Alisa Shargorodsky is the founder and CEO of ECHO Systems, a Philadelphia member-based network of businesses, organizations, and community members intent upon—through its actions—eliminating single-use waste. She is a graduate of the School of Urban Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Alisa's professional and academic focus is on source reduction, systems design, Zero Waste, and the Circular Economy.
What inspired you to start working for progressive social change?
Everyone has a different idea on what “progressive social change” looks like. However we all share the same needs and we all depend solely on this planet. In order for us to have a healthy society, both physically and mentally, we must have a reciprocal relationship to Earth. This is why I feel most inspired to work towards Environmental Justice (EJ). This is obviously something that impacts all people living on this planet, however these issues impact marginalized communities more and there are less safeguards for those living in poverty. I am inspired by the possibility of everyday people empowering themselves to have honest conversations about climate and to strengthen our reliance on local circular economies which are more sustainable. I am also incredibly inspired by the individuals I know and work with who devote their lives to making this a better world across a variety of sectors.
What do you identify as the top issues progressives must confront locally, nationally, and globally?
I think the biggest issue that goes grossly understated is the over-proliferation of plastic and polymer based chemicals found in everyday products we interact with. Recently author Rececca Altman wrote a piece in The Atlantic that gives the reader a face-to-face look at the lurking consequences of our industrial development and its implications on human health.
Materials that each of us interact with daily are leaching into our bodies and we have to talk about it to move past this collectively. We keep having these climate summits but at the end of the day, when we look at our market structure we can very quickly see that we live in an economy deeply steeped in fossil fuels. This is at the root of most of our problems. As a scholar in the field, I honestly can say that people really need to pay attention to this. Every item we buy is packed in plastic, it’s migrating into our food, altering our endocrine systems and we don’t even know it’s happening. It’s quite alarming.
What types of organizing and projects are you working on right now?
I am the founder of a local organization called ECHO Systems. We are building a reusable infrastructure locally. My background is in Urban Studies and Design. At ECHO we design models to reduce single use waste locally and specifically within the entertainment, food and grocery sectors. We have worked with clients such as Live Nation, Weavers Way and most recently the Philadelphia Department of Health to train their teams on safety and reusables. We also worked with Circular Philadelphia on a recent restaurant owner webinar and a quick start guide featured on the Philadelphia Office of Sustainability page. Weavers Way Food co-op is our current most exciting project. It is our first grocery store. We are helping them to move towards a deposit system. During the pandemic, across three locations, they sold 20,000 32 oz soups in plastic. ECHO Systems helped their IT department adapt to a reuse model. Customers pay a deposit on their container, when they return it they get their deposit back. Many of us don’t realize that every single thing we purchase, that package cost is attached and it’s more than you think. So far we have circulated almost 2,500 containers in just a few months. It’s really impressive and exciting. We can’t wait to help more businesses do this and watch the culture shift.
How can folks get engaged and involved?
Right now we are inviting folks to join our mailing list HERE. Also, there are a ton of ways to get involved, mostly in your own life by paying attention to how much plastic waste you generate. Your coffee cups, plastic bags…all of it. Just pay attention. Then go on and get yourself a reusable water bottle and start educating yourself on local and national legislative movements like the Break Free From Plastic Act.
The rest will fall into place. Oh and talk to your kids about it. They learn from observing what we do and sometimes we learn a lot from them as well. Young people are leading the way and we need to follow.
Which journalists, writers, podcasts, and publications do you turn to for information and inspiration?
Well locally Cyril Mychelejko of course … Can I get some snaps?
I am inspired by Democracy Now! I also listen to this amazing podcast called For The Wild. I find myself often reading The Guardian, The Atlantic, and Mother Jones. As far as journalists, I mentioned Rebecca Altman earlier, she’s amazing. I also thought the article written by Abrahan Lustgarten titled Where Will Everyone Go, illustrates the reality that climate refugees face and what we can all potentially look forward to if we don’t start acting.