University of Wyoming Janitor’s Grain of Sand

At last week’s Shepard Symposium on Social Justice, my husband and I sat talking as a student walked by.

She was headed for recycling bins labeled trash, mixed paper, cans and glass.

It’s where a University of Wyoming janitor was tidying up.

As the student carrying a soda bottle approached, the custodian directed her to the correct container.

Curious to know if I’m the only one who finds such bins and labels confusing, I asked if people comply with the campus sorting system.

See the source image

“I think of my grandchildren inheriting the planet, and I know this work is my grain of sand.”

“No,” the custodian said, pulling the lid off a can and delving for misfiled recyclables.

“I spend a lot of time going through trash and doing it myself.”

Then in a barely audible voice she added, “I think of my grandchildren inheriting the planet, and I know this work is my grain of sand.”

And that was the moment of recognition.

Clearly we were in the presence of the extraordinary.

Here was one person doing her job from a place of tender care for future generations.

Here was social justice in action — a living example of what Cornel West says “. . . love looks like in public.”


To Consider


Ellen Webster Synakowski lives in Laramie, Wyoming.

New Year’s Pledge: I’ll Reduce by 75% the Amount of Single-Use Plastic I Contribute to the Planet

Pasta straws

In 2019 I promise to refuse 75% of the single-use plastics that I accepted in 2018.

Just last week my family and I had dinner at a seaside restaurant that served pasta straws made by the Amazing Pasta Straw company. 

The ingredients? Flour and water.

And in the three hours we drank through the same ones for water, soda and iced tea, they neither disintegrated, get slimy nor formed any sort of yucky sediment in the drinks.

My review is that they are a perfect, compostable alternative to plastic and even paper. 

“. . . We are trying to solve a huge world-wide problem — one straw at a time.”

And for anyone preferring not to come into contact with gluten, Paradise Cove (where we had Christmas lunch) offers paper straws.

So while I understand that moving toward a zero waste lifestyle isn’t easy — it takes planning and currently can cost more — the planet is suffocating in the absence of these changes.

Zero Waste and Single-Use Plastics

And speaking of zero waste, there is a new company in Denver called Zero Market that offers items in their store and by mail order that make generating less waste easier.

In Laramie, Wyoming where I live, and oodles of other places, co-ops feature walls and aisles of bulk items from tea to olive oil to dish detergent that are cost effective and kind to the environment because they lack bulky and wasteful packaging.

Zero Market, on Dallas Street
in Aurora, Colorado

In 2019 I promise to refuse 75% of the single-use plastics that I accepted in 2018.

So here is a partial list of what I commit to reducing and eliminating in 2019:

•  plastic straws
Already I don’t use them in restaurants, and when occasionally they are served wrapped in plastic or paper, I ask that they be removed. I also carry bamboo and steel ones with me.

•  restaurant food leftover containers
I will begin to bring my own glass container when I know I’ll be eating out.

•  produce grocery bags
You know those green ones that rip off a roll.  I recently bought a slew of organic cotton ones from pataBee.

•  grocery store bags
This one is easy, and many mid- to large-size towns have expectations that shoppers will have their own.

•  hotel amenities
I started bringing my own soap, lotion, shampoo and conditioner and leave the small plastic containers right where I found them.

•  plastic cutlery —forks, spoons, knives
I started carrying in my purse a bamboo set – and yes, remembering they are there is sometimes the hardest part of the plan. 

airline plastic cups
Help! I get thirsty, and this one is harder . . . any ideas?

•  plastic water bottles 
I’m going to be better about carrying a water bottle with me.

“. . . the planet is suffocating in the absence of these changes.”

So . . . what about you?

Take Action!

Encourage local restaurants to use pasta straws. The publicity they get will be great, and drinking from pasta is fun!

Watch Jeff Bridges talk about pasta straws (5 minutes into the Colbert interview).

Check out the Amazing Pasta Straw company.

Shop online at Zero Market.

Find local co-ops to support and while there, buy bulk food using your own containers.

.   .   .

Ellen is a native of northern Maine. Her interest in getting to know Wyoming focuses on ways people and organizations help and protect individuals, wildlife, beauty, and rights. She is a HeartMath® trainer and coach, a Connection Practice trainer and coach, and a biodynamic craniosacral therapist. Her website is: and her email is

“Remember that justice is what love looks like in public.” – Cornel West

Civility Leads Climate Discussions

Citizens' Climate LobbyDiscussions at Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL) are led by civility.

Wesley Frain, Wyoming’s founding member, says CCL also stands for courtesy and listening.

“Whether we’re talking to people on a national level or in our communities, we address concerns cordially.

“We strive to build relationships,” he said.

The mission of CCL is to “create the political will for climate solutions . . .”

And the remedy they propose is twofold.

•  First — a carbon fee on fossil fuels and other greenhouse gases

•  Second — carbon fees become dividends to all American households34

Therefore, CCL’s integrated solution equals a carbon fee + a dividend.

“We exist to create the political will for climate solutions . . .”

Not surprisingly, studies show that implementing this plan will reduce carbon emissions to half of 1990 levels within 20 years.35

And at the same time nearly three million jobs will be created.36

Economics Drive Climate Discussion

Frain says conversations involving CCL are surprisingly non-confrontational.

“I bypass the whole climate science debate and go right to economics.”

And that’s when things get interesting.

“We’re focused on currency and dividends and building relationships at CCL,” he said.

Weekly information calls explain CCL’s plans for the greatest change to happen in the shortest amount of time.37

Environmental Issues and Social Justice

Frain says environmental issues and social justice are deeply connected.

“Climate change disproportionately impacts poor people,” he said.

“And justice means making sure everyone has an equitable chance at a successful life.

“Those who don’t have resources can’t move away from changes caused by climate,” he said.

“For instance, people living in Bangladesh and other low-lying areas are going to be severely affected.”

Wesley Frain
Wesley Frain, Wyoming’s Citizens’ Climate Lobby founding member.

“Climate change disproportionately impacts poor people.”

Frain says local resistance to transitioning from coal is driven by fear.

Specifically there’s worry that state services such as roads and education will suffer.

“But,” he said, “we need to be thinking about these things now.

“About solutions.

“Coal is giving way to wind and solar in so much of the world.”

Wyoming CCL chapters exist in Casper, Laramie, and Cheyenne.

And with nearly 500 chapters worldwide, Citizens Climate Lobby is ready to be part of the solution.

climate lobby in DC
CCL members lobbying in Washington, DC

Click here to see a
1.5 minute CCL intro video




Take Action!

•  Find a local chapter of CCL

•  See the 2017 movie The Age of ConsequencesClimate change, including climate-based migration, are discussed from a military perspective. (Dreadful music and nonstop bad news aside. . .)

•  Join a CCL weekly Wednesday introductory call.

Related posts:

•  Hole Food Rescue Feeds 1,000 in Jackson, Wyoming 

•  Kate Muir Welsh and the Social Justice Research Center at the University of Wyoming

•  •  •

Ellen Synakowski lives in Laramie, Wyoming.
Her website is

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.1  — C. West