A skyscraper made out of a beer bottle towers over cardboard streets. Drinking straw telephone poles run in front of an apartment building made of an upside down Burger King cup.
Students from Monarch Community School built this diorama from the litter they found around their school. Their project was part of a contest at Earth Day Santa Cruz, but it would have been hard to find signs of this dark future at the yearly Santa Cruz event.
In an effort to create zero-waste, the Earth Day coordinators implemented a variety of solutions, like a bike valet, a solar-powered sound system, and waste disposal stations with an option to compost.
Earth Day Santa Cruz is part of a larger nationwide event that was started in 1970 by Senator Gaylord Nelson in order to raise awareness about mounting environmental concerns.
Playing in front of solar panels the size of a small house, Peter Weiss, the Singing Scientist, sang the title song off his album “Do as you Otter.”
This main stage, where performers and speakers like Mayor Mike Rotkin made their appearances, ran entirely off of clean energy.
“[Solar power] actually runs the whole band … [it] is capable of doing all the energy needs,” said Casey McDonald, a representative from the local energy company and Earth Day sponsor, Solar Technologies.
People Power, an organization that encourages the use of human-powered transportation, offered free valet service. Thirty bikes, many of them with custom child carriers built onto the back, could be found neatly parked by volunteers.
“[The valet service] encourages people to take alternative ways to the Earth Day,” said Tawn Kennedy, who works with People Power to educate schools about modes of transportation like bicycles, skateboards, and scooters.
People Power also offered special bicycle blended smoothies, with proceeds going towards the initiative to promote bicycle culture in schools from elementary to college.
In addition to the extensive efforts to make Earth Day Santa Cruz a zero-waste event, many groups also worked to create a space of awareness about current environmental issues.
Molly Kirkpatrick, a steward with Save Our Shores, walked around Earth Day with a blue poncho covered in the different refuse she found while cleaning a variety of local beaches. She pointed out a pair of dentures that she discovered and a beer cozy that had travelled all the way from Minnesota.
“Our message is to try and avoid plastics as much as possible, because they don’t totally break down,” Kirkpatrick said.
Santa Cruz County agrees. Mark Stone, the Fifth District Supervisor, opened Earth Day with a speech that addressed past and future achievements in waste reduction.
“As you know, the county and all four cities — Santa Cruz, Capitola, Watsonville, and ScottsValley — have banned polystyrene in take-out containers from local restaurants and food services … and the county has recently put into motion, I’m very proud to announce, a plastic bag ban.”
Later that day, Monarch Community School won the third prize for its project that creatively displayed the litter around the school. The students triumphantly held a giant $200 check above their heads. The trash-filled dystopia they imagined in their diorama is likely to be sorted into the recycling.