Before 2008, Santa Barbara County dumped 1,500 tons of trash into its single, expensive landfill on the Gaviota Coast, but after decreases from recession-level consumption and increased awareness about recycling, Tajiguas Landfill now receives only 600 tons of trash each day, said the landfill’s refuse leader Ed Dimock. Across town at the Art From Scrap store headquarters for the environmental education program Explore Ecology, the new executive director takes partial credit for that reduction.
Lindsay Johnson, who took the helm of Explore Ecology in mid-December, has spent 11 years educating thousands of the county’s elementary school kids on waste reduction and water quality conservation. Johnson said one of the best ways to decrease waste is by teaching children to fix the cultural disconnect between knowing where trash goes and throwing everything away.
“With elementary school kids,” she said, “the enthusiasm is so high, and it’s such an exciting time for their learning and growth, that when they go home and tell their parents about it, it’s really the best way connect with the larger community. They can tell their parents they don’t want to buy a package of Capri Suns, and instead they want a reusable water bottle.”
Art From Scrap, which rebranded its education programs under the Explore Ecology umbrella in 2012, reaches more than 25,000 students in the county every year — a number that Lindsay Johnson has made it her mission to expand. Currently, the Explore Ecology program runs school gardens at over 35 schools across the county and coordinates field trips for elementary students on waste reduction, water quality, and the watershed. By the end of this school year, Johnson said, every elementary school in the Santa Barbara Unified School District will have a school garden monitored by one of their instructors to ensure that the garden will be sustainable.
One of the biggest challenges Johnson faces is fundraising. Even though Santa Barbara is full of wealthy individuals who donate to charity, she said her organization has struggled to find financial support for the school gardens program. “Currently, we are working really hard to generate more donors, and historically we’ve had a really low individual donor base,” said Johnson.
So, in one of her first actions as executive director and with the long-term goal of increasing community engagement with their programs, Johnson shut down their reused art supply store, Art From Scrap, for a remodel. With help from her stepfather contractor and donated construction materials from local businesses, her team remodeled and organized the store.
“Now, the new clean and fresh store is what I am most proud of,” Johnson said, as she walked comfortably through the aisles of sorted wine corks, fabric samples, empty film canisters, and spiraling, neon skateboard wheel shavings. “My goal is to make the Art From Scrap store the creative hub for Santa Barbara, so that we can ignite people’s creativity and curiosity and educate as many people as we can about why we’re doing this and why we want people to make less trash in the first place.”
The remodeled store was revealed on Friday, along with a gallery opening of the “Nature Literacy” exhibit upstairs, to a well-attended crowd of people eager and impressed with the new space. Johnson herself was also formally introduced at the event as the new executive director.
Moving into the future, Johnson said that she thinks the momentum from an unlikely source will continue to increase interest in the store: Pinterest.
“Pinterest has really sparked people toward this whole new trend of do-it-yourself projects, and the reuse store is a great resource for those projects,” she said. For this reason, Johnson plans on adding a workshop area to the store for interested customers, which she hopes will provide Explore Ecology with a cushion of revenue to support its education programs.
On April 25, Explore Ecology will be hosting a large fundraiser for its school gardens program at the Bragg Institute in Goleta.