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Donovan/My Turn: Recycling story stuff of movies

I am writing partially in response to Kathleen O’Rourke’s My Turn “Movie not all magic.” While I generally agree with what she wrote, I want to inform the community about the waste diversion efforts of Warner Bros. (WB) and others; activities that can dramatically shrink the carbon footprint of an event, a school or a business.

Before filming of “The Judge” began, Warner Bros. staff met with Mary Vilbon of the Greater Shelburne Falls Area Business Association (GSFABA). Mary encouraged WB to contact me at the Franklin County Solid Waste District to learn how the film could recycle and compost as much waste as possible.

Warner Bros. hired two small local companies: M&M Removal to handle office and production recycling and trash, and Valley Green Shredding to shred and recycle confidential paper. From day one until the office closed last week, WB’s Bridge Street offices recycled all paper, cardboard and containers.

I encouraged the film’s catering company to compost food and paper waste and to recycle cans, bottles and containers. The Solid Waste District loaned event bins and signs, Warner Bros. purchased the required bags, and composting was under way.

The daily meals for up to 300 cast and crew members were initially held in Mohawk school’s gym, and later at the French King Bowling Center. Cast and crew from near and far appreciated the opportunity to compost their leftover food, paper plates and napkins in compost collection bins, and to recycle water bottles in recycle bins. Reusable plates and silverware went into crates to be washed by the caterers. Non-recyclable plastic bowls and cups had to be trashed, something to green up next time.

For the first few days, catering staff and Mohawk students (ironically, I recruited the same Mohawk student Ms. O’Rourke referenced) handled the compost and recycling. Compostable waste went into Mohawk’s compost dumpster.

Before long, Warner Bros. assigned “The Judge” an “Environmental Lead,” Max Goldberg. Max immediately expanded composting and recycling to the crew breakfasts and locations. When meals shifted to the French King Bowling Center, Erving Elementary allowed Max to use the school’s two-yard compost dumpster. Since school was winding down, there was adequate space in the school dumpsters.

The recycling totals for “The Judge” are as follows: 50 32-gallon bags (about one ton) composted; forty-five cubic yards (about 3.5 tons) cardboard recycled; ninety 14-gallon bags (about 1.5 tons) of paper and bottles and cans recycled; 620 pounds confidential paper (scripts!) shredded and recycled; and an unknown quantity of bottles and cans recycled by crew and onlookers in Shelburne Falls’ permanent sidewalk recycle bins. (Thanks to the towns of Shelburne and Buckland, GSFABA, and generous donors.)

The film’s recycling and composting efforts prevented over 17 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MTCO2e) from entering our atmosphere. About 36 percent of the waste generated was recycled or composted, which is a similar diversion rate to some of our towns.

Waste and climate change have a strong connection. Climate change is caused by heat-trapping greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. When food and paper wastes decay anaerobically in a landfill, they release methane, a greenhouse gas 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. In contrast, the aerobic process of composting produces negligible amounts of methane. Commercial composting goes beyond the backyard compost bin by accepting a much wider range of food and paper waste.

The film’s composting was possible because Franklin County is a leader in organics recycling; 15 schools within the Franklin County Solid Waste District send all food and paper waste from cafeterias and kitchens to local composting facilities. In addition, many classrooms compost food waste in on-site compost bins or worm composting bins, and the finished compost is used in school gardens.

Municipal compost programs in New Salem, Northfield, Orange and Whately accept compostable waste from residents, which is sent off-site for composting, saving money on trash disposal.

Shelburne Falls has a strong composting infrastructure. McCusker’s Market (and Green Fields Market) have been composting for many years. The Shelburne Falls Compost Collaborative (www.gsfaba/compost), comprised of five eateries (The Baker’s Oven Bistro, The Blue Rock Restaurant, Mocha Maya’s, Mo’s Fudge Factor and The West End Pub), two offices, and the Bridge of Flowers, is currently sending four cubic yards of compostable waste each week to a local compost operation.

It is my hope that the success stories of “The Judge” and others will inspire businesses, events, towns, and residents to reduce trash generation by recycling and composting more.

So, there is room for improvement and it wasn’t all magic, but it was a few bushels of planning and effort, a dash of our excellent infrastructure, a splash of local businesses, and a pinch of good will to show Hollywood how green Franklin County is, and how much greener future productions can be!

Amy Donovan is the program director at Franklin County Solid Waste Management District. She manages the Franklin County Fair’s Recycling and Composting Program. MassRecycle, the statewide recycling coalition, named her the 2011 Recycler of the Year. You can reach here at amy@franklincountywastedistrict.org

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