Who we are

About Waste for Life

Waste for Life supports educational and community strategies that
actively facilitate systemic environmental and social justice change.

Our founding program, Waste for Life, aims to reduce the damaging
environmental impact of non-recycled plastic waste products and to
promote self-sufficiency and economic security for at-risk populations
who depend upon waste to survive. We use scientific knowledge and
low-threshold/high-impact technologies to add value to resources that
are commonly considered harmful or without worth but are often the
source of livelihood for society’s poorest members. Our twin goals are
to reduce the damaging environmental impact of non-recycled plastic
waste products and to promote self-sufficiency and economic security for
at-risk populations who depend upon waste to survive.

Our second and recently launched program, Standing People Together,
emerges from observations working alongside many threatened communities
throughout the world, of the need for a critical reconnection of people
to people and people to nature. Our Forest Exploratorium, based on our
home site of Cala Munda, in Hankins, NY, provides nature-based play and
learning for children, professional development for teachers, and a
retreat to explore environmentally just alternatives that foreground these connections.

Our vision

Waste for Life believes that broad and equal access to society’s resources are the foundations of a just society. Our mission is to provide access to scientific knowledge and technology, usually circumscribed by privilege, to people living on society’s margins. We leverage our network to open up pathways towards autonomy and genuine economic security for people who need it most – those living at the intersections of waste and poverty. Our work is value-driven because it is based upon principles of solidarity, cooperative interchange, and social justice. It is political because we put our values into action.

Raymond Williams captures the simple principle that unites those who are committed to the Waste for Life project:

 It is only in a shared belief and insistence that there are practical alternatives that the balance of forces and chances begins to alter. Once the inevitabilities are challenged, we begin gathering our resources for a journey of hope. If there are no easy answers there are still available discoverable hard answers, and it is these that we can now learn to make and share. This has been, from the beginning, the sense and the impulse of the long revolution.

We are our network, and our network is built upon partnerships with people who share our vision and a belief that values not acted upon are of little value. We are students, academics, and professionals engaging in research, development, and design who make the outputs of our work freely available for others to use and extend. We are the community groups and cooperatives, which take those outputs, build them, shape them, and turn them into initiatives that meet our local needs. We leverage our diversity to implement creative solutions to complex and persistent social and environmental problems.

Education is central to Waste for Life’s mission. We rely on strong ties to universities for materials research, technology development, and product design. (See WFL Research for details.) But we give back what we take. When WFL projects are integrated into university curriculum, that curriculum broadens the norms that traditionally prescribe most areas of study or practice: the disciplinary one — how we do what we do — and the market one i.e., how we make money for whoever hires us. By bringing social and environmental norms into classrooms and linking them to interdisciplinary and collaborative experiences, which are necessary components of our work, WFL offers students alternative ways of practicing their skills and an alternate purpose for their professional goals.

Robert Wells, a former RISD student, says it best.

Waste for Life Lesotho began in the summer of 2006 and Waste for Life Argentina began one year later in July 2007. Waste for Life Sri Lanka, our newest project, began in 2015. Our work is and has been supported by teams from the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina; the Instituto Nacional de Tecnología Industrial, Argentina; Queens University in Kingston, Ontario; the University of Naples, Italy; the University of Western Australia in Perth; the Rhode Island School of Design and Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island; Imperial College, London; The National University of Lesotho, Lesotho; Lerotholi Polytechnic, Lesotho; our partner universities in Sri Lanka, the Universities of Jaffna, Moratuwa and Sri Jayewardenepura, and dozens of individuals who share our commitment to seek innovative ways of challenging social and ecological injustices.
Waste for Life, Inc., the 501(c)(3) not-for-profit social benefit organization, is transparent. We are ultimately responsible to a Board of Directors, but we tell you what we do and how and why we do what we do. We believe this transparency builds knowledge because we share our successes and failures so that others can use and reuse our collective work to further their own projects in their own contexts. Waste for Life, the network, is open. Its direction is in the hands of the community, transitioning organizational governance toward a decentralized and distributed model. This means that resources may be developed and administered off-site by organizations under no obligation to Waste for Life, Inc. though we may rely or benefit from those resources. Openness puts the direction of the network into the hands of those who can best articulate its needs – the end users. Openness transitions the role of management from leaders who define and implement a vision based on personal experience or expertise to facilitators who create an environment where direction emerges based on critique, collaboration, participation, and shared values.