The 17 principles adopted by the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in 1991 have defined the growing grassroots environmental movement for environmental justice. In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the Monroe County Solid Waste Management District (District) asks the public to honor the environment by taking action and teaching others ways of ensuring environmental justice for all.

The environment is not a place you drive to, or a place you visit. The environment is the air you breathe, the water you drink, the land you stand upon. Environmentalism is the protection of those basic things. And that makes us all environmentalists.

The urgent challenge for people today is to take action and care for the earth and the health of all living creatures on the earth. The District reminds the public that reducing waste, reusing as much as possible and recycling influence basic human rights -- the right of all people to live in a healthy environment.

People have rights and responsibilities, and everyone has a responsibility to do their part and love the world with action. Whether it is replacing their household bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs, taking their hazardous materials to the District's Hazardous Materials Facility at Central Recycling & Reuse, and/or switching to organic cleaners to protect water quality, we ask that the public take action.

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There are no garbage police. People have relative freedom to throw anything away they wish. However, they do have options. People can inventory what's in their trash cans, taking out what can be reused or recycled, and they can donate reusable items to District sites or other reuse outlets. People can make a difference in the present, not just in the future.

"The environmental justice movement began in 1979 when a study revealed that different racial groups have unequal exposures to environmental hazards."

Our freedoms are eroded when we are not careful with our purchases and are not careful in how we dispose of things. As Americans, we are fortunate to have many freedoms. However, we cannot be free to increase the waste in the world.

We all have the human right of living in a clean environment, and we all have the human right to be responsible for how we affect the environment. However, in many low-income areas in Indiana and in the rest of the world, people live in environments that are not healthy. The poor and minorities live close to coal-fired power plants and industries that produce pollution.

According to the National Institute for Environmental Health Science, low-income people as a group have worse health than other population groups, as measured by factors including shorter life expectancy; higher cancer rates; more birth defects; greater infant mortality; and higher incidence of asthma, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The complete picture of how poverty helps create these health disparities is not understood, but there is increasing evidence that economically disadvantaged groups are burdened with a disproportionate share of residential and occupational exposure to hazardous substances such as lead, PCBs, wood dust and air pollutants.

Middle- and high-income populations are also affected when they are not knowledgeable or do not care how their actions affect the environment.

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The environmental justice movement began in 1979 when a study revealed that different racial groups have unequal exposures to environmental hazards. The EPA's Office of Environmental Justice was created in 1992 to help identify affected communities and the adverse health or environmental effects they face.

"The environment is the air you breathe, the water you drink, the land you stand upon."

In 1994, President Clinton signed the executive order "Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations." One of the results of this order is that all reviews done under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) must consider the impact and cumulative effects of a proposed actions on the people of the affected area, including any effects on culture, occupations, and economy.

Many groups in addition to the District have focused on increasing awareness of environmental hazards and how to minimize such hazards among local residents. As a result of government intervention and local activism, some industries are looking at environmental justice issues and their impacts on the bottom line.

For example, reducing pollution often involves developing more efficient use of materials, which can save costs for the company and create jobs, while improving the quality of life, work and environment of their residents.

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Ecology has no borders. Pollution does not remain in one place. What goes around, comes around, and no one wants pollution at their front door or in their habitat -- not even the butterfly. In many cultures the mere sighting of a butterfly is often regarded as a good omen.

"People can make a difference in the present, not just in the future."

There is some scientific truth behind this popular belief. Butterflies and other creatures referred to as "indicator species" are sensitive to the changes in the environment. Species like butterflies decline rapidly if their natural habitat is destroyed or threatened by pollution.

The disappearance of butterflies is a bad sign for the future of any ecosystem. The butterfly helps our imagination soar, symbolizes freedom and gives birth to the hope that more people of all ages will join in and be the environmentalists they naturally are.

Should we accept reasoning that says protecting human health and ecosystem sustainability is too expensive for business? Should we allow profits to come at the expense of environmental stewardship and, what are your responsibilities as a consumer?

This Martin Luther King, Jr. Day the District asks citizens to rethink their purchases, purchasing products in recyclable packaging, refusing to purchase over-packaged items and demanding environmentally friendly products from businesses.

We ask the public to stop by and pick up District brochures on what can be recycled at the District and what are considered hazardous substances that should not be thrown in the trash.

Call 349-2020 or visit our Web site at .... Include the environment in your dreams and your actions to ensure life and equality for all species -- environmental justice for all.

Elisa Pokral is the media and education director at the Monroe County Solid Waste Management District. She can be reached at epokral@mcswmd.org.