Small but mighty: environmentalists work for a greener New Orleans


Paint Recycling at The Green Project

The Green Project emerged in 1994 as a way for New Orleans residents to properly dispose of unwanted acrylic and latex paint to reduce the amount of paint pollution in regional waterways. Through the process of sorting disposed paint, the founding members of the Green Project noticed that a lot of the paint trashed was perfectly usable. As a result, the Green Project added a paint recycling program into their paint disposal facility.

As a result, local homeowners and artists alike have been able to find unique hand-mixed paint colors at a reduced price. As the paint recycling program grew, so did the idea to expand to a salvage store with a focus on taking in donations of unwanted building materials.  Now, the Green Project operates as both a donation-based salvage store and a paint recycling center with a passion for environmental outreach and education. This is evident through their M.E.S.S labs. According to the Green Project’s Program Coordinator and Director of Environmental Education and Outreach, Erin Genrich, you never know what you are going to find or who you are going to meet in the Green Project’s salvage store, which is part of its beauty.  Some highlights include a Victrola wind-up phonograph/record player from the 1920s, a confession booth, balconies, elaborate Victorian-style chandeliers, and naturally a wide variety of paint mixed and named in-house by those who partake in the M.E.S.S lab.

M.E.S.S Lab

M.E.S.S lab

The Green Project’s M.E.S.S lab which stands for Math, English Language Arts, Social Studies, and Science was launched in 2021. This relatively new program is one of the first in which students are allowed to actually mix recycled paint.  While partaking in the M.E.S.S lab students of all ages incorporate their interests into basic environmental principles such as limiting pollution and waste. These sessions provide students with hands-on experience and knowledge of what they can do to support their community and reduce their impact on the environment.

As I worked closely with Erin Genrich,  I was given the opportunity to delve into the full process of the Green Project, educate myself on paint disposal tactics, and paint murals. After hours of mixing paint and bonding over a shared love for niche radio stations, used books, and a love for environmentalism I was invited to table with Erin at the Green Project’s booth for a local Earth Day event. It was there that I met the tight-knit group of friends and residents of the New Orleans community, who are working to make New Orleans a more sustainable city.  This wide variety of artists, families, and founders of nonprofit organizations welcomed me into their circle with open arms. I met and spoke with individuals from The Grounds Krewe, Compost Now, and RicRack along with several local textile artists who were displaying work for the Earth Day Auction. Each of these organizations provide different functions with the goal of increasing sustainability. The Grounds Krewe is an organization working to incorporate environmentally friendly Mardi Gras throws into parades. Compost Now is a free residential food waste collection program that allows New Orleans residents to drop off compost, which is then donated to local farms and gardens. Lastly, RicRack strives to reduce textile waste and prevent clothing from ending up in landfills.

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Children weave “hopes for the future” during a TGP outreach event

Although many of these organizations have very different focuses, they work seamlessly together and all share a passion for environmental education, a love for New Orleans, and a desire to enact change.  As I spoke with each new person, I was surprised to how often I was told how much love they have for the Green Project, and how often they stop by the warehouse. Meeting such a variety of new people in this context reminded me of the wide range of individuals Erin had met as a result of her work at the Green Project. Each person that comes through the Green Project comes for a different reason, with a different story, and a different goal, yet they always manage to come together and form a sense of camaraderie and community.

For more information on Erin Genrich and her journey with the Green Project check out this interview, which focuses on her story and passion for the Green Project.


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