Egremont — Environmental leadership in the U.S. isn’t coming from the top. The federal government made that clear at the beginning of June when it backed out of the Paris climate accord, a set of nonbinding international commitments to lowering greenhouse gas emissions.
But despair is not an option. Egremont Green News, this new occasional column by members of the Egremont Green Committee, is dedicated to asserting custodial power over our natural resources. With that in mind, we’d like to kick things off with what might be a cause for celebration in our small town.
Thanks to the efforts of all our neighbors, this might be the year we drop below 400.
Every year, every town in the region pays to haul away tons of trash. Five years ago, in 2012, Egremont hauled 481 tons. Last year, in the year ending June 2016, it was 418 tons. This year will we weigh in at less than 400? Have we cut nearly 20 percent off our waste line since 2012?
Suspense is mounting.
In a few weeks, when June’s numbers are counted, we will know and will share the results in our next column.
A few years ago, Egremont decided to aim for zero waste.
That meant, among other things, focusing on our recycling practices. It started with our transfer station, which follows state recycling laws. But we needed to find ways to divert more from our trash containers.
At that point, we’d already set up a swap shop, or “free-cycle” shed, which gives neighbors the chance to drop off reusable household items and to pick up something new. We had also added a bin for No. 4 bags for water softener or wood pellets.
But what else?
In 2010 we added a community compost site that began pulling household organic matter (not meat) out of our waste stream. Most recently we brought in a “bulky rigid plastic” dumpster for large plastic items that were formerly headed to landfills.
We also encourage residents to divert trash on their own by distributing information about where to take several types of items.
Where to take it
- Textiles and computer and office equipment: Goodwill
- Hazardous waste: collections in local towns, run four times a year by the Center for EcoTechnology, based in Pittsfield
- Rechargeable batteries and cell phones: collection containers in the front hall of our Town Hall
- Ink cartridges and printers: Staples
- Many forms of plastic film and packaging: the bottle redemption area at Price Chopper
A neighborhood Google group, or listserve, also helps immeasurably. Recently, for example, someone offered many pounds of chipped china, thinking that perhaps a mosaic artist might want it. It was all claimed, very quickly. This hand-me-down system is constantly turning one person’s trash into a neighbor’s treasure and reducing our waste. In fact, it’s all one big treasure hunt in reverse. Instead of finding something, the object of the game is to follow a planet-friendly route to disposing of it.
Not everyone enjoys separating trash, rinsing cans and bottles and loading their cars with plastic film bags for their next trip to town. We get that. And we don’t want to be finger-wagging scolds. We try to build team spirit. We try to make our publicity postcards and graphics so friendly and artful that they just might wind up under refrigerator magnets, spreading a constant environmental message.
Why, you ask, does this matter? Aside from the public costs associated with waste hauling, trash has a way of coming back to haunt us. It ends up being piled into landfills or burned. Either way, the result is pollution of our air, land and water.
Plastics are a matter of growing global concern. They find their way into our rivers, lakes and, ultimately, the oceans. Plastic fragments develop tiny dents that make perfect homes for toxic molecules. When the plastic bits are eaten by fish and other sea life, the toxins migrate into their fatty parts, which we eat. Furthermore, marine debris prevents algae and plankton from receiving enough sunlight to create nutrients, National Geographic reported in 2014, finding that when “these tiny organisms are threatened, the entire food web is put at risk.” Watch the movie “A Plastic Ocean,” available on Netflix, for more information on how plastic debris kills marine life.
Plastic never goes away! There is no AWAY!
We are still a long way from being a zero-waste community and we welcome fresh insights. If your town has other ideas for reducing trash, send them to us and we’ll help spread the word.
If you have questions or thoughts for future articles, please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.