OLYMPIA – A robust organic recycling and waste reduction program at Thurston County government facilities as well as in the community has earned the county a top national award from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This month, the EPA recognized Thurston County as a national leader by selecting the county for the 2009 WasteWise Gold Achievement Award for Organic Material Reduction.
In August of 2008, county offices began recycling organic material such as food scraps, paper towels, paper cups and plates, pizza boxes, grass clippings and more through the Food Plus Organics Recycling program. Organic materials collected from lunch rooms, coffee stands, jury rooms, break rooms, and multiple locations within the jail are taken to Silver Springs Organics where the material is converted to nutrient-rich compost. County employees responded to an energetic, in-house education and information campaign by recycling more than 154 tons of organic material in 2008.
Environmental Educator Amber Smith points out that the program not only helps the environment, but saves money for the county and its taxpayers. “Disposal costs at Silver Springs are about $29 per ton, almost a quarter of the regular garbage tip fees of $110 per ton. This is also a great savings in energy use as regular garbage is hauled to the Roosevelt Regional Landfill, about 250 miles away in eastern Washington, while the Silver Springs site is less than 20 miles away,” says Smith. She adds that disposed trash from the Courthouse Campus declined by more than 40,000 pounds over the last year.
The in-house success of the county’s recycling program is complemented by great strides in recycling by the local community. Thurston County Solid Waste staff planned, implemented, promoted and evaluated the curbside organics collection program. Currently 99 schools and businesses are active participants in the program.
The county’s “Food to Flowers” program has helped local schools launch composting programs with organizational set up, presentations and training. Smith reports that participating schools have seen an approximate 80 to 90 percent reduction in kitchen and cafeteria waste.
The EPA will honor Thurston County at its annual awards ceremony on March 22 in Arlington, Virginia. The EPA award is the third major award the Solid Waste Division has won in the past three years. In 2007, the division received the Recycler of the Year award from the Washington State Recycling Association. Thurston County Public Works educator Colleen Uuereb received the “Outstanding Non-formal Environmental Educator Award for 2009” from the Environmental Education Association of Washington.
A list of free environmental education programs is available at www.ThurstonSolidWaste.org ( http://www.thurstonsolidwaste.org/ )