CERO-ing in on the recycling business
By day, Guadalupe Gonzalez did backbreaking work cleaning commercial office buildings. At night, she picked bottles from the trash, selling them to earn valuable extra money to support her family, one nickel at a time. Gonzalez is not alone, but is, in fact one of thousands of hidden workers in the “green” economy, individuals driven to sort and collect waste to generate badly need income.
Determined to put the breaks on unacceptable wages and working conditions, Guadalupe and a team of MassCOSH worker center members joined forces with the Roxbury-based Boston Workers Alliance last summer to forge their own green economy: a cooperatively owned recycling, reduction and composting business.
The cooperative, Cooperative Energy Recycling and Organics (CERO), helps local restaurants and other area businesses save money and improve the environment by helping them sort their waste, which CERO then collects and sells. Cero is zero in Spanish – a play on zero waste.
“I’ve been recycling for 20 years, now we can earn a living while protecting the environment,” said cooperative member and MassCOSH Worker Center President Josefina Luna to a crowd of supporters on July 9. The event was held to celebrate CERO launch campaign to raise critical funds for the new business.
CERO's waste separation systems will enable the cooperative to dramatically increase reclamation and sale of clean paper, plastics, metals, waste vegetable oil, and organic food waste.
“In our first year of operation, we will be able to reduce our customer trash sent to landfills and incinerators by 50%,” said Lor Holmes, a cooperative member and business manager. “We will be able to divert more than 1,000 tons of organic food waste and return it to the food chain as rich composted soil.” Holmes’ position was funded through MassCOSH with a seed grant from the Barr Foundation.
At the launch event, Holmes took the opportunity to discuss a groundbreaking relationship the cooperative formed to raise funding with the crowd-funding on-line website, Indiegogo.com. CERO needs the funds to pay for specially designed trucks that will hold a variety of waste and to invest in the workers while they generate their first year of income.
CERO was chosen by nationally renowned investor Cutting Edge Capital as one of three organizations to be featured on its Indiegogo.com Partner Page. The 45-day campaign will launch on July 22 and raise seed money for a much larger direct public offering. In preparation, CERO worked with Quilted Co-op for branding and website development and award-winning documentary filmmaker, Kelly Creedon, who produced videos that CERO will employ to promote the co-op online and in the community.
“Getting to this point hasn’t been easy,” explains Stacy Cordeiro, a cooperative expert who guided CERO members through an intensive business development and planning process. “The people in this cooperative have sacrificed so much to make this cooperative succeed; issues of health, family, housing, and even loss of a member, who on his deathbed was talking about being a member of the cooperative,” said Cordeiro, referring to long-time MassCOSH volunteer Luis Serrano. Serrano had wholeheartedly dedicated himself to the cooperative, frequenting the MassCOSH office weekly, but succumbed to an illness this past spring.
To Evelin Fuentes, another CERO and MassCOSH worker center member, the cooperative was a dream come true. “Now we can earn our money here in our communities, and we can invest it here,” she said.
Working for themselves has also been deeply rewarding for CERO’s members.
“We will no longer have to depend on big companies that just get rich from our work,” said Guadelupe.
Tim Hall of the Boston Workers Alliance agrees.
“When learning about green jobs opportunities, a light bulb went off in my head,” said Hall. “We can create jobs for ourselves.”
Jonny Arevalo, a MassCOSH organizer, pointed out another important distinction of the cooperative.
“It’s the first recycling cooperative to bring together low-income Latino and African American communities,” says Arevalo. “That’s important because its immigrants and people of color that often get the most dangerous, worst paying so-called ‘green jobs.’ Through CERO, we are saying that green jobs can and should be decent, safe jobs.”
Like all new businesses, CERO can use your support. Starting on July 22, please visit www.indiegogo.com to help make CERO’s vision of good, safe green jobs a reality. More information will also be posted on MassCOSH’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/masscosh.