Rossano Ercolini and Nohra Padilla are two grassroot environmentalists who believe that a world of zero waste is possible. They won this year’s Goldman Prize, which awards $150,000 to six environmentalists individually who achieve great influence, often against difficulties. These two winners are quite different from eachother. Padilla is a waste picker and Ercolini is an elementary school teacher from Capannori, Italy.
Though their professions are miles apart, their passion lies in close vicinity; striving to reduce the amount of trash (cans and bottles to cell phones and apple cores) that ends up in landfills or burned in incinerators.
Padilla is a third generation recycler of her family. She founded the first grassroots recycler cooperative in Bogotá by gathering her
fellow recycling workers in 1980s. Today, she is executive director of Asociación de Recicladores de Bogotá, translated as Bogotá Recyclers Association. The organization has 24 cooperatives representing 3,000 people. She is also known to have playeds a key role in forming and leading Colombia’s National Recyclers Association.
“Grassroots recycling is a key component of a zero waste system,” Padilla says.
Rossano Ercolini is an elementary school teacher. In 1970s, he began campaigning against incinerators when he decided to build one in his native town, Capannori. He began educating his students and the community about the harms and dangers of incinerating garbage and how it is linked to asthma and other respiratory problems.
“Incineration is no longer wanted or needed in these areas,” Ercolini says. “Instead, they have established comprehensive recycling and composting systems guided by zero waste goals. This has helped improve community health and has sparked strong collaborations between communities and local governments.”