Just in time for Earth Day, here are 8 ways Fort Wayne is becoming more sustainable

Every day climate change is affecting our planet. While the news is often devastating, there are signs of hope in Fort Wayne, from the installation of 27 new electric vehicle charging stations Downtown to a rain garden at Citizens Square.
 
Here are eight ways Fort Wayne is working toward a more sustainable future and how you can get involved.
 
1. City Utilities Grease Cooperative

A new Grease Cooperative makes it easier for restaurants to stay in compliance with local codes while keeping fats, oils, and grease out of the water supply.


With Fort Wayne's restaurant scene growing, so is the potential for harmful side effects, like water pollution from fats, oils, and grease (FOG) being washed down drains. Jodi Leamon, Program Manager at Fort Wayne City Utilities, says a new Grease Cooperative will make it easier for restaurants to stay in compliance with local codes while keeping FOG out of the water supply.
 
All restaurants are mandated to have a grease trap plumbed to any drain that receives wastewater. Small traps, or interceptors, can be serviced in-house, but larger ones require more cleaning and maintenance and are often maintained by outside companies. With this new Grease Cooperative, City Utilities offers restaurants an alternative to their current grease interceptor service provider with additional benefits at a competitive market rate. 
 
Although it will cost restaurants to be a member, the Co-op is designed to make it easier for them to adhere to city regulations and maintain their interceptors. The collected waste will also be used as an alternative energy source at the water pollution control plant. While you may be familiar with the concept of reusing fryer grease as a fuel, Leamon says the FOG that comes out of interceptors is a lot dirtier, and the process for recycling it is more complicated.
 
"It has to go through a different process, but we have the capability at our pollution control plant to feed that material to our anaerobic digesters which convert it to methane and then the methane is then used to power the water pollution control plant,” says Leamon. “So we're cleaning our water by capturing the material that helps keep our water cleaner!”

Anaerobic digesters filled with bacteria that eat waste grease and convert it to methane gas for fuel.
 
Restaurants interested in the City Utilities Grease Cooperative can find more information and an application on the City Utilities website.
 
2. Clean Drains Fort Wayne: Be River SmART

Clean Drains Fort Wayne: Be River SmART is a collaboration between Friends of the Rivers and City Utilities, covering Downtown area storm drains with mural art.


Fort Wayne sits at the confluence of the Saint Marys, Saint Joseph, and Maumee rivers. In recent years, initiatives by Riverfront Fort Wayne and others have shown how these waterways can add to the regional quality of life for average citizens. While this renaissance is exciting, it’s important to remember that Fort Wayne’s citizenship plays a huge role in preserving and protecting these natural resources, too.
 
That’s the aim of Clean Drains Fort Wayne: Be River SmART, a collaboration between Friends of the Rivers and City Utilities. By covering Downtown area storm drains with mural art that has messages like, “Only rain in the drain,” this program is raising awareness of the fact that the city’s 23,000 storm drains flow directly into our rivers—not through the Water Filtration Plant. This means it is everyone’s responsibility to make sure that pollutants don’t go down storm drains.
 
This summer, Clean Drains Fort Wayne is seeking artists to paint murals on 33 drains throughout the city. Storm drains located in Northeast and Northwest neighborhoods will be painted in July; Southeast and Southwest in August; and Downtown in September. These works of art on a mission will be celebrated at Clean Drains Fort Wayne Fest on World Rivers’ Day, Sunday, Sept. 25, at Promenade Park.
 
Those interested in volunteering with Clean Drains Fort Wayne can find contact information on their website. Be River SmART Drain Art applications are open to amateurs and professionals. The deadline to apply is May 1.
 
3. Open Streets

Open Streets encourages people of all ages to play in the street.


The 5th annual Open Streets Fort Wayne will be held August 7 from noon to 4 p.m. on Calhoun Street for 25 blocks, spanning from Promenade Park to Pontiac Street. For this event, the streets are open for pedestrians and cyclists, but closed to motorized vehicles, thereby asking residents to rethink what our community might look like if neighborhoods didn’t center around automobiles.
 
“When we close Calhoun Street to traffic, we open it to community, to fitness, and to fun,” says Neil Miller, Greenways Manager for the City of Fort Wayne. “It’s such a transformative way to experience Downtown Fort Wayne—by wheel, by heel, by roll, or by stroll!”

Bicycle Friendly Fort Wayne and FWPD Bike Patrol taught bike handling skills at Open Streets.
 
Attendees are encouraged to travel to the event using active transportation like biking or walking. There will be a bike parade with registration beginning at 11 a.m. at Promenade Park. Bicycle decorations are encouraged, and prizes will be awarded.
 
Whatever mode of transportation you use to get to Open Streets Fort Wayne, what you’ll find is more than 100 activities to enjoy all afternoon. This is a free, family-friendly event that might be the biggest block party you’ve ever attended!
 
4. Buy Nothing Project Groups

Buy Nothing groups on Facebook allow residents to share free goods and resources in their neighborhoods.

Part of sustainable living is embracing the slogan to “reduce, reuse, and recycle.” In January, we showed you how Buy Nothing Project (BNP) groups are spurring a gift economy in Fort Wayne and helping people reduce their consumption of new goods and reuse items that might otherwise end up in the trash. It is not uncommon to see posts in the Waynedale/Foster Park/Indian Village Buy Nothing Project group that say, “Please save this from the landfill!” or “Does anybody have a (fill in the blank) that I can have or borrow?”
 
