One of the issues that’s facing our town (and state and nation) in the coming years is the environment and how people can learn to live more lightly on the land and leave a smaller environmental footprint. There are goings on all over town – from green development at the Senior Center and other planned projects, to energy saving efforts by the BMLD. But simple acts like recycling are where the rubber meets the road for most town residents when it comes to the environment. That’s why I took the time one recent morning to sit down with Deb Lockett, who sits on the town’s Solid Waste Recycling Committee, to talk about progress in increasing the town’s recycling rate and other environmental initiatives in town.
Deb’s a great asset to the town — a dedicated environmentalist who is working on projects such as a Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) program to retrofit school buses with emission control devices that reduce diesel fumes that pollute the air and contribute to health problems like childhood asthma. Here’s her take on some items that are at the top of the town’s environmental agenda
Through the Solid Waste and Recycling Advisory Committee, Deb is among a group of people working with the town to increase its waste recycling. Lockett says there’s room for improvement — echoing the evalutions given by others of the town’s efforts. As it stands, all four of Belmont’s elementary schools (Burbank, Butler, Wellington and Winn Brook) and the Chenery Middle School have active recycling programs. The High School, however, doesn’t yet have a formal program beyond basic paper recycling. Lockett said that a full-bore recycling program there could have a huge impact: getting students more directly involved in issues that effect the environment and, not least, saving the town around $70 per ton in waste disposal costs. As it stands, Lockett said she is waiting for buckets to be delivered that will put a recycling recepticle in every classroom, and for posters to be hung around the school. Even more important: she and the town will be looking for hard data from the custodial crew there on the progress of the program, once its up and running. Shocking as it may seem, Lockett said there is no true “model“ program in the state that Belmont or other districts could base their recycling program on — each town, in essence, develops a program unique to their school and town. Time is an issue, too.
“I think the teachers and principals have so much on their plates, that (recycling) seems like just one more thing for them,” she said. Lockett and the Solid Waste subcomittee are working with BHS staff to try to develop a systemic process that will carry forward from year to year as students come and go. Beyond that, Lockett and others say that there’s a powerful economic argument for recycling, especially in these lean times. “For every ton (of recyling) we divert from the waste stream, we’re saving $71,” she said. However, as it stands, schools don’t get charged for what they throw away — nor do they get credit for what they’re saving through recycling. That needs to change, but Lockett says it will take leadership at the top to make it happen.
Having just participated in a $16.5m program on improving the quality of exhaust from school busses, this issue is one that is close to Deb’s heart these days. She says that, so far, the efforts of Sustainable Belmont and other groups within town have some tangible results: a grant was obtained that resulted in signs being posted in areas identified as “hot spots” or idling zones that notify drivers that idling is illegal. Police Chief Richard McLaughlin also placed a letter in the Citizen Herald that called attention to the idling problem, and a state law that forbids idling.
But more needs to be done, Lockett said. First of all, the signs that have been posted around town have created some confusion, with wording that implies that idling is only forbidden when its in excess of five minutes. “It’s not like you get five free minutes of idling,” she said.
Sure, it seems like the kind of nit-picking that confirms the general public’s worst suspicions about “do gooder” environmentalists, but Lockett said that idling contributes enormously to air pollution. At most of our schools (like the Wellington), idling from cars dropping off students has caused engine exhaust to get sucked into the school’s HVAC system, degrading air quality in parts of the school. Lockett said that Sustainable Belmont had ordered more signs, which would have been deployed around town, but the town wanted to proceed very cautiously and did not allow more than 35 to be hung. As a result, densely settled areas, such as Grove St. have only three signs are posted, rather than the 5 or 6 needed, reducing their overall effectiveness, Lockett said. The group has also put notices in the paychecks of town employees and coordinated letters to the editor to try to raise awareness of the environmental consequences of idling. “Would you drive into your garage, shut the door and leave the engine running?” Lockett asks. “No, because you’d die. But when you’re idling you’re doing essentially the same thing to the environment.”
Further actions need to focus on reducing the number of kids getting driven to school — either by encouraging walking or car pooling, Lockett said. The BPD might step up its activity, as well — issuing warnings or even tickets to motorists caught idling, she said.