Gretchen Brewer, 1945 – 2017

Please join us for a
Memorial for Gretchen Brewer
Tuesday, March 21, 2017, 5-7pm
The Impact Hub, 4th Floor at the David Brower Center
2150 Allston Way at Oxford
Berkeley, CA

 — Hosted By Mary Lou Van Deventer, Dan Knapp, Susan Kinsella, Arthur Boone

Goodbye Gretchen!

By Mary Lou Van Deventer
In San Diego on Tuesday, February 21, 2017, pioneering recycler Gretchen Brewer transitioned out of this life.  As many people know, she had been using oxygen for chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD).  Then in late 2015, while helping a friend in hospice, she seriously wrenched her back.  By 2017 she was receiving physical therapy in a rehabilitation center and recently had been hoping to move back to her apartment.  But early Monday February 20, she was taken to an emergency room and later that day had a respiratory crisis.  She lost consciousness, and at about 8:30pm on Tuesday she slipped away.

Gretchen started her recycling career in Chicago, working at the Resource Center for Ken Dunn, whom she always called her mentor. Over the years she also worked for state governments in Massachusetts and New Mexico.  For a couple of years, she worked for the plastics industry, in hopes of remolding them from the inside. But when she wanted to carry away a muffin and was upset at being presented with a styrofoam clamshell instead of a paper bag, it was clear the job was no longer a good fit. Fiercely independent and creative, Gretchen returned to being a consultant for the next fifteen years. During this time, she did stellar buy-recycled procurement projects for the US Naval Stations in San Diego, which won a White House Closing-the-Circle award, and Hawaii. Most recently, she was writing a memoir of her innovative career for Urban Ore.

Gretchen is gone much too soon and will be deeply missed.

How Gretchen Mattered 
By Nancy VandenBerg
Gretchen Brewer identified what recycling needed, then pioneered solutions. Just two early examples remind us. In the early 1980s she described her Chicago collection program at a recycling congress in New Jersey. Programs everywhere grew from her experience. Despite the plastic industry´s bland assurance that its materials were too complex to recycle, in Boston she published the seminal explanation of one-resin packaging plastics. Before long, coding was introduced to aid householders and separation lines. Many, many others worked long and hard to construct the recycling industry over the decades, and so many of us depended on Gretchen´s insights to build our own programs. Her files fed our research. Her perspective shaped our direction. Her encouragement buoyed our commitment. Gretchen was a pivotal influence who never, ever stopped working to make this a cleaner world.

How Gretchen Facilitated Zero Waste 
By Mary Lou Van Deventer
When Gretchen was working as a consultant in San Diego, she introduced Dan Knapp to some Australians from Sydney, Melbourne, and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) in Canberra. They hired Dan to do some consulting, and on his first trip to the ACT in 1995 he brought back a governmentally endorsed plan called “No Waste by 2010.”  “No Waste” immediately became “Zero Waste” and spread across the country like a grassfire.  So Gretchen set up the contact that arguably began the Zero Waste movement in this country.

A Dear Friend  
By Susan Kinsella
I worked with Gretchen on her buy-recycled projects with the US Naval Stations in San Diego and Hawaii, and we were joyfully compatible as fellow night-owls. Often we were on the phone planning out the projects in the wee hours of the morning. So I was not surprised that she called me at 2:30 a.m. on February 20th from the ER. Over 30+ years, not only were we collaborators on ground-breaking recycling projects, but we also became close friends and trusted allies. She and her partner Wayne tried to teach me tai chi, but they were far more graceful than I in performing intricate ballet-like sequences together. Ever the researcher, Gretchen loved to watch all kinds of TV documentaries, especially on PBS. The nurses at the hospital had told us that the last sense to go is hearing, so I love knowing that Mary Lou Van Deventer was sitting by Gretchen’s bed reading stories to her about all the important and pioneering work that Gretchen had contributed to the world, up until just a few minutes before she passed.