POSTED ON FEBRUARY 1, 2012:
The color of Tulsa's recycling future is grassroots spectrum
Welcome to Rainbowland. In a funky repurposed '60s-era doctor's office, Tulsa's most colorful local artist, Rainbow Girl, has made her home. Rainbow, also known as Lauren Lunsford, has filled her new space with her roommates, her own bright paintings, fluffy cats and rescued Italian Greyhounds.
Like the Italian Greyhounds she rehabilitates, Lauren has a slight frame, delicate bone structure and round, observant eyes. Despite her elegant bearings, Rainbow is a force to be reckoned with and a down-and-dirty recycling dynamo.
Over her homemade veggie-packed stew and jalapeno cornbread, Rainbow told UTW about how she's grown and changed with her passion for saving the planet.
Mother Nature Needs You
In 2002, Rainbow started her messaging campaign, "Mother Nature Needs You." She was new to art and wanted to express her passion for recycling through attention-grabbing artful merchandise. "I was just marketing a message, you know," Rainbow said.
She felt she was on the right path, raising awareness for the cause, finding her groove. Then, in 2007, former city of Tulsa employee Lorene Gilroy started up a rigorous recycling education class, and invited Rainbow along with several others, to be a part of it. The classes were part of the city's effort to raise awareness for their curbside recycling program.
Rainbow's proud of being a part of the first class. She was in good company. Diana Askins, Pam Robinson and others were so inspired and motivated after they completed their classes, the classmates decided to keep them going.
After Gilroy left the city of Tulsa, the group renamed themselves Tulsa Master Recyclers. Since 2008, a loose group of instructors have taught classes from late winter to spring, and turned out brand-new master recyclers, who are ready to transform their own little corners of the city.
Askins, a bright and friendly Baby Boomer with funky silver jewelry, has changed a lot since that first class. Rainbow said she's watched Askins transform from a meek shrinking violet into a determined, assertive and passionate advocate for environmental causes. Askins is the president of Tulsa Master Recyclers, and as Rainbow called her, "one of the mamas" of the group.
Rainbow is on the board of directors for the group. She said she learned tons of new information on the whys and hows of recycling. She took up composting after learning how easy it was.
Now she said, "I am a composter."
The classes also "got me centered and focused and made me realize I was ready to swing into action," she said.
First up? She tried implementing reusing, repurposing and recycling into Tulsa area arts and theater. She hit a wall with resistance from some spots, but other places like Living Arts are still recycling.
On the whole Tulsa Master Recyclers is great for building a community of like-minded Tulsans. "Every year we keep at least five strong ones," Rainbow laughed. "It's like building a foundation and watching it grow."
That year, 2008, was a big one for Rainbow. She was named Oklahoma Recycler of the Year in 2008. She went through the recycling classes, she swung into action.
So wasn't everyone happy for her?
Recycle That Attitude
Some still think environmental activists are hippy-dippy bleeding hearts going through a phase. Her commitment to sustainable living has meant she's looked at as a buzzkill in some circles. But, Rainbow said, "I have to be a person of my word."
She said she's even lost friends over her recycling endeavors. "I've lost friends because there were some who were used to getting more of my attention," she said. "But this is my passion, this is my love."
Though she's lost some friends, she's made many more, like Askins "and my whole recycling world," Rainbow said. "We're each other's support system. We've all talked about how family and friends aren't always supportive."
Over the years, Rainbow has turned from perhaps overzealous new convert into a patient, seasoned missionary for the cause. In the beginning, she said, "I had a lot more anger, if someone wasn't doing something ... and I would get fired up and go off on 'em. Sometimes they'd understand but sometimes it would just close them off."
She changed her techniques, calmed down, realized she doesn't have to do it all. But she still does take some people's recycling.
A Tour of Rainbowland
Inside an unassuming former doctor's office on the corner of 12th St. and Peoria Ave. is Rainbowland. Out front, a few wide brick steps lead up to a glass entrance. Lights, sculptures, a Project Nim poster and diaphanous drapes (not to mention a sunning Italian Greyhound) welcome newcomers into Rainbow's world. The old waiting room has been transformed into a tidy, airy living area exploding with colors, bright paper lanterns, pictures, flowers and art.
The old receptionist area has become a place where Rainbow's young art students come to play with paint. A compact kitchen lies inside a door still labeled "Exam Room 1." On the counters are Tupperware for composting, a Crock Pot simmering with the hamburger and veggie stew, and next to the fridge are bags for paper, plastic and aluminum recycling.
Her room is in the back, a spacious two-compartment area with napping pets on her bed and racks of bright clothes.
One roommate is home, while several others come and go. They are all young 20-somethings, and she said she feels like a boardinghouse mom.
Out in the garage, Rainbow keeps recycling bins. When they're full, she hauls everything to the MET.
She's hoping to have her new space open for art showings by spring, and is planning a grand opening show for April, which is also Earth Month.
Before then, you've still got time to sign up for this year's Tulsa Master Recyclers classes. The 10-week course begins Feb. 15, and classes will be held at Oklahoma State University-Tulsa, 700 N. Greenwood, from 6-8pm each Wednesday.
Askins said you'll learn a lot on topics ranging from handling household waste, ewaste, yard debris and more. For more info, check out their blog at tulsamasterrecyclers.blogspot.com, or email the group at email@example.com. You can also check them out on Facebook.
The 10-week training is $20, and to become a certified master recycler there are only a few requirements. You must: be at least 18, able to volunteer about 30 hours per year, complete the 10-week training (and final exam!), purchase and wear Tulsa Master Recyclers logo wear, stay up-to-date on recycling services info and take two continuing education classes a year.
Once you finish up your training, you can go out and help turn Tulsa green too. Through volunteer work, you can give presentations to school children and civic groups, monitor recycling at special events, conduct your own workshops, among other options.
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