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Greenfield woman wins state recycling award

By Cori Urban
The Republican / January 1, 2012
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MONTAGUE, Mass.—If anyone is looking for this year's Gold Award for Recycler of the Year recipient during her lunch hour, she won't be out running errands, having lunch with friends in a local eatery or even eating a sandwich at her desk.

Amy B. Donovan, program director for the Franklin County Solid Waste Management District, has been spending her lunchtime composting at school cafeterias in the Gill-Montague Regional School District.

The award recognized that dedication and passion. "I'm very glad to receive this award because it gives the spotlight to the work I've been doing that is very important," said Donovan, who was honored in November by MassRecycle, Massachusetts' statewide recycling coalition, with one of its 2011 Recycling Awards. "I believe our disposable society and the culture of waste is a big problem."

The 16th annual Recycling Awards acknowledge individuals and organizations for outstanding contributions to recycling and waste reduction in Massachusetts.

Donovan's outreach skills and countless hours of hands-on work have kept tons of recyclable and compostable materials out of landfills and incinerators. She established the recycling and organics program at the Franklin County Fair, which recycled one ton of bottles, cans and containers and composted one ton of food and paper waste this year. She created the Shelburne Falls Compost Collaborative, which enables seven local businesses to send source separated food and paper waste to a composting facility, and she set up organics collection programs at four municipal transfer stations.

In addition, Donovan has assisted 30 public schools and numerous private schools with recycling, composting and waste reduction, and she contributed to Springfield Materials Recycling Facility's annual Reduce, Reuse, Recycle guide. She frequently shares her knowledge at local and regional recycling conferences and workshops.

Donovan and other recipients of MassRecycle's awards have established model programs that demonstrate the possibility for significant waste reduction and the potential for a sustainable world.

The Franklin County Solid Waste Management District assists 22 member towns with multiple areas pertaining to waste: trash, recycling, compost and hazardous waste. "It helps those towns save money and deal with residents' hazardous waste and explores innovative waste diversion techniques such as commercial composting," said Donovan, who designs and writes for the annual "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" Earth Day newspaper insert that details recycling, composting and disposal options for western Massachusetts. "Methane coming from food and paper waste in landfills greatly contributes to climate change, and when we compost our food and paper waste we are slowing climate change."

Donovan, former co-chair of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Working Group Recycling Committee, received in 2006 the MIT Excellence Award for Creating Connections, awarded to members of the Working Group Recycling Committee.

"Recycling and composting saves energy, our natural resources, money and water and preserves our wildlife habitat," she said.

A 1989 graduate of Minnechaug Regional High School in Wilbraham, Donovan, now a Greenfield resident, earned a bachelor's degree in theater from Salem State College in 1996.

A dancer during college and after, Donovan's dances focused on the environment before she decided to promote care of the environment through direct action.

During November, all schools in the Gill-Montague Regional School District started composting programs in school cafeterias and kitchens. This type of larger-scale composting, sometimes called commercial composting, can accept all food waste including meat, bones, dairy and all paper waste like milk cartons and napkins.

Up to 89 percent of the waste of an average school lunch can be composted in this manner.

The food and paper waste is brought to a compost dumpster that is emptied every week; the contents are brought to Martin's Farm in Greenfield for composting.

Serena I. Smith, a Turners Falls High School freshman who works on composting with the Green Team, said the extra steps to recycle and compost are worth the effort. "It's really important for the future to have a healthy environment now," she said.

Similar off-site compost programs have been operating for years at eight other local schools.

Composting saves money on trash disposal, helps slow climate change and creates a valuable soil amendment out of materials previously destined for the trash.

Great Falls Middle School and Turners Falls High School together used to produce 20 cubic yards of trash a week. Through recycling and composting efforts, that amount has been reduced to 12 cubic yards.

Lessons students in the district learn about recycling and composting "trickle" up to their parents, Donovan said. "By starting off at such a young age with sustainable practices in daily lives, we can have more of a chance at raising environmentally minded citizens and change the culture. That is what I am trying to do."

MassRecycle is a statewide coalition of individuals, governments, businesses, institutions and nonprofits dedicated to promoting the environmental, social and economic benefits created by reducing, reusing and recycling waste materials and by purchasing recycled products. MassRecycle has been advocating for and educating the public, policy makers and legislators about recycling and waste reduction for more than two decades.

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