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Sustainable Living in Fort Wayne

Written by: Communicator StaffMarch 21, 2018

Written By: Brittany Smith

People are more aware and concerned about the state of the environment than ever before.

And for some, just recycling no longer enough.

According to a Pew Research Center survey, 75 percent of people say they are concerned about helping the environment in their daily lives.

Polly Barks, a lifestyle blogger based in Lafayette, said she was always environmentally conscious, and tended to live minimalistically due to constant traveling. So two and a half years ago she decided to start living as a minimalist.

“I guess being minimal is just being super conscious about what you bring into your life,” Barks said. “So whether that means you have 10 books or 100 books, making sure that everything has some kind of value and not just buying into that mindless consumerism that is pretty easy to fall into.”

After moving from Russia to Lafayette, Barks gave up her career as a teacher to focus on her blog, “Green Indy,” where she writes about her trials and educates others on how to lead a zero-waste lifestyle.

Through her blog, Barks said she hopes to show others the lifestyle is not expensive or difficult to maintain. She said people can start with the small stuff, like refusing straws and plastic bags, before building to bigger stuff, like composting.

Barks also said a trash audit, which is essentially digging through garbage to see how quickly waste adds up, is another good place to start. There are online resources for those who live in areas without physical resources like she does.

Barks said Indiana is not a hotbed for this lifestyle yet, but she hopes it will be one day.

A few people and businesses in Fort Wayne have already caught on to this lifestyle. Becky Gonzalez, a part owner of Bravas, lives what she calls an environmentally conscious life.

“My mom always had reusable bags, we always recycled, we always did things and I never really realized those were things not everyone did. I just thought that was normal,” Gonzalez said. “The more I learned about what happened to things after we threw them away, or how things are even made in the first place, it started to make me realize how much of an impact we have on the environment every day, without even realizing it.”

Gonzalez said a lot of the ideas surrounding zero waste were new to her at first. She said there are books, such as “Plastic Free” by Beth Terry, and documentaries that have helped educate her on the products she used in everyday life and where they came from.

Gonzalez’s lifestyle has impacted how she runs her restaurant, Bravas, which she owns with her brother, Bo Gonzalez, and Ted Doak.

At the start, Bravas was just recycling what they could. Becky Gonzalez said she was the only one asking what more they could be doing to make Bravas an environmentally friendly restaurant. Eventually, after she continued to push, the restaurant started taking steps toward being green. Now the rest of the staff is making suggestions.

Gonzalez said Bravas uses only local farms to supply their beef, pork and chicken, and all their kitchen scraps are taken back to the cows at Wood Farms.

Bravas also refrains from using straws or excess napkins and the food trucks no longer sell bottled water but rather ask customers to bring their own reusable water bottles to fill or use a paper cup. Gonzalez said even these small changes changes have saved the business money.

David Van Gilder, a Fort Wayne attorney and adjunct professor at IPFW, said people would be surprised to learn how easy it is to be environmentally conscious.

Van Gilder moved to Fort Wayne in 1988, and he said since then he’s seen many changes on the environmentalist front, including an increase in the number of businesses attempting to operate as environmentally friendly, like Bravas does.

“People are demanding it, people are saying, ‘Look, that’s what I want. I don’t want stuff that’s not sustainably sourced.’ And so that’s been a radical change,” Van Gilder said.

Van Gilder said the city did have not a citywide recycling program when he relocated to Fort Wayne. He teamed up with others and started the first R-Day, where people could bring in their household recyclables to be sorted and separated. After that, the group behind R-Day started advocating for recycling to be included in the city’s waste management contract. And eventually, it was.

Van Gilder said when he teaches his environmental classes at IPFW, he challenges the students to think about their food choices. While some students come up with excuses, he said by the end of the semester a handful of them have changed their habits.

He said the students he teaches now tend to be more aware of their environmental impact as well. Some have grown up in a household where recycling was standard, like Becky did.

“When they do it, they find that this really is not that difficult, and it actually makes me feel better about my life,” Van Gilder said. “It’s not that different, you just have to make some conscious choices.”