The award is known as the "Green Nobel Prize." Two of the winners this year were honored for promoting recycling in their countries. While they were in the Bay Area, they got a look at San Francisco's model program and only ABC7 News was there as they got the tour.
Inside San Francisco's massive recycling complex, garbage is sorted by hand and machine. It's a dream come true for Italian Rossano Ercolini and Columbian Nohra Padilla. They are two of this year's Goldman Environmental Prize winners. Both had heard of the recycling program in San Francisco.
Ercolini was inspired to lead a crusade against waste. The elementary school teacher started his public education campaign about the dangers of incinerators in his small Tuscan town. In Italy, waste is routinely burned, creating greenhouse gases. He taught his students to recycle paper and replaced plastic water bottles and plastic utensils in the school lunchroom. It sparked a national movement.
Ercolini was impressed by what he saw in San Francisco. "This visit, when I come back, I'll have some good ideas to share with my colleagues," he said. Thanks to the grassroots campaign led by Ercolini, 40 incinerators have been scrapped or shut down and more than 3 million residents have joined in his recycling crusade.
Nohra Padilla was also impressed with the operation. She organized Columbian waste pickers in Bogota. Despite blatant discrimination, health hazards, and poor wages, those pickers provide a much-needed service to the city. Padilla organized these waste pickers into unions and made recycling a legitimate part of urban waste management. She also got recyclers on board, inspiring a national movement that keeps tons of waste out of dumps.
Padilla's visit to the San Francisco recycling center showed her that more could be done. The city diverts 80 percent of its waste from landfills, the highest amount of any city in the United States. "Both of them have said to me, during this tour, that they really see San Francisco as a model and an inspiration for what they have done in their own communities. So, it's been really, really great to have them here," said San Francisco Department of the Environment Director Melanie Nutter.
Rossano and Norah will be honored Tuesday night at the San Francisco Opera House and both will receive $150,000 prizes for their work.