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Saturday, Dec 20, 2014

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Sugar Bush Foundation funds zero waste initiative


Every day, Americans throw out tons and tons of trash…literally. The United States consumes 40-to-60 percent of the world’s resources and only contains 5 percent of the world’s population.

Although the United States consumes these resources at a dramatic rate, the country uses the materials inefficiently. And, due to the scarcity of raw resources, it is no longer affordable to just send these materials to a waste disposal facility.

The Sugar Bush Foundation, a supporting organization of the Ohio University Foundation, realizes that it is time for the U.S. to change. Therefore, they have decided to help fund the Zero Waste Project, which seeks to help communities, businesses, organizations and the waste district find solutions to realize a more sustainable future.

The Sugar Bush Foundation’s mission is to “work with Ohio University and local communities to improve the quality of life in Appalachian Ohio by encouraging civic engagement and by fostering sustainable environmental, socioeconomic, and human development.”

According to Ed Newman, director of campus recycling and waste and a director of the Sugar Bush Foundation, this project fits perfectly with the foundation’s goals.

“We like to collaborate with the university and the community to improve both environmental and economic issues,” said Newman. “This project seemed to fit right in.”

Three major partners are making the Zero Waste Project possible: the Sugar Bush Foundation, Rural Action and Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs. Rural Action, a regional sustainable development group with over 500 members, along with the Voinovich School, collaborated with the Sugar Bush Foundation to develop this idea of Athens becoming a zero waste community.

More than just recycling, this project involves creating an entirely new way to look at the waste stream. Instead of seeing used materials as garbage in need of disposal, discards are seen as valuable resources. A pile of “trash” represents jobs, financial opportunity and raw materials for new products. For every million dollars spent in the trash industry, only one to three jobs are created. However, for the same amount of money, the recycling industry creates 40 to 60 jobs.

Newman is not the only one excited about the Zero Waste Project. John Kotowski, vice president of Rural Action’s board of directors, is also optimistic about the pairing.

"We, at Rural Action, are very excited about this partnership being developed between the Sugar Bush Foundation and the Voinovich School,” said Kotowski.  “It is our hope that we will be able to craft a plan to work with the Waste District, local government and business leadership and the people of the area to move us toward reductions in waste entering our land fill and to be able to develop business opportunities and jobs from the reclaimed resources."

The Ohio University branch of this project feels the same way about its potential benefits to the community. The Voinovich School, according to its website, builds on the scholarship of Ohio University, engaging students, faculty and professional staff to help make a difference in Appalachian Ohio and the state.

Gary Conley, a research supervisor at the Voinovich School, is enthusiastic about the Zero Waste Project.

“I am excited to engage the resources of the Voinovich School with those of Rural Action to help move our community toward a zero waste vision,” he said. “Our residents deserve the opportunity to benefit from their collective efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle valuable materials that would otherwise contribute to environmental degradation and our economic burden.”

The local community is central to the project. All the organizations involved believe it is important to keep things local.

According to Newman, many waste materials are currently sent overseas from the U.S. to places like India or China. This practice takes away from both local jobs and revenue that could greatly improve Appalachian Ohio, both economically and socially.

The Zero Waste Project is not achievable over night. The current plan is to assemble a group of individuals that includes the community’s leadership, business professionals and interested community members under the guidance of Rural Action and Ohio University to develop a ten-year strategy for moving Athens and the county toward zero waste.

The Sugar Bush Foundation is looking forward to future involvement in their organization. If you are interested in learning more about this project or would like to attend an upcoming meeting, please contact Kyle O’Keefe at 740-767-4938 or kyle@ruralaction.org.