CHS English and Spanish teacher Mrs. Shawn Sinacola has always cared about trees, flowers, and wild spaces, but former student Jenna Gileczek (‘18) inspired her to start living a zero waste life.
“She sent me this Trash is for Tossers TED Talk that she’d watched for one of her environmental studies courses in college, and I was immediately hooked,” Sinacola said. “We swapped ideas and I started researching more. It became an obsession. One zero waste decision led to another.”
The first steps she took to start living an environmentally sustainable life was to read up on the subject. She got three books from the Chelsea District Library on zero waste living: Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson, The Zero-Waste Lifestyle by Amy Korst, and Zero Waste: Simple Life Hacks to Drastically Reduce Your Trash by Shia Su.
“From these books, I learned how to eliminate single-use products in my personal, professional, and social life,” Sinacola said. “I learned how to make toothpaste and deodorant, buy in bulk from the co-op by bringing my own containers, and compost almost everything (including cat litter in it’s own compost bin), among many other strategies for reducing our waste.”
She finds other benefits than just the knowledge that she’s treading a little bit lighter on the planet when living a zero-waste life.
“We save money by not having to constantly purchase single-use products: paper towel, napkins, toilet paper, toothpaste, deodorant, ‘recyclable’ plastic bottles and containers, and feminine hygiene products, because there is a zero waste solution for everyone one of these disposable items,” she said.
Sinacola is also heavily involved with Arbor Club, which started in 2016 with her first AP Literature class. The class was studying The Black Walnut Tree by Mary Oliver, when Consumers Energy offered Sinacola and her family $5000 to cut down their black walnut tree. She presented the facts to her students and asked them to debate whether the tree should be cut down.
“In the end, as in the poem, they helped me decide not to sell the black walnut tree,” Sinacola said. “Meghan O’Neill (’16) wrote a poem for our class called ‘arbor.’ The class performed the poem for Mr. Kapolka, and afterwards he agreed to let us plant the Alumni Arbor.”
Arbor Club has since merged with Bio Club, and they work together to maintain the trees in the arbor. A tree has been planted for every class that has graduated from CHS and every class that graduates will also plant a tree.
“The master plan goes 100 years into the future,” Sinacola said. “It is our hope that the CHS Alumni Arbor will continue to grow long after we are all gone.”
Her advice to anybody looking to start living a more environmentally friendly life is to research and educate yourself on zero waste alternatives. Consider, calculate, and address your carbon footprint. Talk about and encourage positive change among your friends and family. Speak up where you see waste and harm being done, and change your actions to mitigate such waste and harm. Lead by example.
“I am very much looking forward to the day that we can return to some sense of normalcy and resume our Arbor Club efforts,” she said. “All students are welcome to join our club and participate in our school-wide activities.”
Like the trees planted in the school’s arbor, Sinacola has planted a legacy sure to stand in generations to come.