‘Busy, awesome year’ in works for Rome group

Published Feb 18, 2017 at 12:00pm

With several key challenges, Rome Clean & Green has “a busy, awesome year” ahead in 2017, noted Tanya Davis, the group’s executive director.

In 2016, the city resurrected its relationship with the local Keep America Beautiful affiliate with a one-year contract. “It’s what we’re designed to do,” said Davis of the cooperation.

The $127,400 contract is for a recycling, litter prevention and beautification initiative. It’s “direct engagement” with the city that allows the group to do its job, Davis said.

Last year the group set about establishing itself as a true partner to the city’s efforts, instead of one working parallel to the city. It reached out to existing partners and connected with new ones. It did fact-finding and research such as identifying hot spots for litter in Rome, targeting appropriate areas for clean up and waste bins, reviewed recycling efforts for positive and negative aspects and engaged with Bliss, the city’s contracted waste hauler.

Representatives of the group attended Positively Rome’s Wednesday farmer’s market to engage the public. It did the same with children in the city’s schools.

In 2016, Rome’s recycling rate worsened for the first time in years, dropping from 22 to 21.2 percent. The rate had been improving steadily since a 16.58 percent rate in 2010. The number might not explain the whole story, Davis noted.

First of all, she noted, two popular recycling efforts in Rome — twice a year at Jervis Public Library and another organized by the office of state Sen. Joseph A. Griffo — have diverted recycled materials out of the general waste stream entirely. (The percentage counts only the split between conventional garbage and recycled materials in the one stream system.) It also doesn’t quantify how much garbage is being diverted into green waste (which is not figured into the percentage).

This year, said Davis, the question will be: “How do we connect?” The group is busy establishing a hotline and improving its website — romecleanandgreen.com —to step up efforts to answer questions and recruit volunteers. The group has been working to get its message out through the media and on social media, she noted.

The group, she said, could benefit from a rising tide of volunteerism and citizen engagement. “People are motivated to engage,” she said, creating a strong sense of community and caring she said she hasn’t seen since the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. People, she said, want to be involved. “Everyone benefits from what we do,” she said of efforts to clean the land, air and water. “The community says, ‘We want less litter. We want beautification.’”

She complimented new Rome City School District Superintendent Peter Blake for being a leader in engaging young people. “Let’s not wait until these things are mandated,” she said.

And the goals fit right in with other city efforts, Davis noted. “It’s really economic development. Things are aligned right now for us to have success.”

In 2011, the city set limits on how much garbage could be put out by a household each week. The Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Authority changed its recycling policy to a single-stream so that all recycled materials could be put into one container rather than have to be sorted by residents (a change that tends to improve recycling because detailed sorting is no longer required). But, Davis noted, even since then, the efforts to “reduce, reuse and recycle” require buy-in. “It’s a whole mindset,” she said. “It’s a whole lifestyle change.”

The city’s switch in 2015 to much larger trash and recyclable bins helped, she said, but there’s still plenty of education that remains to be done such as that pizza boxes are recyclable, ABC is the rule (“all bottles and containers” are recyclable) and junk mail should be recycled (just use a marker to cover up personal information like names and addresses, Davis said).

That’s one key this year, Davis said. Engagement is important, and making it fun helps. The group tries to make everything a teaching moment. In addition to its signature Great American Cleanup (May 6 this year), the group has a host of fun events planned where it can show how its principles work in real life.

There’s a spelling and trivia bee set for April 1 at the Beeches. A mud run is in the works, perhaps in May.

The Wine & Art Chair-ity Auction will be Nov. 4 at Woods Valley Ski Area. An event on the Mohawk River Trail and on the water at Bellamy Harbor is in the works called Pedal Up to Clean Up/Paddle Up to Clean Up. The group also wants to revive the Adopt-A-Spot program.

The group also holds its monthly organizational meetings at 6 p.m. on the second Monday of each month at the Birnie Bus Service office at 248 Otis St. The group’s board members are: President Tim Birnie, Treasurer Kim Birnie, Secretary Sally Majka, Group Historian Ken Vogt, Al Witt, Jade Streifert, Jake DiBari, Lynda Alerding and Nicole Badgett.