Creating A Waste Economy

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The Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs at Ohio University is continuing their invaluable service to the region, this time in partnership with Rural Action. Funded by the Sugar Bush Foundation, the Athens Hocking Zero Waste Initiative (AOZWI) planning process reached a milestone in December with the release of an action plan. The plan “aims to provide a unified vision and path for a robust waste management system that will enable Athens and Hocking counties to work towards becoming a zero waste economy.”

This unified action plan demonstrates the need and economic incentive to reduce landfill waste and better manage resources across waste, recycling and reuse supply chains. To address the original plan set forth by community members in a series of meetings in 2012, AOZWI working groups will soon be established in an effort to make recommendations to modify to current practices, identify priorities and set goals. The working groups include:

  • • Education and Outreach
  • • Access to Recycling
  • • Collection of Hard-to-Recycle Materials
  • • Illegal Dumping and Burning Prevention and Enforcement

Though AOZWI is the poster-child of local waste reduction efforts, there seems to be an increased effort around the Ohio University campus and around our region that deserves notable attention. For example, in January, the Athens City Council decided the city’s efforts to recycle were falling short, and thus signed the city on to the action plan. Reducing waste is all about awareness. Ohio University has been part of this greater awareness for almost two years with the adoption of a sustainability plan in 2011 and a climate action plan set forth in 2012.

Recently, Ohio University entered into an energy performance contract with Constellation New Energy in an effort to improve campus conservation. The Athens News reports that through these efforts, Ohio University will save an estimated 50,145 tons of CO2 emissions and $3.2 million in energy costs annually for 15 years. Reducing wasted energy is a huge part of reaching certain sustainability and climate action benchmarks. By 2016, the University hopes to reduce individual consumption by 5% and to increase recycling rates to 80% by weight.

Robin Stewart, senior project manager for the AOZWI at the Voinovich School, says the biggest challenge to achieving similar goals throughout the Appalachian region is creating a viable model and acquiring greater capacity to handle a new waste-based economy. “We need to localize the supply chain,” said Stewart in an interview. “Creating initiative within communities is the best route to accomplish this in the business community, but education efforts such as the zero waste event guide and planning a zero waste graduation for Ohio University students are just as important.”

ReUse Industries, a local waste diversion non-profit organization, has been in operation for almost 20 years and has funneled 10 million pounds of materials back into the community for reuse. ReUse is bringing small communities together to develop a regional reuse economy. Working on a larger scale, the Ohio By-Product Synergy (BPS) Network works to bring buyers and suppliers of manufacturing and production industries together. “If one company produces a waste product, and it can be used by another company within the region, the BPS Network is there to create the economy, divert the waste product entering the environment and avoid further ground contamination,” said Stewart.

For ReUse and the BPS Network, buying, selling and promoting used goods is the clear option for making the familiar pattern of consumerism sustainable. Reused books, appliances, and furniture purchased from ReUse Industries saves money, supports the local economy, diverts waste, and lowers your cost of living or doing business. By saving so much during the purchase of used materials from ReUse or the BPS Network, we can reduce our reliance on primary material costs and logistics in our manufacturing businesses and increase our understanding for community collaboration.

The AOZWI project can serve as a guideline to how we need to begin organizing the way we manage waste in our businesses and communities. Currently, the state recycling goal is 25%, but we still have a ways to go. According to the U.S. EPA, packaging makes up approximately 30% of the United States waste stream and 34% of all waste can be composted. Imagine a world where individuals, communities and businesses strive to re-use packaging for the long haul, compost at a near 100% rate, and buy unpackaged or only previously used items. AOZWI is changing the way we think about waste and is raising that all-important awareness mentioned earlier.

To learn more about the specific goals of the AOZWI’s long-term action plan, click here.

Mathew Roberts

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