The country’s largest trash incinerator is only four miles away from Swarthmore. On March 16, Chester City residents and students in the area protested its presence once again due to health and environmental concerns. Recently, the City of Chester renewed its contract with CovantaChester, forcing activists in the area to turn to Delaware County to express their concerns. Chairperson Zulene Mayfield of Chester Residents Concerned for Quality Living (CRCQL) called upon Campus Coalition Concerning Chester (C4) members to take direct action.
CRCQL is a 30-year-old environmental justice organization that is focused on combating environmental racism and transitioning to sustainability. C4 is an organization of college students that supports CRCQL and has chapters at several universities.
The protest took place outside of the Delaware County Council Meeting in Media, PA. C4 had already planned to take students to Media that Wednesday for a Critical Race Geographies class, but instead used their vans to bring Swarthmore C4 members to the protest. According to the @chester_ej Instagram page led by CRCQL, there were around 70 people in attendance.
Student member of C4 Chantal Reyes ’22 explained the cause for the protest in an interview with The Phoenix.
“This protest was to call on the Delaware County Council members to pressure the Delaware County Solid Waste Authority (DCSWA) to not extend their contract with Covanta,” she said. “In the past and currently, Delaware County has been forced to send their trash to Covanta because of the contracts … however, the County Council has the ability to pressure the DCSWA in this matter and give DCSWA financial support if the transition to landfill is costly,”
Aryan Ashraf ’25 attended the protest as their first direct action event for C4.
“I felt a call to action because the cause was so urgent. I held up a sign that said ‘Children are dying’ — a very large one,” they explained.
Ashraf later explained that an environmental science course taught by Professor Giovanna Di Chiro in the Fall 2021 called Environmental Justice introduced him to C4.
“Last semester I created print materials (flyers, posters, etc.) for C4, and now that I’m no longer part of the class, I still go to meetings. In fact, this protest was the first direct action I’ve taken. I was always behind the scenes before,” he said.
Professor Di Chiro has been involved with CRCQL and C4 for many years. In an interview with The Phoenix, she described her course, Environmental Justice: Theory & Action, in detail. The course includes direct collaboration between students and CRCQL/C4.
“The student research and action teams in last semester’s course assisted CRCQL’s current campaign by providing support with outreach, social media, communication, fundraising, testifying at County Council meetings, and organizing an educational workshop for Chester youth,” Professor Di Chiro said.
Reyes and Professor Di Chiro both spoke about upcoming events they believe the entire student body should be involved in.
On March 29, the DCSWA will be hosting a public hearing to hear the county’s opinion on the contract.
“Come to the Zoom meeting on March 29th to show the DCSWA we are watching. You don’t need to talk, listen, or be on camera, but having a huge turnout will show the DCSWA we are not backing down but getting stronger. Email campuscoalition.C4@gmail.com with any questions!” Reyes urged.
Professor Di Chiro mentioned an Environmental Justice conference that will go into CRCQL’s history and current goals.
“Please register for the upcoming webinar, ‘Looking Back, Moving Forward: Law, Policy & Environmental Justice,’ co-sponsored by Swarthmore College, CRCQL, and the University at Buffalo,” she said.