Valley Zero Waste aims to change culture by raising awareness of businesses about available resources

Last modified: Monday, December 09, 2013

A group of like-minded citizens wants to change the way Valley residents understand the concept of “waste.”

“You may never eliminate waste, but if you’re planning with that goal in mind, you make it darn close,” said Lynne Pledger, the solid waste director of the Massachusetts chapter of Clean Water Action, which has offices in Northampton and Boston.

Pledger is a founding member of Valley Zero Waste, a new group dedicated to promoting what members describe as a “Zero Waste Culture” in all Pioneer Valley communities. She acknowledged that while most people are familiar with the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” slogan, the new group wants to emphasize the “hierarchy” of the three Rs — that reducing consumption and waste are more important than recycling.

“We’re going to be focusing more on the meat of the issue — preventing waste originally in the first place,” said Jessica Tanner of Northampton, another founding member. “We are a group of folks that are very oriented toward action.”

The eight founders came together soon after Pledger, who lives in Hardwick but often works with Valley residents through her work at Clean Water Action, invited several local activists in May to visit the Northampton-based Recycling Works, a program which helps businesses and institutions reduce their waste. After the visit, the group continued to meet and discuss ways they could encourage local businesses to recycle, and soon decided to expand the focus to residents and local governments throughout the Valley, Pledger said.

“I think most people instinctively know that the way we are wasting resources can’t go on forever,” she said. “They know landfills are filling up. They know climate change is worsening. They know, and so I think a lot of people will actually welcome more information and support for doing things differently.”

The group’s first campaign is directed toward businesses, and will include raising awareness about resources such as Recycling Works that can help them reduce their waste, Pledger said. She added that this is a particularly opportune time because starting in July 2014, the state Department of Environmental Protection plans to ban the disposal of food waste and other organic material by any business or institution that produces more than a ton of it per week, according to the department’s website. Pledger said there is no specification about what businesses must do with the waste, just that it cannot be incinerated or sent to a landfill.

Another founding member, John Root of Amherst, said he hopes that businesses will serve as an example for individuals to follow in attempting to reduce their waste.

“Our goal really is to have a regional transformation of our culture, if you will,” said Root, chairman of the Recycling and Refuse Management Committee in Amherst.

Video on composting

Tanner, a member of the Northampton ReUse Committee, created a seven-minute video on the composting and recycling practices of River Valley Market, 330 North King St. in Northampton, to serve as an example for other businesses. Among its practices is sending food waste to be composted at Martin’s Farm in Greenfield.

She screened the video at the Pioneer Valley Transition Towns Film Festival on Oct. 25, where she said she received encouraging feedback from residents. She said one woman who lives in a senior housing complex told her that she plans to work with others to set up a recycling program in her building.

“It’s always good to get that feedback directly from the public,” said Tanner. Also to help further the efforts of Valley Zero Waste, Tanner said she has been brainstorming ideas for a series of 30-second public service announcements.

Valley Zero Waste will have a public kick-off event at 7 p.m. Friday in the glass room of the Bangs Community Center on Boltwood Walk in Amherst to draw members and discuss further steps for the organization. Pledger said the date was chosen because it is the “Global Day of Action” sponsored by the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, an alliance of advocates for pollution-free waste disposal.

The free event will include a screening of “The Story of Stuff,” a 2007 documentary exploring the cycle of material goods from production to disposal. There will also be a panel discussion, and Pledger will show a slide presentation on examples of waste reduction strategies that are used in the Valley.

Suzanne Cordes of South Hadley, another founding member, said she hopes the launch event “will be the beginning of hopefully many dialogues in the Valley to come regarding our waste reduction.”

For more information on Valley Zero Waste, contact


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