Five Questions With: Frank Carini

Executive director of ecoRI Inc. talks about the nonprofit’s work greening up Rhode Island. More

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Five Questions With: Frank Carini

COURTESY ECORI
“Being green isn’t a stunt. It’s a mindset and it takes planning.”
Posted 1/4/13

Frank Carini is executive director of ecoRI Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to providing public education about environmental and social justice issues and how those intersect.

EcoRI News is the organization’s journalist arm that focuses on stories concerning Rhode Island’s ecosystems, natural resources and public health.

Carini launched ecoRI Inc. in September 2009 after three years as city editor for The Newport Daily News. He launched ecoRI Public Works in 2010 as a consulting service to businesses and organizations seeking to ‘green up’ their events. That organization arm also gives education presentations and runs public outreach campaigns, among other initiatives.

PBN: Your organization is focused on how environmental and social justice issues interconnect. Can you further explain how they do?

CARINI: The health of the environment impacts every person on the planet. However, impoverished and underserved communities are most vulnerable to environmental degradation. For example, there is the issue of food deserts, which deprive some communities’ access to fresh, healthy food. Often, factories or landfills are sited near poorer communities – so-called sacrifice zones – putting residents at risk for disease. Schools in urban communities are built on or near brown fields. This was the case with Alvarez High School on Providence’s South Side, which was built 17 feet from the edge of a heavily contaminated site that formerly housed a silver manufacturing company.

ecoRI News strives to demonstrate to our readers that environmentalism isn’t oatsy-groatsy hippie idealism; it has an urgent and real social component.

PBN: What is the easiest way Rhode Islander residents can be more environmentally sound?

CARINI: Think before you act. By being thoughtful citizens, we can do so much to help the environment. For example, you’re done with your takeaway cup of coffee. Think. Don’t just throw it on the ground. You’d be surprised how much litter is on our streets. We encourage Rhode Islanders to reduce and reuse above all else. Every grade-school student should have to take a field trip to the Central Landfill. People need to understand that their trash doesn’t just ‘go away.’ The sooner we see that our actions directly impact the health of the environment, the easier it will be to create broad support for larger municipal and statewide environmental efforts such as food-scrap collection.

PBN: Is your organization working at all on a ban on plastic shopping bags?

CARINI: As a 501[c] [3] nonprofit, ecoRI Inc. can’t advocate for a legislative cause. Everyone on our staff personally supports a plastic bag ban. The most we can is educate readers about the scourge of plastic bags and the havoc they wreak on our ecosystem. We strive to give our readers the information and tools to guide them toward better decisions and civic action.

PBN: How have state organizations and businesses responded to ecoRI Public Works? Are they taking advantage of your ability to help ‘green up’ events?

CARINI: ecoRI Public Works has been contracted to green up the CVS Caremark Downtown 5K for the past three years. Through our efforts we have diverted tons of recyclables and food scrap, such as banana peels and bagels, from the state landfill. Being green isn’t a stunt. It’s a mindset and it takes planning. So often, event organizers come to us for helping greening their event after all the pieces have been set in place. If the event already has been planned, you can only do so much to ‘green it up.’ If we’re involved early enough, we can arrange for the event to bring in water filling stations and encourage attendees to bring reusable water bottles which is a much greener alternative.

PBN: How have you partnered with local schools to work on driving environmental change in Rhode Island?

CARINI: Our outreach arm, ecoRI Public Works, has given more than a dozen presentations in private and public schools about how to reduce waste in school and at home through reuse, recycling, and composting. Many classes stay in touch with us and ask us questions about recycling and composting. We have worked with interns from Brown University, the University of Rhode Island, and the Greene School. We currently have an intern from Moses Brown who helps with our food-scrap collection program. We believe that engaging young people in what we do is the key to our success as an organization.

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