What does it really mean to be a good neighbor? Say “hi” every morning? Turn down the stereo? There are lots of ways.

The Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, operators of the Chumash Casino Resort, has been working on the neighborly thing since gaming began on the tribe’s land.

Tribal members volunteer in Valley communities. The tribe makes seven-figure contributions every year, helping everything from civic organizations to local public-safety agencies.

Those efforts to be a good neighbor aren’t enough for some local residents, who apparently resent the tribe’s efforts to develop land it owns — even though those efforts are facilitated by federal law.

Becoming part of a community can be a long, tedious process, and the Chumash have demonstrated the kind of patience and perseverance it takes to get along.

The irony of the situation is stunning, given that the Chumash are the original resident/stewards of the Valley, having been here long before the current population.

The tribe is taking yet another step into the future, becoming the first tribal casino in the country to earn TRUE Zero-Waste certification.

TRUE is an acronym for “total resource use and efficiency,” and the Chumash earned their rating from Green Business Certification for diverting more than 90 percent of its solid waste away from local landfills last year.

Casinos are major waste producers. For example, in Las Vegas, the casino capital of our known universe, regional landfills contain more than 38 million tons of solid waste per resident, albeit a great deal of it generated by visitors to the gambling hub.

The Chumash Casino waste doesn’t measure up to that staggering number, but as one of the more successful tribal casinos in California, it handles its share of solid waste.

Diverting any of that to recycling and other uses has to help in a region that is running out of landfill capacity, a problem that is common throughout the United States.

The Chumash are accomplishing this feat through recycling programs and community partnerships that include Valley-based Veggie Rescue, which collects prepared food from the resort for distribution to people in need; Santa Maria-based Engel & Gray, which turns landscape trimmings and food scraps into compost; and Santa Barbara-based Textile Waste Solutions, which transforms used uniforms into industrial wiping cloths.

The network employed by the tribe also extends to non-local programs such as Clean the World, which sterilizes and reprocesses used hotel amenities such as soap, shower gel and shampoo, and sends them in hygiene kits to undeveloped countries; and Frontline International, which processes used cooking oil into bio-diesel fuel; Cups Are Recyclable, which collects and compresses foam cups, sends them to another company for processing into picture frames and crown molding; and TerraCycle, which turns cigarette butts into plastic shipping pallets, park benches and picnic tables.

If you want a snapshot of our future, at least as it pertains to the trash we throw away, the Chumash sustainable project is a good place to start.

This sort of effort couldn’t come at a better time. Americans are swimming in a sea of trash, more than 250 tons of which we toss out every year. We also throw away 22 billion plastic bottles a year, and if we bundled together all the office paper thrown away each year, we could build a 12-foot-high wall from New York to Los Angeles. Then there is that Texas-sized trash island meandering in the Pacific Ocean.

Good neighbors would try hard to avoid contributing to that — just as the Chumash are doing.


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