Inaugural Salem pumpkin drop draws crowd

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Hundreds of pumpkins, diverted from landfills and incinerators, will become compost for local gardens and farms. [Courtesy Photo/Marilyn Humphries]

By Shelley A. Sackett

Last Sunday at Dead Horse Beach, the sun shone brightly, the air was Fall-crisp and pumpkins were flying through the air as over 100 people participated in Salem’s first Great Pumpkin Drop and Toss.

Scotia Hunter, 10 and a fifth-grader at Carlton Innovation School, never imagined she would be throwing her jack-o’-lantern into a barrel four days after she carved its face.

“I think it’s really fun,” she said, despite hers landing a little short of its mark.

Sponsored by SAFE (Salem Alliance for the Environment), SalemRecycles and Black Earth Compost, the community event promoted composting with the goal of signing up more Salem households to participate in the fee-based service. It also provided the opportunity for people to find out if they had the skills to shoot their pumpkin through a basketball hoop.

A blue tarp in front of the truck bore the slimy remains of those former Jack o’ lanterns whose owners didn’t score.

Justin Sandler of Black Earth Compost with is glad he put down a tarp in front of his “basketball hoop” truck.

 

“I feel like people are underestimating how much force it takes to get a 10-pound pumpkin up and over into the truck,” said Justin Sandler, Short Stop at Black Earth Compost of Gloucester, which donated its services. “We lowered the hoop for the kids, but some people have been adventurous,” he added with a chuckle.

Black Earth Compost CEO Conor Miller, who has done post-Halloween pumpkin pick ups in other towns and has handled Salem’s for the past couple of years, knew the city was ripe for just such a special event.

“Salem’s amount of pumpkins is triple any other town’s, and I always wanted to shoot one through the basketball [hoop],” he said. “We’re trying to get as many people in Salem on board to participate in curbside composting. It’s the right thing to do.”

The idea to host a free community composting event grew out of a SAFE board meeting last summer where members set reducing residential composting rates and increasing participation as one of its top priorities for the coming year.

Initially, a grant allowed Salem to offer composting at no cost during a pilot program begun in April 2014. By that December, about 1,500 homes had signed up. When the grant ran out and the city had to start charging for the service, household participation rates took a tumble.

Current subscribers pay $8/month, but the cost could be reduced to $6.50 per month with the addition of fewer than 100 more households, according to Miller.

SAFE Chairman Pat Gozema, who has been active in SAFE since its 2001 founding, says her group is concerned about the existence of methane gas coming from landfills and the incineration of organic material, particularly food.

“We need to increase composting so food waste goes to the growing of more food rather than producing more methane gas that causes climate change,” she said.

Gozemba organized an initial event planning session shortly after last summer’s SAFE board meeting. She invited Miller, Salem Business Manager Julie Rose, and members of SalemRecycles, the all-volunteer committee appointed by Mayor Kim Driscoll in 2008 to develop ways to increase recycling and decrease waste.

Miller suggested doing a pumpkin drop off.

“He said after Halloween, the compost bins are very heavy, straining his collectors’ backs. He thought this would be helpful,” said Shelley Alpern, SAFE board member and longtime volunteer.

The group decided to make the event community-wide and free, so they could amass hundreds of pumpkins and reintroduce people to composting. Black Earth agreed to absorb the cost of the pick up in return for gaining the organic material. Coffee Time Bake Shop on Bridge Street and Honey Dew Donuts and Dunkin Donuts, both located on Washington Street, donated treats and donuts. SAFE absorbed remaining costs.

Miller started Black Earth Compost in 2010 after working in the recycling and composting fields in Wisconsin and Wyoming. He is passionate about eliminating wasted materials and committed to doing his part to make that goal a reality.

“I think of composting like a soil bank. If you’re only drawing from it, in other words sowing but not recycling the nutrients, then we’re all going to be broke,” he explained. He refers to food bank and animal feed donations as alternatives to composting, but is adamant that consumers not throw away food that came out of the ground “or we’re going to run out of nutrients.”

He too hopes more people sign up for curbside composting services after attending Sunday’s event.

