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Sugar Bush Foundation funds phase three of the Appalachian Zero Waste Initiative

Phase three funding aims to create long-term social, economic and environmental sustainability in the region


The Appalachian Ohio Zero Waste Initiative (AOZWI) has put Appalachian Ohio “on the map” when it comes to thinking creatively about turning trash into either treasure or mitigating its negative effects on the environment.

The Sugar Bush Foundation, a non-profit supporting organization of the Ohio University Foundation that promotes sustainability efforts in the Appalachian region, approved $179,251 in funding for AOZWI Zero Waste Project Phase Three at the Ohio University Foundation’s board meeting in July.

The AOZWI is a partnership between Ohio University’s George V. Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs and Rural Action. Rural Action, located in Trimble, Ohio, is a non-profit regional sustainable development organization that works to renew rural communities.

“Zero Waste” is defined by the Zero Waste International Alliance as, “designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them.”

In 2010, Americans generated about 4.43 pounds of trash per person per day, for a staggering total of 250 million tons of trash. Founded in 2010, the AOZWI is a national leader in the waste and recycling sector and provides assistance to industry to increase recycling, improve waste management, and supports efforts in turning those 250 million tons of trash into an economic opportunity.

The funding for Phase Three will allow Rural Action and the Voinovich School to comprehensively address the barriers to and opportunities in building a waste management system that meets the test of long-term social, economic and environmental sustainability in the region.

In its first two phases, also funded by the Sugar Bush Foundation and the Ohio University Foundation Board, AOZWI was able to foster momentum around zero waste ideas, rural recycling and job and wealth creation from waste, according to Mark Weinberg, director of the Voinovich School.

“Thanks to the unwavering support from The Sugar Bush Foundation and the Ohio University Foundation Board, The Voinovich School and Rural Action’s work for the Appalachian Ohio Zero Waste Initiative has had multiple positive outcomes,” Weinberg said. "It has made solid changes in the lives of rural residents who want to recycle; increased awareness and understanding about waste and recycling among school-aged children and adults; helped to clean up aquatic habitats choked with litter; improved the stability of the local solid waste district; and began the work of developing a business cluster and business ethos around recycling and waste reduction.”

The AOZWI is “put to work” by Rural Action, which created and continues to implement a 10-year action plan that offers support for businesses using waste stream materials, hosts summits for stakeholders in Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky, and works with AmeriCorps volunteers to engage community members in watershed clean up, said Rural Action’s Executive Director Michelle Decker.

“The Sugar Bush Foundation has a deep understanding of local and global sustainable development,” Decker said. “The generous funds they provided for Phase Three will ensure that AOZWI maintains its course as the waste and recycling sector emerges in the region. It will also allow us to continue our work with the Athens-Hocking Solid Waste District and engage other districts in Central Appalachia in this work. We see the potential of this sector and what it’s going to take to scale it up, including garnering more support from businesses, building infrastructure and technology capacity, and providing more engagement and policy creation opportunities.”