Local 'Zero Waste' teacher and champion Sunny Galbraith gets North Bay Spirit Award
When Sunny Galbraith dropped her cellphone into a toilet she didn't do what most people do - console herself by turning the accident into an opportunity for an upgrade. Instead, the Sebastopol teacher and environmental activist looked for a refurbished phone to replace it.
“She had a Blackberry until a year ago,” said her friend and fellow activist Abigail Zoger in describing Galbraith's dedication to minimalist consumption, even on a micro level. “Living in a modern society it's hard to not leave a footprint. But Sunny is a person who tries to walk her talk.”
Galbraith, 45, tries to leave as small a print as possible. She rides an electric bike to work, brings her own plate to events, washes plastic bags to line dry for re-use. She doesn't even own a dryer.
It's all in service to her pet cause - reducing the amount of waste in the world.
A science and math teacher at Orchard View School in Sebastopol, Galbraith founded and oversees a student-run compost and recycling program on campus and at the neighboring Apple Blossom School. Over the past 13 years, the effort has diverted more than 90,000 pounds of organic and recyclable material from the landfill while instilling in children an ethos for the environment. The compost that comes from their worm bins is sold for $5 a bag.
When there's a community event, she's one of the “greeners.” From The Sebastopol Farmer's Market to the Peacetown summer concert series, Galbraith is there with a “Zero Waste” crew of youthful volunteers to make sure that everything is recycled, composted and cleaned for re-use rather sent off to the landfill. Often that means collaborating with Mary Munat and her Green Mary Team.
At the Sebastopol Fire Department's annual pancake breakfast earlier this month, that meant hand-washing 900 plates, cups and forks. A day later, Galbraith washed the tablecloths herself. Even while talking about the massive task, she laughs, something she manages to do almost reflexively.
That authenticity, along with an infectious optimism and a belief that small acts collectively can make a big difference, has made her an inspiring and effective leader in the North Bay environmental movement, particularly when it comes to promoting the zero waste movement that aims to transform our throw-away society.
Galbraith is this month's recipient of the North Bay Spirit Award. A joint project of The Press Democrat and Comcast, it honors everyday heroes for grassroots community service that goes above and beyond normal volunteering. The award puts a spotlight on people who come up with creative solutions to community problems and go all-in for a cause with a leadership style that inspires others to step up.
Admirers say Galbraith has a special gift for marshaling volunteers with an approach that is patient, nonjudgmental and inclusive. She meets people where they are and scopes out their strengths, making it easy and fun to participate.
“She emanates brightness like her name,” said Kyla Ehrenreich, who nominated her for the award. “She's positive and inspiring, friendly and motivating.”
Henry Mikus, engineering manager for the city of Sebastopol, serves with Galbraith on the city's Zero Waste Subcommittee and said she is persuasive without being pushy, which warms people to her message.
“She has a dynamic personality and she doesn't let things get in her way. She perseveres. She's not obnoxious,” he said. “She tells you what she thinks but she's got this nice ready smile that kind of disarms people.”
Galbraith, who sits on multiple task forces and boards dealing with waste reduction and diversion, earlier this year was instrumental in persuading the city of Sebastopol to become the first city in the county to pass a Zero Waste resolution. The measure is now making the rounds among other cities in the county, with the goal of reducing the amount of waste each person produces per day - now at 4.6 pounds - by 10% a year and ultimately, to divert all waste from landfills by 2030.
Galbraith also was a major force behind a companion ordinance in Sebastopol put forth by Zero Waste Sonoma that bans the sale or use of disposable dinnerware, clamshell containers and cheap ice chests made of nonbiodegradable polystyrene foam. It goes into effect next month. Galbraith chairs the Zero Waste North Bay Task Force, where environmentalists and government officials join those in the recycling, waste hauling and composting industries with a shared passion for reducing the amount of refuse that goes into landfills.
Galbraith said Sebastopol nurse Kenna Lee, a climate change activist who founded the local chapter of 350.org, proved to be one of her most significant mentors, demonstrating how to turn anxiety into positive action.