By C.M. Dawkins
The village of Wurtsboro lies in the valley between the Shawangunk Ridge and the southernmost point of the Catskill Mountains. The village borders the Basha Kill, one of New York State's largest wetland areas, which serves as habitat for a huge diversity of plant and animal life. It also serves as nesting home to a pair of bald eagles who bring awe to our community each spring as they tend their nest and, eventually, their chicks.
In 2008, the Basha Kill Area Association (www.thebashakill.org), a prominent environmental organization devoted to the protection of this wetland, decided to find ways to show that business concerns and environmentalists can find common ground. This effort has come to be known as Come Clean – One Village at a Time.
For their first project in 2008, the BKAA Come Clean Team joined forces with the Wurtsboro Board of Trade to eliminate the use of plastic shopping bags in the village. Many residents were frustrated that their community was being tainted by the unsightly image of plastic shopping bags flapping in the trees, lodged in gutters, clogging streams, and, inevitably, harming the area's natural habitats.
The team purchased and distributed 10,000 custom-designed, reusable shopping bags sporting the Wurtsboro Board of Trade logo and website. This provided prominent advertising for village businesses, gave the community a jumpstart on the reusable bag movement, reduced the amount of waste headed for the landfill, and has made a dramatic change in the amount of plastic spoiling the beauty of residents' community.
As hoped, the organization's effort stimulated similar efforts in our community. Wurtsboro businesses have joined the action. Wurtsboro's G-Mart, The Creative Corner, and Stewarts all offer their own reusable bags, and Kathy's Tea Kozy has shifted from plastic to paper bags and has returned to using white butcher paper for wrapping sandwiches to go.
With the success of the 2008 reusable bag project, the Come Clean Team returned in 2009 with a second project. This time, global economic concerns added a new twist to the Come Clean goals. Not only did they want to benefit both businesses and environmental concerns, but they also wanted to provide tangible savings for individual businesses and residents. The idea: help the community convert from incandescent to compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs. Because CFLs use about 75 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs and because they last about seven times longer, they can save money for their users. However, they are considerably more expensive to buy. On average, they cost about $2 per bulb. So, it is sometimes hard to get people to make the out-of-pocket investment to switch to CFLs even though they know they will save money in the long run.
With all this information in mind, the Come Clean Team purchased and distributed 2,000 CFLs (23 watts each). These 23 watt CFLs are roughly equivalent to a 90 watt traditional (or incandescent) bulb. The CFLs were distributed, free of charge, to students and staff at the Emma Chase Elementary School, to local shopkeepers, to the senior housing complex, to various non-profit organizations, and to individuals who serve as first responders in Wurtsboro. It is estimated that the CFLs will save the community about $160,000 and almost one billion watts of energy over the life of the bulbs (about four and a half years).
In both 2008 and 2009, the Come Clean team involved community-youth in their efforts. This year, they met with the leadership at Emma Chase Elementary School in Wurtsboro to plan a school-wide project that would educate each student and staff member and offer them free CFLs. They identified six third grade students and worked with them to provide detailed training about the benefits of CFLs and to develop skills in presenting to groups. These six students became training assistants to the Come Clean leaders. Together, these teams visited every single classroom at Emma Chase to introduce them to the financial and environmental benefits of CFLs. Each student was offered the opportunity to sign a pledge committing to use of CFLs. Those students who signed the pledge were provided four CFLs for free to use in their homes. Changing these four bulbs will save each family more than $300 over about four years.
The group has logged the project on the website www.onebillionbulbs.com. This website offers a way for Wurtsboro's local community to participate in national level tracking of CFL conversion. This website calculates both financial savings and CO2 greenhouse gas savings in two ways. First it tells users how much has been saved since the CFLs were installed. It also tells how much will be saved annually. This shows that users will prevent approximately 476,655 pounds of greenhouse gases from being spewed into the atmosphere each year.
After two successful projects back-to-back, the Come Clean Team is eager to maintain momentum. They are in the exploration phase, investigating a number of ideas for 2010. They will, again, look for a project that can be planned and completed in a year, that will benefit both business and environmental concerns, and that may have a role for the community's youth.
Come Clean's 2008 and 2009 projects were funded by grants that were generously provided by Orange & Rockland Utilities and Sullivan Renaissance. These two organizations have both been most supportive of Come Clean both financially and operationally. If you are not familiar with them, visit their websites: www.oru.com and www.sullivanrenaissance.org.
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