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Grist 50

Priyanka Pathak

Meet the fixer: This organizer fights for safer waste disposal.

Living in Detroit, Ahmina Maxey knew her city had a waste problem. At the time, Detroit was the only major city in the country without a curbside recycling program. In those years, Maxey often collected her community’s recyclable refuse at her house so she could take it to a recycling center. While working at the Zero Waste Detroit coalition, Maxey successfully pushed for a city-wide recycling program in 2014. Now she focuses on what happens to garbage after it’s been picked up.

At the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (or GAIA), Maxey fights for an incinerator-free future. Garbage incinerators spew dangerous levels of chemicals like mercury, arsenic, and lead into the atmosphere — not to mention CO2 — often near communities of color. At GAIA, a network of over 800 grassroots groups and individuals, Maxey helps coordinate and connect communities working toward cleaner waste removal. She holds workshops on the dangers of incinerators and proposes zero-waste alternatives — such as comprehensive recycling programs and reducing consumption in the first place — in communities fighting active incinerators and incinerator proposals.

The way Maxey sees it, communities can create new, green jobs around better waste-removal practices, and clean up their air in the process. “For every job you can create from traditionally burning waste, you can create 10 more if you choose to recycle it and put it back in the economy.”


Meet all the fixers on this year’s Grist 50.