Monday, January 18, 2010

Collecting and Reusing Richmond’s Rubish Could Create Jobs

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Governor elect Bob McDonnell’s main message in his campaign was to create jobs for Virginians. On his website he says he wants to establish Virginia as a “Green Jobs Zone”. One of Barack Obama’s campaign promises was to create five million green jobs while he’s in office but critics say stimulus money hasn’t created a single new green job. With Virginia’s unemployment rate lingering at 6.4 percent in November 2009, down by one percent from the year before, Virginians may be starting to itch for some solutions.

And Carter Anderson, founder of Save the Trash, says he has one. Anderson says the city’s discarded plastic, glass, and paper could be used to make yarn, insulation and art. Not to mention the city’s food scraps could compost every community garden, its discarded building scraps could be used to create all kinds of new products and furnishings that could then be sold.

"In bulk I could bundle plastic and ship it off to someone that buys plastic but I'd really rather see someone in town develop the business that uses plastic bottles. Make string so that people can knit and crochet with local material."

Anderson says he doesn’t have the means to do all that he knows is possible but he’s hoping others will join him. Either because it’s good for the environment or because it’s profitable.

"I think there are people looking to find there way, a niche, in a green economy. Everybody's talking about we need green jobs. Well get involved, solid waste management is right there and for greedy reasons you could get involved because you want to make a million bucks making fiberglass insulation out of the city's empty bottles."

Save the Trash’s goals are to reduce litter, improve education about the environment, encourage recycling and create more opportunities for recycling on Richmond streets.

Until this Fall Anderson drove his Recycle Bus around the city, collecting trash he found on the street and from businesses. He carted the materials to schools and Farmers markets throughout the city for kids to make whatever they wanted and he even had what he calls a “regular trash carnival” outside of Quirk gallery on one wet First Friday.

"Whatever I gathered from a week of recycling from several businesses in town was on the bus. Neat stuff I found in the alley, on the bus. And kids were able to make games out of recycled materials, make art."

Rand Burgess, owner of the Camel says Anderson helped reinvent is business by heading the recycling program. Anderson helped him create a bar out of 90 percent reclaimed wood and it cost the business 50 percent less than a new bar would have.

"When recycling makes sense, we're all for it and Carter's helped me realize that goal by being more in tuned to the products that are available, the materials that are out there, or sitting in a warehouse."

But this fall Anderson lost the bus. It got towed and he didn’t have the money to get it out or pay the 3000 dollars a year it would cost to insure it. Anderson continues collecting Richmond’s litter on foot but not having a vehicle has made it harder.

Still, he has managed to roll on, organizing a recycling program that will begin this month at Binford Elementary School. It will be run by the students who he helped build recycle bins out of reclaimed materials. Anderson will pick up the materials and also help kids construct things out of them, maybe even take their creations to local markets to be sold.

Anderson swears he could do so much more with a little money to get the Save the Trash bus or something like it back on the road and a place to store all the reusable trash he collects. Some of his friends at Parks Services say the city might be willing to rent him a building for a dollar.

"I need to communicate all I would like to do with the building and then I think they would be willing. I guess I have a communication problem because I haven't been able to get the words right."

Carter says he isn’t downgrading the attempts by the city to boost recycling but he thinks simple projects like placing recycling bins next to trash cans around the city and providing incentives for businesses to find alternatives uses for their trash could make a big difference.

"Unfortunately it's still cheaper to throw it away. If they were all a little bit more responsible for the waste they are filling landfills with we'd probably be able to make a lot of really cool stuff."

Anderson wants to be the conduit between the stuff he can collect and those who can learn to use the city’s trash in a new way. Maybe the new product they create could even mean a new source of income.

-Caroline Jackson

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