Environmental Forum Covers Sustainability, Legislation and Mr. Trash Wheel

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Environmental stewardship is an important Jewish value. Tikkun olam, or “repairing the world,” refers not only to doing good deeds but also taking care of the world.

Mr. Trash Wheel, the Baltimore Harbor trash collector. Adam Lindquist, keynote speaker at the BJC/Pearlstone Environmental Forum, is in charge of the Mr. Trash Wheel initiative. (Courtesy of Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore)

On Tuesday, Dec. 19, Pearlstone and the Baltimore Jewish Council held its annual environmental forum at Beth El Congregation. There, they discussed sustainability and advocating for upcoming 2024 legislative session bills with an environmental focus, mainly the Maryland Beverage Container Recycling Refund and Litter Reduction Act and the EmPOWER Maryland Reform Bill.

The BJC and Pearlstone hold this forum every year, but this was the first one held since Pearlstone merged with Hazon to become the wider-reaching Jewish environmental organization Adamah. But Abigail Snyder, the director of government relations at BJC, ensured that this merge will not have any significant effect on the planned programming.

“I love planning this event. It’s so fun to be able to partner with individuals that we work with in Annapolis during the legislative session and to be able to give them a platform to share their work with our community,” Snyder said.

Planning for the annual environmental forum starts several months in advance of the event itself, as Pearlstone and the BJC aim to settle on a location for the year’s forum by the High Holidays. From there, they choose a keynote speaker and theme, as well as narrowing down the legislation they plan on centering. This year’s theme is “Be the Change: Advocating for a Sustainable Future.”

Choosing the bills to focus on in November may seem like a last-minute decision, but it can be more effective to wait and see which bills legislators will be sponsoring. “A lot of legislators don’t know what bills they will be sponsoring until later in the fall, so we usually don’t pick our bills until the beginning of November,” Snyder explained. “That’s when it all really comes together.”

This year’s keynote speaker was Adam Lindquist, the vice president of the Healthy Harbor Initiative. A program stewarded by the Waterfront Partnership, the initiative is dedicated to restoring and maintaining the Baltimore Harbor’s local wildlife, as well as providing ways for Baltimore residents to educate themselves about and make use of the harbor and all it has to offer.

Snyder noted that Lindquist was not only chosen due to his work on the Healthy Harbor Initiative, but also for his work on the Mr. Trash Wheel initiative, a related program which was created to capture and contain trash dumped in the harbor.

“I’ve been a huge fangirl of the Mr. Trash Wheel initiative since before I joined the BJC team,” she said. “When I was thinking about who or what would really encompass the basis of the forum, it dawned on me that this Baltimore icon would be the perfect initiative to highlight. I reached out to [Lindquist], who is in charge of the Mr. Trash Wheel caravan as part of his duties as vice president of the Healthy Harbor Initiative. He was thrilled to be a part of the event.”

Of the bills focused on during the forum, the Maryland Beverage Container Recycling Refund and Litter Reduction Act incentivizes citizens to turn recyclable items in to retailers and other drop-off points to collect a small refund. Currently, 10 states have a similar program. The EmPOWER Reform Bill serves as an update to the EmPOWER program created in 2008, which aims to conserve energy.

BJC representatives note that it is important for people invested in tikkun olam to keep up with environmental policy and help out where they can, and the environmental forum provides an access point for those who are interested in becoming more involved with environmental policy advocacy.

“The Jewish community, like so many other faith communities, is rooted in deep relationships to the land and the environment,” said Howard Libit, executive director of BJC. “We think that being active in this space through the annual environmental forum and our advocacy on environmental issues is an important part of our identity and responsibility as the Baltimore Jewish Council.”

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