The local BNP community has grown recently adding two new groups: Buy Nothing Southeast and Buy Nothing St. Francis|Promenade|Electric|Trubble Community. Lisa Reyes-Mauk and Madge Exe are the administrators of the Southeast group. Reyes-Mauk says she got interested in the concept when she heard about Buy Nothing groups from friends.
 
“I love the idea of gifting items that we no longer use, that still have plenty of life left in them,” Reyes-Mauk says. “It's important that not everything that we buy ends up in the landfill.”

Fort Wayne has seven active Buy Nothing Groups in 2022.
 
With the addition of these two new BNP groups in Fort Wayne, there are now a total of seven, making it easier for more people to “Buy Nothing” and reduce their carbon footprints.
 
5. Downtown Fort Wayne Clean & Green

Clean & Green team member Juan Vasquez picks up litter in Downtown Fort Wayne.


Our urban core has become a vibrant place to live, work, and play. But with increased activity comes more trash. Have you ever stopped to think about who is responsible for making the spaces feel clean and welcoming? Are there elves who run around picking up after the crowds who come Downtown?
 
Anthony Racic, the Clean & Green Coordinator for Downtown Fort Wayne, says there’s no magic involved. His crew, which currently consists of three full-time and one part-time employee, are responsible for making Downtown spaces feel healthy and safe. They work in coordination with public entities and private property owners to make Downtown Fort Wayne and the 13 surrounding corridors ready for visitors. And as Fort Wayne experiences delays in trash and recycling pickups citywide, the amount of litter has been increasing.
 
“Last year, we collected roughly 39 tons of litter, debris, and hazards from the streets and sidewalks,” says Racic. “Each piece of litter we collect is one that doesn't end up polluting our rivers and public spaces.”
 
The Clean & Green team also participates in the United Way of Allen County’s Day of Caring event. During the event last year, Clean & Green employees and volunteers collected 674 pounds of trash and removed 14,100 pounds of dirt and weeds from sidewalks.
 
If you want to help Fort Wayne shine, you can get involved by volunteering with Downtown Fort Wayne.
 
6. Tree Canopy Growth Fund

Street trees in Downtown Fort Wayne contribute to the city's tree canopy.


There are many sustainability benefits of trees. They can reduce stormwater runoff and associated flooding; They also serve as natural filters to clean groundwater and the air of pollutants; And they can help moderate temperatures in the summer and decrease energy use for air conditioning. These and other benefits are detailed on the website for a new organization called the Tree Canopy Growth Fund.
 
Derek Veit, Superintendent of Forestry for the City of Fort Wayne, and community volunteer Kody Tinnel, started collaborating on street tree planting efforts in public spaces a few years ago. Working together, they saw an opportunity to make an even greater impact. Earlier this year, they formed the Tree Canopy Growth Fund to “collaborate with community stakeholders by offering funding and expertise to grow the community's urban canopy.”

Fort Wayne has lost 6 percent of its tree canopy cover during the last decade. The Tree Canopy Growth Fund hopes to reverse this trend.

Tinnel says Fort Wayne has lost 6 percent of its tree canopy cover during the last decade due to development and disease. He says the Fund hopes to reverse this trend.
 
The Tree Canopy Growth Fund is managed through the Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne. It is raising money to advocate for a healthy, vibrant tree canopy and provide funds to purchase trees for planting on private property. Through the Fund, Veit and Tinnel will provide expertise and coordination for planting efforts as they continue to work alongside public tree planting efforts.
 
Those interested in seeing Fort Wayne’s tree canopy grow can make a donation on the Community Foundation’s website.
 
7. Food Rescue US - Fort Wayne Chapter

Healthy fresh food donated to Food Rescue US - Fort Wayne by Parkview Regional Medical Center Cafe.

Preventing food waste is an important part of becoming more sustainable. Food Rescue US is a network of individuals and nonprofit organizations who redistribute food to those who are food insecure. With the help of an app, food service businesses and others list extra food they have and are matched with a volunteer who delivers the food to someone who needs it.
 
The Fort Wayne site of Food Rescue US, led by volunteer Jodi Leamon, saw an increase in activity at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic when restaurants were forced to close, and farmers' supply chains were disrupted. With the help of a federal program called "Farmers to Families Food Box," Food Rescue US - Fort Wayne distributed about 1,400 boxes of fresh produce a week during this time.
 
“All of those connections (made during the pandemic) are still working together where they hadn't before,” says Leamon. “They're exchanging all kinds of services now—not just food.”

Food Rescue US - Fort Wayne volunteers pack up boxes of food donated by Trader Joes in Fort Wayne.
 
If you want to become part of the network and help, sign up at Food Rescue US.
 
8. Composting

Dirt Wain compost bins come in a variety of sizes.

Another way to keep food and food scraps from becoming garbage is to compost it. In our recent article about what local company Dirt Wain is up to, we told you that more than half of what is thrown out is actually compostable.
 
If you don’t have the space, or don’t want to do the composting yourself, you can subscribe to a service like Dirt Wain or Ground Down to do the dirty work for you. These local businesses are helping keep food waste and other organic materials from ending up in our landfill and releasing methane.
 
Want to get involved?

You can find additional ways to help create a more sustainable future in Fort Wayne at these upcoming local events:
 
Little River Wetlands Project Earth Day
Sunday, April 24, 1-5 p.m.
Eagle Marsh
6801 Engle Rd, Fort Wayne
https://www.lrwp.org/events
 
EcoFest
Sunday, May 15, noon-5 p.m.
Headwaters Park East
333 S Clinton St, Fort Wayne
https://ecofestfw.com/

This story was made possible by underwriting from Downtown Fort Wayne.