in October 2022 with a cohort of 16 teams, most led by women and/or people of color. The Circular Accelerator provides business and technical support, mentorship, access to a professional network, and a chance to pitch to potential funders and investors.
One of the teams participating in NextCycle’s first cohort, a team who also participated in New Economy Washington Frontline Community Fellowship’s first cohort, is Restaurant 2 Garden. Restaurant 2 Garden is a hyperlocal composting operation that takes food waste from two restaurants in Seattle’s International District (85 to 100 pounds every week), composts the food waste, and distributes the nutrient-rich compost to elder BIPOC gardeners with plots in the Danny Woo Community Garden.
Restaurant 2 Garden presents a beautiful example of an equitable and regenerative economy project. It is led by and serves local community members, providing non-exploitative opportunities for employment and connection, and keeping resources in the community. Food waste from local restaurants nourishes the growth of community-cultivated culturally appropriate foods. Furthermore, Restaurant 2 Garden nourishes intergenerational relationships, uniting ancient and contemporary composting methods and providing the means for youth volunteers and elder gardeners to interact and learn from each other.
Right now, Restaurant 2 Garden has four paid employees and many dedicated volunteers. Through the NextCycle Washington Circular Accelerator, they hope to expand their capacity to compost food waste from more restaurants and create a plan to expand into more communities. At their current capacity, they can’t create enough compost to satisfy the Danny Woo Community Garden’s demands. They’re looking for a larger space on level ground, as well as more volunteers!
Volunteers don’t need to have any experience in composting. This is a great opportunity to learn. If you’re interested, contact [email protected].
Learn more about Restaurant 2 Garden and donate to their project here: https://www.seattleparksfoundation.org/project/restaurant-2-garden/
In addition, NextCycle Washington is now accepting applications for Renew Seed Grants through November 16, 2022. Renew Seed Grants provide funding to incubate new businesses or projects within Washington’s circular economy. Learn more and apply: https://www.nextcyclewashington.com/renew-seed-grant
We at People’s Economy Lab love to hear and share stories about BIPOC just transition practitioners and BIPOC-led organizations building a new, regenerative economy in Washington! Thank you to Kamal, Lizzie, Joycelyn, and Jenn for advancing a just transition and sharing your work with us. (Kamal Patel, Elizabeth Baskerville, and Joycelyn Chui were all 2021 New Economy Washington Frontline Community Fellows.)