Green local heroes

Ten people and organizations highlighting Rhode Island’s environmental vanguard 
By IAN DONNIS  |  November 7, 2007
Eugenia-Marksinside
TAKING CHARGE: Marks made a significant difference by answering the call to help clean Rhode
Island’s beaches.

Decades after the birth of the modern environmental movement, the US and other nations are still struggling to come to terms with humanity’s impact on the planet. Look around and it’s all too easy to see evidence of our wasteful ways, whether it’s the SUVs clogging highways or the throw-away packaging used to wrap your lunch.
 
Yet the growing awareness around global warming — which has come about mostly in the last two years — suggests how we can begin to begin to come terms with the legacy of a looming man-made catastrophe.
 
The related movement to go green, to offer a more sustainable future, is growing in Rhode Island, as elsewhere. Here’s a look at some of our state’s leaders in this effort.

The power of one
Eugenia marks shows how individuals can make a difference

Ever feel a bit powerless in the fight for a better planet? Well, stop being a self-pitying slouch and get moving. Eugenia Marks offers proof positive of how even an individual can make a big difference in making some real environmental progress.
 
Marks, who works as the senior director for policy at the Audubon Society of Rhode Island, has for years organized volunteers to help clean and document the trash littering beaches around the Ocean State. Over time, the effort has grown to encompass 86 sites, up from an initial five, and more than 1500 people take part.
 
Since cigarette butts are the most common form of local beach trash, Marks successfully lobbied for a “voluntary ban” on smoking at state beaches, and seemingly as a result, far fewer butts were found littering the sands during this year’s cleanup.
 
The advocate says she spent a lot of time outdoors, fishing in tidal rivers and the ocean, while growing up in central Florida, although she didn’t become a professional environmentalist until she was in her 40s. After a wide-ranging career in which Marks worked for the Poetry Society of America, as an educator in inner-city Atlanta, and a proponent of community gardens in Chapel Hill, she earned a master’s in environmental studies at Brown after coming to Rhode Island in 1972.

While that was a long time ago in terms of the environmental movement, Marks defines her outlook by the changes that still need to take place, rather than the strides that have already been made. Considering how most people still require a greater appreciation of the wider effect of their actions, she says, “The trash we see on the beach is just an indication of our lack of respect for the environment.”

A better way to do take-out
Giving new life to recycled bottles

Ever feel a twinge of guilt while tossing yet another take-out food container in the trash? It doesn’t take a committed environmentalist to realize that this kind of disposal — multiplied exponentially across America — equals a staggering amount of waste. According to SmartCycle, a Jamestown-based company, more than 25 million tons of plastic packaging is sold in the US every year. And while this quantity is enough to fill Yankee Stadium to the brim more than 500 times, less than five percent of it gets recycled.

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