FROM TWIN CITIES DAILY PLANET
Susan Hubbard looks forward to a waste-free tomorrow
“I sometimes wonder what else I would rather be doing but figure that if I’d rather be doing something else, I’d be doing it.” – Susan Hubbard
Susan Hubbard grew up in a large Italian family where she learned to love pasta, speak up and do what’s right. These lessons came to her thanks to a diverse group of people and experiences throughout her childhood, but were truly brought to life by her mother, whose strength and independence have inspired Hubbard throughout her life.
“My mother was an incredibly strong woman who pushed me to explore. She encouraged my curiosity,” Hubbard said. “I always thought it would be cool to be as kind and wise as that woman was to me throughout my life.”
Celebrating her daughter’s curiosity and applauding her explorations, Hubbard’s mother taught her one lesson that has helped shape who she is today-life’s destination isn’t as important as the journey.
“My mom taught us so much because she was a strong woman who would do anything for us but who kept her independence at the same time,” she said. “We all grew up, traveled and left home thanks to her-she encouraged us to be independent, too.”
Outstanding in her field
That independence led Hubbard from the East Coast to Arkansas and, finally, the Midwest. And Minnesota. Never expecting to live in the land of 10,000 lakes, Hubbard, who’d made a name for herself in the field of waste management, took a job here to try to make a difference by showing people what zero waste can look like in a community. She co-founded the nonprofit Eureka! Recycling, and serves today as president and CEO.
Hubbard and her team at Eureka! Recycling have created a variety of programs that reduce waste through the redesign of goods and services and inspire communities to improve the quality of life through the preservation of the environment. “We want to truly change our perceptions so people understand that waste is preventable, not inevitable,” Hubbard explained.
Preserving the environment is just one form her lifelong activism takes. Hubbard said she has been anti-war, anti-nuclear and involved in the political process since she was in the fourth grade. It is natural that she’s passionate about the 2008 presidential election-especially since she is on a first-name basis with her candidate.
“I am supporting Hillary Clinton because I know what kind of heart she has,” she said. “I have sat and talked to her and know that it is not only time to have a woman as president, it is time to have this woman as president. And it is time for young women everywhere to see a woman as president.”
Hubbard’s relationship with the Clinton family started decades ago, when a friend’s car broke down in Arkansas. “She fell in love with a washboard player and was following him when she called,” Hubbard said. “I went down there to shake some sense into her and fell in love with the area-it was so beautiful and pristine.”
After that phone call, she lived in Arkansas for 15 years. “That is when my activism turned toward waste,” she recalled. “I wrote a grant to fund recycling programs throughout Arkansas, and eventually became Gov. Bill Clinton’s recycling coordinator.” Illness intervened
Hubbard’s passion for environmental issues took a personal turn when, at age 34, she became sick with a mysterious illness doctors were unable to diagnose. “I was feeling really sick and no one could figure out what was wrong with me,” she said. “I weighed 89 pounds and [was] getting sicker and sicker by the day.”
Then, one day while swimming, Hubbard saw the water turn red with blood. She got to her doctor and heard the word that no one wants to hear. Cancer. “A tumor ruptured in my bladder and that was the start of my fight against cancer,” she said. “This type of cancer was very rare back then which is why it was misdiagnosed. But now you see it more and more in women and children, which could be linked to pollution and environmental problems.
“Our health is directly related to what we ingest and as pollution gets worse, so does news about cancer,” Hubbard said. Growing up in a very industrial area in upstate New York, Hubbard knows of 10 high school classmates who have died of cancer, as well as her mom and brother. “It is highly unusual for that many people in one small graduation class to get sick and die.”
With “cancer clusters” all over the East Coast, she remembered fishing in Lake Ontario one day and learning that it was off limits the next. “So they were telling us it was unsafe to eat the fish, but what about the day before? Were the fish safe the day before? I don’t think so.”
Thirteen years later, Hubbard has survived five surgeries and three rounds of chemotherapy, and today is cancer free. “I am doing amazingly well,” she said. “And through it, I realized that my time meant everything to me. I decided that this was it. This was what I would do for the rest of my life.
Recycling’s a choice
“Waste is created. It is not a natural phenomenon,” she said, adding that while she’s grateful for the media attention the environment has received in recent years, she wants people to stay focused on the part of the picture they can control. “It is a choice. Just like we make choices every day about what to wear or which way to drive to work, recycling is a choice that everyone can make every day. Our hope is that we can help people make the right choice.”
Describing her journey as “big-time fun” that is often exhausting, she credits her strength to her border collie Okie, her strong circle of family and friends and her spiritual connection with the Buddhist community. Hubbard, who surprises people when she roars off on a racing motorcycle, said at age 48 she is comfortable with the work she’s doing and with where she is personally.
Today, Hubbard often remembers how her mom could make anyone feel special. “She would say that it isn’t the goal that’s important, it’s how you make people feel getting there,” she said. “She had that ability to make everyone feel special and I want to do the same in my life.
“When I was really young, I had this amazing amount of hope and a strong belief in justice. I thought that if things weren’t right with the world, we could fix them.
“I guess I still believe that.”