Grass-roots recycling efforts cut waste and save money

Like millions of Americans, Robin Wigney felt she and her family could do more at home to be environmentally friendly.

So she and her sister-in-law went door-to-doorin Worthington, Ohio, seeking half a dozen other neighborhood households to join them in forming an EcoTeam. Her team and others like it in eight US cities are part of a grass-roots effort coordinated by the Global Action Plan, a nonprofit organization that promotes the development of sustainable lifestyles and livable neighborhoods.

The EcoTeam program is held in private homes every other week over three or four months. The goal, based on the theory of "social diffusion," is to get 15 percent of any given population involved. This is considered necessary for social movements to take root; four months is needed to change a habit.

EcoTeams in the Columbus, Ohio, area program cut their average household garbage an estimated 41 percent last year. The Wigneys, for instance, used to put out two trash barrels each week for curbside pickup. Now they fill just half a barrel with trash, but two bins with recyclables. Cost savings from waste reduction and energy conservation due to the EcoTeams' efforts amounted to $291 per household.

One idea of many that Mrs. Wigney gathered from participation on an EcoTeam is the kitchen-waste composting bin that now sits in the family's basement. She says the thought of carrying food scraps to a backyard composting pile on winter nights didn't appeal to her, so the family set up an indoor worm bin, using a moistened mix of peat and shredded newspapers in an empty plastic filing drawer.

While it may seem an odd project at first, the Wigneys enjoy the opportunity to do something environmentally responsible that's also fun for their two young children.

"For the kids, it's a fun science project to feed the worms and see the [kitchen waste] turned into soil," she says.

But fine-tuning the operation hasn't always been easy. "We're still tweaking it," she says, recalling how fruit flies became a problem when the worms couldn't consume the food waste fast enough to keep it from rotting.

Despite this sort of reality check, Wigney and her fellow EcoTeam members show no signs of losing enthusiasm.

In fact, even though the Wigneys' EcoTeam has completed the program funded by the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio and the city of Worthington, the group continues to plan "joint actions." Not long ago, an eco-friendly baby shower was held for several families in the neighborhood. Instead of new, overpackaged gifts, there was a swap of storybooks.

Bulk purchasing of earth-friendly household cleaners and compact fluorescent light bulbs are also on the group's to-do list.

Motivating them, Wig-ney says, is a desire to do their part environmentally with the help of a support system. This accountability brings results.

"The biggest hurdle in participating in this program," she says, "is finding ways to make it convenient in your household – because the way our culture works, it's got to be convenient."

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