Sonoma County's 'Green Mary' hard at work
Published: Sunday, October 7, 2012 at 2:40 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, October 7, 2012 at 2:40 p.m.
If you were at Golden Gate Park's huge Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival this past weekend you might seen Mary Munat, in the garbage.
A closer look would have revealed that Munat, a Windsor resident known throughout the Bay Area and beyond as Green Mary, was in fact expending most of her energy and effort on non-garbage.
For more than a decade, her chief reason for being has been to educate, cajole, pester and shame organizers and attendees of large, public events to move aggressively toward generating no trash to be buried in landfills.
Fifty years old and fearless about getting dirty for the sake of a cleaner, healthier planet, Munat runs a company that seeks to demonstrate it is possible for virtually everything a human being might consciously drop into a waste can to be composted into soil booster, recycled or pulled out, cleaned up and used again.
A week ago, she and her Green Mary Zero Waste Events crew worked the GranFondo festival at Santa Rosa's Finley Community Park. She considered it an environmental triumph that the water provided was poured from large canisters into personal plastic bottles or reusable cups.
“Fifteen thousand people and no plastic bottles,” she beamed. “Some events really, really get it.”
This past weekend, Munat charged the organizers of the three-day Hardly Strictly festival $55,000 for her and several dozen seasonal employees to collect, sort and oversee the removal of the tons of discards produced by the crowd of hundreds of thousands of music lovers.
So she has come a long way since the Sonoma County festival of a dozen years ago that set her on a course to preserve resources and cut greenhouse gas emissions and environmental pollution by shrinking the waste stream.
The transforming event was the 2000 Health & Harmony Festival. Munat worked as the volunteer coordinator and took a break from those duties to hear Julia “Butterfly” Hill, the eco-activist who'd occupied a redwood tree on Pacific Lumber Co. land in southern Humboldt County for more two years.
Up on the festival stage at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, Hill halted her tale on the inter-connectedness of living things when she spotted festival cans filled with trash.
Hill lashed out at her audience for acting concerned about the environment but generating loads of garbage. Munat remembers her declaring, “I won't be back until this event is green.”
“I ran from there crying,” Munat said.
Soon afterward, she became Green Mary.
She'd been getting by as a “as a housekeeper, a housepainter, anything I could do to stay afloat,” but she struck upon a new calling.
Munat began to make herself available to organizations that produce large events and that might be happy to be relieved of the task of putting out receptacles, sorting and disposing of discarded materials — and complying with California laws mandating efforts to reduce the flow of discards from such events to landfills.
She worked alone for a few years as her reputation and the demand for her services grew. Beyond putting out bins — green for food and compostable plates and utensils, blue for such recyclables as cans, bottles and printed paper and black for drinking straws and candy wrappers and other refuse bound for the landfill — Munat pleads with organizers and participants to strive to place as little as possible in all the bins.
She operates her own eco lending library of washable, reusable plates, cups, wine glasses and utensils that party hosts and event planners can use instead of disposables.
She envisions a behavioral quantum leap that will lead the typical person to swear off plastic water bottles, plastic or paper shopping bags, paper napkins and such and to reduce their flow of landfill-bound garbage to or near nil.
Munat's heart is warmed to see people carry a reusable water bottle or traveling coffee cup, and she recommends the good feeling that comes from making it a practice to carry a washable napkin, silverware and reusable container for a to-go meal or restaurant leftovers.
Green Mary said she's not at all certain that it's already too late in the game for humans to save the planet from the harm done from exploitation of resources, greenhouse gases and pollution, but she's having a good time doing her part.
As she sees it, for people to resolve never again to buy a plastic water bottle or shop without a fabric bag “is us realizing that everything we do matters.”
“It's a way of taking yourself seriously,” she said. “It's saying, ‘I'm one of 7 million, but I'm a big one.' ”
You can reach Chris Smith is at 521-5211 and email@example.com.
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