Initiative Plans to Promote Environmental Health in Appalachia
The AOZWI, a project that launched in fall 2010, was created to improve the recycling status in the Appalachia Ohio region and create jobs and businesses from recycled feedstocks. It collaborates with communities to build local wealth and environmental health by increasing waste diversion and supporting the development of a zero-waste economy.
Coordinated by Rural Action, a member-based development organization established in 1991 by the Appalachian Ohio Public Interest Campaign, the AOZWI employs a diverse group of individuals with a variety of skill sets to work on the project.
The group is partnered with the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs at Ohio University and is funded by a grant of the Sugar Bush Foundation, a supporting organization of the Ohio University Foundation.
In their mission to improve issues involving solid waste in Appalachia Ohio, members of the AOZWI work with local elected officials to give them a better understanding of the current situation and options for improvement, research the best practices and policies, create needs assessments, gather baseline information, conduct feasibility studies and facilitate community discussions.
The recent veto of a resolution supporting a new solid waste plan for the Athens-Hocking district in Logan has left many city officials and community members quizzical as to what is to come of the resolution, but members of the AOZWI have provided an optimistic outlook in regards to the voting results.
“Although the local solid waste issue may seem grim in the media, there is actually large interest among the political subdivisions and communities to solve this problem,” Kyle O’Keefe, Rural Action Zero-Waste Initiative coordinator, said in an email. “We are acting as a catalyst to make this happen with the best possible results for this region.”
O’Keefe explained that the construction of a zero-waste action plan is the main goal the group is pushing for.
“This plan is to be created based on needs, challenges and opportunities within local communities and feasible options for creating a stronger economy through managing our discards,” O’Keefe said about the zero-waste action plan. “Any results from this project should be used in the development of the local solid waste district management plan, which is updated every five years.”
Among the many advocates of the thrice unsuccessful Athens-Hocking Solid Waste District plan are both boards of county commissioners and Athens City Council.
Athens County Commissioners Lenny Eliason and Mark Sullivan have both said that if the Hocking governmental entities reject the plan again, Athens County will consider pulling out of the joint township in order to go about its own solid waste management operation to avoid the high costs of a plan mandated by the state EPA.
Eliason said that the commissioners have been helping the AOZWI by trying to define their scope and deliverables for the project they are trying to achieve for the Athens-Hocking Solid Waste District. He believes that the AOZWI could be beneficial to meeting the goals of the plan, depending on how the initiative is implemented.
“Zero-waste is a great goal,” Eliason said. “We need to reduce our waste as a society.”
O’Keefe explained that the direction that the AOWZI emphasizes aligns with goals and values of both the City of Athens and OU.
“It will help to create systems that will provide more access to recycling and better economical ways to manage these resources and services,” he explained.
The AOZWI currently has a strategic work plan for the next year that will provide answers and direction to the current questions and concerns that the Athens-Hocking Solid Waste District is facing. The results will point to long-term strategies for improving the systems in a way that works best for community members and key stakeholders.