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Greening your garbage


Oscar the Grouch, that lovable Sesame Street character who lived in a garbage pail, has nothing on Mary Munat.

Sure, the green puppet sang about how much he loved trash. But Munat — "Green Mary" for short — feels the same way, and puts her passion into action, striving to help organizations produce zero-waste events and championing other environmental causes.

Munat's main businesses are "greening services" and waste diversion. Her target customers: event organizers. When she's hired, Munat becomes a green consultant, advising the organizer on how to prevent waste from ending up in landfills. She also sorts all garbage produced at the event by hand, composting and recycling whatever possible before the trash is carted away.

"I never realized I could be so passionate about garbage," quips the 49-year-old Windsor resident. "It's not just a career for me; it's a way of life."

This way of life began unexpectedly, in 2001. Munat was the volunteer coordinator for the annual Health and Harmony Festival in Santa Rosa, and she heard eco-activist Julia Butterfly Hill speak about the more than two years she spent living in Luna, a redwood tree in Humboldt County.

As Munat tells the story, the speaker interrupted her own presentation to scold the (largely progressive) crowd for overflowing garbage cans at the back of the facility.

Munat left the talk in tears and vowed to make a change.

The next year, Munat started with light greening at the Health and Harmony Festival. Her business, formally named "Green Mary," of course, grew from there. Today, her company has nearly 100 seasonal employees and provides waste diversion for upward of 100 events each year.

Events range in size from small nonprofit luncheons and conferences to marathons and large music festivals such as the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco.

"Our work at these events is not only about the immediate impact, but also about raising awareness," she said. "If we're not educating the attendees and participants about how they can change their lives, we're doing nothing but enabling."

Munat accomplishes this education through a variety of approaches. First, she has developed an extensive network of resources for every component of eco-event production: local organic farmers (for produce), bicycle valet parking, alternative energy sourcing, the hauling of used vendor oil and the emcees who shout out the green message from the stage.

She and her team members also place "Earth Tip" signage around the events to give participants ideas for how to live lighter once leaving. Suggestions include getting off junk mail lists and ending a reliance on bottled water.

Munat's clients appreciate this attention to detail.

Genevieve Taylor, vice president at Global Genesis, a consulting firm in Windsor, has worked with Munat numerous times, and continues to be amazed at the niche "Green Mary" has carved.

"She gets this huge smile on her face, she has gloves on her hands and she's proudly lifting up pounds and pounds of garbage," said Taylor, who first worked with Munat at the inaugural Sustainable Enterprise Conference in Rohnert Park in 2006. "Her efforts have solidified for me that we really can make a difference."

Like any good environmentalist, Munat constantly is reinventing herself and adding to her eco-friendly message. Over the past few years, through her work with a spiritual organization called Green Sangha, Munat has taken up the crusade against plastic bags in Sonoma County.

She also has worked tirelessly to raise awareness about the perils of coffee production (she claims the only coffee that doesn't harm songbird ecosystems is shade-grown, fair-trade).

Down the road, she hopes her legacy represents a combination of all of these endeavors.

"The environment is at the core of everything I do," she said. "When I see degradation, it's like slapping my God in the face. These things are, quite literally the very least I can do to try and keep our world the way it needs to be."

When she's not advocating for the environment, Munat likely is skiing at Tahoe, or rollerblading around Sonoma County. She also dotes on her 8-pound chihuahua, Amigo.

As for the nickname, Munat says the "Green Mary" moniker is still open for debate. The name was given to her by volunteers during her second year of greening the Health and Harmony Festival. Still, considering that people often mistake it for "Queen Mary" and "Clean Mary," she admits she's thought of changing it.

"If &‘Reuse Mary' had a flow, I'd go with that," she joked. "At the end of the day, the name doesn't matter as much as the result anyway."