Warrior Words: Caring for the earth starts in your own community

Oh, fall. A few precious months of crisp air, falling leaves, and… a barrage of alarming news reports about severe hurricanes devastating the southeast. Though news coverage of hurricanes Michael and Florence has dwindled since the initial pandemonium in early autumn, it continues to disturb me that storms like these are becoming a predictable occurrence each year. The effects of climate change are increasingly wreaking havoc, from last year’s Hurricane Harvey to this past summer’s heat wave to the number of excessively rainy days we’ve experienced this season. Reading about and experiencing these effects is disheartening, considering that my generation reportedly will face much worse in the decades to come.

Fortunately, even though we can’t stop these deadly storms in a heartbeat, this community is making efforts to become more sustainable. Wilton High School recently implemented a Zero Waste initiative to encourage students to separate their waste into compost, recycling and regular garbage bins. Though students are still adjusting to this new policy, it is a step in the right direction for our school, which can now serve as a model to other institutions in Connecticut. Furthermore, Wilton High School’s Recycling Club is working on several initiatives to promote environmental awareness within the school and community. One of these is our textile recycling program, which encourages Wilton students and residents to place their used clothing in bins in the high school’s senior parking lot rather than simply throwing them in the trash to be taken to a landfill. These programs require minimal effort from students, only an understanding that we all have the responsibility to help combat an issue of increasing urgency: wasteful energy consumption .

Other ongoing community initiatives deserve attention and support from Wilton residents, including the efforts of Today’s Industrial Living Landscapes (TILL), an environmentally focused nonprofit, to regenerate the Gilbert & Bennett Wire Mill in Georgetown. The former factory is now a contaminated brownfield that could be made economically viable for the community if developed. TILL’s plan for phytoremediation, an environmentally sound method of regeneration using plants instead of harmful chemicals, makes perfect sense for the old Gilbert & Bennett mill. But the special taxing district placed on the site by the town of Redding has made it incredibly difficult to gain access to it.

For the past two years, I’ve been working with TILL to raise community awareness about what is happening with Gilbert & Bennett and how it can become an asset to Fairfield County without negatively affecting the environment. While reading an article on Facebook about the closing of yet another restaurant in Georgetown, I noticed one comment from a Wilton resident making the valid point that the wire mill, if developed, could help the area’s local businesses thrive. In its current state, however, the building is beneficial to no one. Most adult Wilton residents and many high school students are aware of its existence, but the legal obstacles surrounding the wire mill have created confusion and general passivity about its potential for new ownership. In order to build up Georgetown’s economy, and, in turn, that of surrounding towns such as Wilton, there must be a stronger push for action at Gilbert & Bennett.

I like to think of my town as a place that actively supports positive change. From the Relay for Life event held each spring to the more frequent food drives, library soirées, and bake sales for charity, Wilton certainly conveys a spirit of generosity and compassion. To all who read this column, I urge you to lend that enthusiasm to environmental initiatives as well, whether they take place in the Wilton Public Schools or in the neighboring community of Georgetown. The current economy, prospects for sustainable growth to benefit the next generation, and even the health of our climate depend on our shared efforts. And we may as well start making changes right here, where we live.

Chloe Mandel is a senior at Wilton High School. She shares this column with five classmates.