“Driving from one house to the next is more efficient than driving from one neighborhood to the next. It becomes cheaper and cheaper the more people that do it,” he said.

Judging from the almost full container of names entered into a raffle for a free one-year compost pickup, the event sponsors succeeded in whetting people’s appetites to participate more in composting. The free cider and treats didn’t hurt either.

“Instead of letting pumpkins sit on the sidewalk for three weeks and rot, the city collects them and makes them into compost,” said Salem resident Craig Barcelo between bites of a donut. “This is fantastic. I’d definitely do it again.”

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SalemRecycles celebrates a decade of making Salem greener

 

Salem Recycles

SalemRecycles committee members received special commendations for the committee’s ten years of helping to make Salem one the North Shore’s greenest cities. Pictured from back row: Sharon Kishida, DEP; Rep. Tucker; Hannah, from Sen. Lovely’s office; Shelby Hypes (new member); Liz Vago; Penny Neal (Emeritus); Carol Hautau; Julie Rose; Susan Yochelson and Mayor Kim Driscoll. Front row: Jennifer Percy (Emeritus); Nancy Gilberg; Melynn Nuite; Erin Huggard and Lynn Murray. Current members missing from photo: Tony Keck, John Roberts and Beth Gillette. (Emeritus-members who have been active for over 5 years and who now choose to staff events, etc. and are not obligated to come to meetings.)

 

By Shelley A. Sackett

In 2008, Julie Rose had been at her job in the Salem City Engineering Department for about a year when Mayor Kim Driscoll decided that her department would manage the city’s recently negotiated trash contract, which included new recycling guidelines.

 

Rose realized the engineering department had a lot of work ahead of it to educate the community about the importance of recycling. “We didn’t have a lot of staff, but I had heard about volunteer recycling committees in other communities,” said Rose, currently Business Manager of the City of Salem Engineering Department. She wanted to start one in Salem.

 

She worked with Jason Silva, then Mayor Driscoll’s Chief of Staff, and Sharon Kashida, the Northeast District 2 Regional and Solid Waste Coordinator for the Mass. Dept. of Environmental Protection. They looked at various recycling committees throughout the North Shore.

 

By talking to other communities, they learned they would need volunteers from various fields such as graphic design, communications, the law, and others. “We needed a committee with strong and diverse skill sets to help us pull off what we wanted to do,” Rose said.

 

Collaboratively, Rose, Silva and Kashida came up with the structure for Salem’s recycling committee. SalemRecycles would be a 12-member committee that is charged with developing ways to increase recycling throughout the city and promote other green efforts. Members’ backgrounds would include environmental studies, graphic and fine arts, business, law, public health, communications and education.

 

Mayor Driscoll appointed the inaugural SalemRecycles committee in 2008 and ten years later, Rose, the committee’s only paid employee, proudly points out that of the current 12 members, 3 have been involved since the beginning and 3 more have served for 8 years or more.

 

Last month, SalemRecycles celebrated its 10th birthday, and Mayor Driscoll presented its members with special commendations for a decade of work.

 

“The Salem Recycling Committee has been such a wonderful driver of positive change in our community. Their dedication and passion for sustainability has been instrumental in so many highly successful projects, events, and initiatives in Salem over the last decade, making our city more green and more livable for all. The volunteers who devote their time to the committee and its many efforts are committed to Salem and to our planet,” Mayor Driscoll said.

 

Since 2008, Salem has become a recycling leader on the North Shore, improving recycling rates by 3 times, holding 20 events per year and pioneering many initiatives. The recipient of many grants, awards and special recognition, SalemRecycles was the winner of the 2017 Mass Municipal Award for Innovation.

 

Kashida, as municipal recycling coordinator for 39 communities north and northwest of Boston — including Salem — is in a position to compare SalemRecycles to other communities she serves, and she gives Salem high marks. “I have been able to see how Salem Recycles has enabled the City to accomplish so much more. This is not your standard volunteer committee,” she said.

