Becky Goyton is a fellow Steele Elementary parent, which is how we originally met. Within the first five minutes of our conversation, I was overwhelmed with inspiration from this woman who makes it her mission to live sustainably.
Moving here from San Fransisco must have been a culture shock. How did you find yourself making this transition?
Living in San Francisco for seven years, I was accustomed to environmental sustainability being a priority. Curbside recycling and composting were everywhere, public transit was a daily part of my life, walking to dinner was easy, and farmers markets were open all year. So when the possibility of moving to Denver came up, naturally I was concerned if I could maintain sustainable habits here.
My husband and I told our Realtor that we wanted an older home near public transit, easy access to green space, and the option of walking to dinner and amenities, and thankfully he introduced us to Wash Park. Ultimately, this neighborhood is what made the transition for us.
You are a pioneer for Denver Recycles, and have been with them since you moved here from California. How did you find yourself in this career? Did you always know you wanted to be an environmental activist?
After hearing a recycling educator speak at my middle school, I became interested in waste prevention and rain forest conservation. This led to me studying ecology in Brazil, interning at a recycling center, and getting my undergraduate degree from CU Boulder in Environmental Studies. After starting my career with a non-profit focused on community cleanups, I moved to San Francisco and joined the city’s Department of the Environment where I helped lead their environmental education efforts and recycling and composting programs for schools. As luck would have it, a month before moving to Denver, a job opened up at Denver Recycles and I got it.
You are a shining example of someone who walks the walk. Tell us some of the changes you’ve made in your household to weaken your carbon footprint, and live a more sustainable life?
There’s a quote by The Zero Waste Chef, Anne Marie Bonneau, that says, “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” I am certainly not a perfect environmentalist, but every time I make a small change it gives me hope.
That’s why I recently started biking to work, try to avoid products that contain palm oil, and although our family is not vegan, set a goal of making two vegan dinners a week.
My passion lies with waste prevention, which means we’ve always composted, but more recently we’ve focused on reducing food waste. In the United States, 40% of all food is wasted and most of that comes from consumers. I stick to a grocery list planned around meals, always eat our leftovers, and try to find ways to use up food, like making croutons from stale bread.
Because I know how much waste (energy, water, etc.) goes into making disposable products, we’ve swapped out packaged items for ones that we can refill and reuse. Rather than buying paper towels and napkins, we use cloth cleaning towels and napkins bought from thrift stores. And bringing our reusable water bottles, coffee cups, snack containers and grocery bags on the go has become habit. But reducing the amount of packaged items I get at the store has been more of a process. I started by opting for produce that does not come in any packaging and putting it directly in the shopping cart or my own cloth produce bags. Then I began looking at what foods I can get in my own cloth bags from the bulk bins, which actually turns out to be quite a bit. And with more unpackaged items and refill specialty stores popping up around Denver, I’ve been swapping out personal hygiene items like floss, toothpaste, shampoo and soap for refillable or unpackaged options.
Your seven year old definitely follows in your footsteps. What is the best way to approach talking about the environment with our kids in an effort to motivate them to start healthy habits now?
Working in environmental education, I’ve learned from kids that it’s important to model sustainable behavior for them, insist that it’s not about being perfect, and illustrate how their choices can have a positive impact on the planet and people. I love seeing waste reduction, recycling, composting and gardening programs in schools and empowering students. Practicing sustainability at home can also give a child the confidence to initiate taking action. My daughter now chooses to bring home paper napkins from restaurants to compost, picks up litter on the playground, and asks me to teach her to mend holes in her pants.
How can we as a neighborhood do better? I know on our block, there are only three compost bins in the alley. What changes would you like to see us make by the end of 2020?
Denver and much of Colorado lags behind when it comes to keeping trash out of the landfill. The city’s waste diversion rate is just 23%, so we have some work to do if we want to reach our 2020 goal of 34%, which also happens to be the national average. About 21% of Wash Park households participate in the Denver Composts program. Considering most participants cut their household waste in half, it would certainly help get us closer to our 2020 goal if more of our neighbors used a green compost cart.
I encourage everyone to review the City’s recycling guidelines to ensure they are putting the correct materials in their purple carts and maximizing the amount we recycle. One common mistake I see is people bagging their recyclables in plastic bags which usually results in the material inside the bag not getting recycled. And if you regularly can’t fit all your recyclables in your purple cart, then request a larger or second cart from the City.
Just because a material isn’t accepted in the purple or green cart, doesn’t mean your only option is to put it in the trash. Denver Recycles offers seasonal and drop off events throughout the year including LeafDrop, Treecycle, holiday lights and electronics recycling, and household hazardous waste pickups by appointment. Additionally, the Denver Recycles online directory has hundreds of listings for places that accept hard-to-recycle items. Visit www.DenverGov.org/DenverRecycles for all the details.
Finally, I’d like to challenge our neighbors to refuse disposable products and find ways to reduce the amount of packaging they purchase in the first place. We can all stop waste before if even starts.
How do you spend your free time? Do you have any favorite spots in Wash Park?
I love old things and spend some of my free time at estate sales and refinishing vintage and antique furniture. I’ve got a major sweet tooth so I like to bake, and one of my favorite spots in Wash Park is the counter at Devil’s Food Bakery enjoying a treat with my family and then heading to Sports Plus to check out their used gear. Anything in the park is fun, but we always look forward to summer concerts put on by the Denver Municipal Band and picnics with friends.
We hope that this article encourages you, our neighbors, to sign up for the Green compost bins, because 21% just doesn’t seem good enough. We can do better! Thank you, Becky, for your words of wisdom and encouragement. We hope to make you proud in 2020!