“This is my legacy. When I first started, we had a trailer and an outhouse.” So muses Laura Petit, recycling coordinator for the Town of New Paltz, as she gazes over her little realm of the repurposed. The New Paltz Reuse and Recycling Center as it stands today was launched on an ambitious note in 2012, with the opening of a 2,000-square-foot warehouse building that had been jointly funded by the town and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The project got off the ground as part of a collaboration with the US Environmental Protection Agency, which had selected New Paltz as one of 13 towns nationwide to participate in its pilot Zero Waste Partner Community program.
Through the tireless and innovative efforts of Petit, her assistant Leanne Maloney, other town employees and a mixed bag of enthusiastic volunteers and community partners, the Zero Waste program has met and surpassed its original goal of reducing New Paltz’s solid waste stream by 20 percent by 2018; in fact, it has nearly halved that output. “We’re spending about $38,000 a year for disposal, whereas most towns of comparable size spend about $60,000,” Petit said. “We only send out about 297 tons of garbage.”
Unrecyclable trash is sent to the Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency (UCRRA) transfer station in New Paltz and then loaded into trailers, which are then shipped out to the Seneca Meadows landfill, four-and-a-half hours away. Recycled materials get sent 16 miles to the UCRRA facility in Kingston – from which, Petit notes, they must then be shipped to the Port of New York or Albany. Not only does sending all this solid waste away cost the town money in tipping fees, but it also magnifies the waste’s environmental footprint due to fuel and other transportation costs.
The interior of the 40-by-50-foot metal Reuse Center building is now a paradise for crafty types. There are aisles devoted to fabric and yarn, wallpaper, tiles, glass containers, lamp parts, wooden furniture, stationery items such as boxes of labels and rolls of paper for accounting calculators, materials for making signs… Each turn reveals a new panorama of materials that the creatively minded could assemble into something new and useful at very low cost. Among the items that “sell like crazy” are wine-bottle corks (a pack of 20 for a dollar) and the five-gallon plastic bottles used in water coolers, the latter of which are in high demand among home maple-syrup producers.
“This was such a different place last year,” Maloney says, as she shows the counter where employees and volunteers have started to assemble kits for making holiday cards and decorations, tea light holders, fancy boas made from colorful fabric scraps and dioramas of miniature townscapes. These kits are great ways to repurpose not only their “ingredients,” but also the small plastic zipper bags that Kiss My Face in Gardiner donates in considerable quantities from its discontinued health-and-beauty-aids sampler assortments. The Center frequently hosts craft workshops where community members, including kids, can learn to make trash into treasures.
Some of the items resold in the Reuse Center are pulled out of the stream of items formerly thrown directly into recycling dumpsters. In the glass area, for example, Maloney has recently installed a wooden trough where bottles can be sorted and those that can be redeemed for deposits or are otherwise marketable can be segregated out. Practitioners of herbal medicine are eager to buy any small, eyedropper-topped tincture bottles that are discarded, she says.
Elsewhere around the perimeter of the Recycling Center are various other areas dedicated to the storage and resale of high-demand items like lumber and pipes and other building materials. Used bicycles, once trashed for scrap metal, are sold for $10 to $25. “Sometimes they’re in perfect shape,” Maloney notes; and if not, you can also buy spare parts and fix them up yourself. “Somebody donated a ton of inner tubes, which we sell for $3.” There’s also a shed filled with hand tools, primarily for gardening, that can be borrowed by the day for free if you’re an annual permit-holder, which costs $25 per calendar year for New Paltz residents, $40 for non-residents. Many are “things you’re not going to need every day, like a posthole-digger,” Petit says.
The tool-share program was set up by Wolf Bravo of the Repair Café, who, according to Petit, has organized many such programs in communities throughout the Northeast. She is full of praise for the many committed volunteers who come to help out, such as the folks from the Bruderhof in Rifton, who built a greenhouse from mostly donated and repurposed materials, and Amanda Sisenstein of the NPZ De Facto Community Center Project, who comes in every Friday to make things that facilitate community gardening. Sisenstein and Maloney will work together on starting seedlings now that garden season is almost upon us. And the Reuse Center is a great place to come to pick up a load of compost to enrich your soil or wood chips to mulch your paths. In the works this year, says Maloney, is a beekeeping project to be overseen by local apiarist Chris Harp, using a pile of beehives that someone donated.
The Food Insecurity Project involves Family, UlsterCorps and the Rondout Valley Growers’ Association as community partners using the Center as a transfer point, with several refrigerators and a large shed set aside for storage of produce destined for area food pantries and soup kitchens. Farms, restaurants and supermarkets donate surplus food or gleaned agricultural products, plus food waste that can be composted. “We’d love to get all the restaurants on board,” Petit says.
Right now, most of the food on hand is produce that was sturdy enough to keep over the winter, such as yams, carrots and garlic. But spring microgreens will be coming soon, direct from the on-site garden plots. And any time of year, you can stop into the Reuse Center’s office for brochures that will teach you handy “life hacks” for making cheap, nontoxic household cleaning mixtures, or give you the lowdown on compost prices. Why buy new stuff when there’s so much that can be done with somebody else’s discards?
You can check out Petit’s announcements of hot new arrivals and educational programs on the Recycling Center’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/hvmaterialsexchange. That site, as well as the Center’s webpage at www.newpaltzreuse.org, will also let you know the basics such as hours of operation, prices and what types of materials are or are not accepted for recycling. If you have additional questions, call (845) 255-8456.