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Building a sustainable future

Sugar Bush Foundation expands funding for most recent Zero Waste Initiative

While most Americans are familiar with recycling household waste for the conservation of resources, energy and space, what about recycling all garbage bound for the landfill to generate revenue and create jobs? 

Thanks to generous funding from the Sugar Bush Foundation, the Ohio University Foundation and the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, in partnership with Rural Action, a local Zero Waste Initiative is on-course to address that question and help improve the environment, economy and social well-being for current and future generations in the Appalachian region.

The United States produces more waste than any other country in the world, producing an average of 1,606 pounds per person per year. Founded in 2010, the Zero Waste Initiative is a national leader in providing assistance to industry sectors to increase recycling, improve waste management, and support the effort to turn those 1,606 pounds into an economic opportunity. 

Ohio University’s Voinovich School and Rural Action is taking the project into phase 2 of a ten-year plan to transition Athens County, Hocking County and southeast Ohio into a zero waste region, according to Scott Miller, director of the Voinovich School’s Energy and Environment Team.

“This project is not just about recycling; it is about fundamentally changing the way we think about waste in our society,” he said.  “With experts estimating that recycling can create up to ten times as many jobs as landfills and incineration, trash should be viewed as a representation of potential jobs, financial opportunities, and resources, not as something disposable.”

John Glazer, director of TechGROWTH Ohio, will assist in the project by mapping financial opportunities from the waste stream and developing a cluster of businesses that could use the waste materials.

"The goal is to develop sustainable business enterprises not only for the district as a whole but also for new and existing businesses with opportunities to turn waste into valuable products, create jobs and generate economic activity for the region," Glazer said.  "Identifying and helping to organize ventures around the waste stream to create opportunities for entrepreneurs and investors is an important part of the Zero Waste project.”

This marks the second gift to the local Zero Waste Initiative from the Sugar Bush Foundation, a supporting organization of The Ohio University Foundation, which aims to improve the quality of life in Appalachian Ohio by encouraging civic engagement and by fostering sustainable environmental, socioeconomic, and human development.

The additional funding has allowed the Initiative to move forward with building a regional infrastructure that can support a zero waste approach, said Kyle O’Keefe, project coordinator for Rural Action.

“As part of phase 2, we are working with the Athens-Hocking Solid Waste District to develop an approach that will improve the ability to recycle and create financial stability,” said O’Keefe. “We will also be engaging communities, businesses and waste stream stakeholders to develop a zero waste action plan for our area that we believe can create a structure for improving the local economy and the environment.”

Rural Action, a local nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting sustainable communities in the Appalachian region, believes that this project fits perfectly within their mission.

“We are truly excited about the future of this effort,” said John Kotowski, chair of Rural Action’s board of directors. “Our hope is that this initiative will lead to higher recycling rates and more jobs that grow from the use of recycled materials.”