 

“Under Mayor Driscoll’s continued support and Julie Rose’s aegis, the committee is empowered to work with the City to help it achieve its waste reduction and recycling goals and be on the cutting edge,” she added.

 

Among the Salem programs Kashida cites are: trash limits; dual stream recycling education campaign with the former Newark industries; E-waste collections; book swaps; an annual textile drive; an annual swap and drop; a newsletter and blog, and the recently enacted plastic bag ban.

 

Two initiatives, the food waste collection pilot and the twice-yearly Repair Café, are firsts in her district. “SalemRecycles has served as a role model for other communities to replicate, so its impact goes beyond Salem,” Kashida said. “The SalemRecycles Facebook page is considered the “go-to” source for up-to-date vetted information.”

 

Seven or eight years ago, when she first joined SalemRecycles, Nancy Gilberg took on the primary administrative role for the Facebook page. She grew it from several hundred followers to about 1,850.

 

“I enjoy writing, editing, and building positive community. I create and promote the FB events, and draw from dozens of other recycling pages and everyday life experiences to create and share content,” she said. While the committee’s primary goal is to educate and to provide recycling and diversion opportunities, “we also want it to be fun and easy.”

 

Lynn Murray has been a member since the committee’s inception and served as its Chair for a year and a half. She remembers how its initial emphasis was to educate Salem residents about the then new recycling initiative. While education remains a prime focus, social media now makes the job easier and more far reaching.

 

SalemRecycles has a Trash and Recycling page on the City website (Salem.com/trashandrecycling), the GreenSalem website (GreenSalem.com), the SalemRecycles Facebook site, videos, an e-newsletter, occasional articles in local newspapers, appearances on SATV, door hangers, flyers and more.

 

The committee’s efforts to help residents think more broadly about recycling efforts make Murray especially proud. A twice yearly book swap (attended by up to 850 people at each event), an annual Textile Drive (where 7 tons of textiles were collected last November), and the Spring Swap and Drop are examples of recycling’s reach beyond just curbside collection.

 

Murray has loved her decade serving on SalemRecycles. “The committee is made up of volunteers who represent nearly all wards of the City, are passionate about what they do, yet have a lot of fun carrying out the various initiatives. Because the volunteers are from all over the City, we serve as emissaries to neighborhood groups encouraging participation in events and answering questions,” she said.

 

Murray credits the Mayor and Rose for the committee members’ commitment and longevity. “The Mayor has given us a lot of latitude, which has allowed for the expression of creativity and the development of initiatives beyond the scope of the City-mandated recycling programs,” she explained.

 

Rose’s management style and leadership have also been crucial to SalemRecycles’ success. “She delegates work effectively, empowers committee members to come up with new initiatives and always gives credit to and focuses on the accomplishments of committee members,” Murray added.

 

Past chair and current committee member Anthony Keck is no less passionate about SalemRecycles and its mission. He pointed out how Salem’s status as a tourist destination is a mixed blessing. “Hundreds of thousands of visitors arrive in the city each year. They bring tourist dollars with them, and they also bring and create trash from their single use items,” he said. SalemRecycles is attacking this problem on several fronts.

 

Visible recycling bins are now placed throughout the City. SalemRecycles became involved with charitable walk and run sponsors and found ways to reduce trash and to recycle, “saving the City by reducing trash tonnage.” The committee introduced cigarette butt recycling bins and placed them around the city.

 

“Feedback from visitors has been encouraging and many have commented with gratitude for encouraging and providing recycling collection to them,” Keck said.

 

He considers launching the Repair Café, which teaches how items can be repaired and reused rather instead of being tossed in the trash and replaced, one of SalemRecycle’s most significant initiatives.

 

“Raising the consciousness of all residents and stakeholders to the importance of reducing trash continues to influence how people purchase products,” Keck said. “Everyone can find ways to reduce, repurpose, reuse, repair and lastly recycle.”

 

SalemRecycles holds regular meetings, open to the public, the first Tuesday of the month on the 1st floor of 90 Washington Street at 6:30 pm. For more information, visit salem.com/recycling-and-trash, greensalem.com or Salem Ma Recycles on Facebook.