One Town’s Mission to Make a Difference

If you spend a little time in Glen Rock these days, you’ll quickly notice a few changes: Like fewer straws and plastic bottles in restaurants and in Borough Hall and electric cars plugged into the new charging station in the train station’s parking lot. These improvements are the result of a community-wide effort, led jointly by volunteers from the Glen Rock Environmental Commission and the Glen Rock Green Team, to advocate for small actions that have made a big impact. GREC and Green Team members recognized early on that the hardest part of starting a new habit—or changing an old one—is getting people to take the first step. To that end, they implemented initiatives that would enlist Glen Rock residents in an organized, focused environmental effort.

“They saw an opportunity to engage the community because people want to do the right thing, but they don’t always know how to start,” says Glen Rock Council Member Arati Kreibich.

Arati and the rest of the GREC/Green Team members started out by opening their monthly meetings to the community, encouraging residents to share their own ideas for promoting sustainability and environmental responsibility, then taking ownership of an initiative that aligned with their interests. The result has been a steady stream of successful actions including the drive to reduce the number of straws used at local businesses in the borough, the collection of both soft plastics and Styrofoam for recycling and the replacement of plastic water bottles and single-use beverage cups at Borough Hall.

Here are some of GREC’s tips for inspiring and energizing a community to create beneficial change:

Make it easy. Knowing that free time is at a premium for most residents, GREC has focused on small asks rather than sweeping changes. Last year, they proposed that residents consider foregoing straws and plastic shopping bags unless absolutely needed, requested that local organizations avoid using single-use cups and bottles at their meetings, and asked the community to be mindful of idling cars. They can report that each of these simple switches has been enthusiastically embraced by Glen Rock residents.

Make it impactful. Last year, as part of their “Year of Plastic,” the Green Team participated in a recycling challenge with a leading recycled materials manufacturer, where residents recycled their soft plastic (think grocery bags, dry cleaning bags and packaging overwrap) for a chance to win a bench made from recycled materials. While their town-wide efforts won the bench, volunteer and GREC commissioner Candace Lynch notes that the collection was eye-opening.

“It was almost too successful. Residents were happy to participate, but the amount of plastic we collected was overwhelming,” Candace says.

“Garages were stuffed with plastic bags. When residents would arrive at a collection site, they couldn’t believe their eyes,” Arati says.

What had previously gone unnoticed could now not go unseen.

Make it personal. Recognizing that community involvement is integral to the program’s success, 2018 saw the installment of the first Green Team Interns. This dynamic group of teens and young adults represents the generation that will inherit the problems their parents and grandparents created. Last fall, the interns paid a visit to the Glen Rock Inn, a family-owned business in town for 70 years, to ask about switching from plastic straws to paper. Evan Quinn, a third-generation owner of his family’s restaurant, was very receptive and has since made the switch.

“It may be a little more expensive for us, but we all have to do our part, and our customers have been receptive,” he says. “I’d actually like to be completely plastic-free going forward.”

Since then, the interns have encouraged several other businesses to go from plastic to paper as well. They are also assisting with a Styrofoam collection that has attracted interest as a possible county-wide initiative and screened the film A Plastic Ocean for more than 150 residents last summer.

Make it relevant. The goal of the electric vehicle charging stations, according to Candace, is to encourage as well as facilitate EV usage. The hope is that EV owners from other towns will come for the chargers and stay for the retail and restaurants. The Styrofoam was delivered to a nearby facility for recycling into new products. Rain gauges and timers on sprinkler systems immediately conserve water. No idling means better air quality around schools and local businesses. By collecting real data, the GREC and the Green Team demonstrated that conservation efforts have an impact on both economic and physical health.

With 2019 dubbed “the Year of Air and Water,” GREC has ambitious plans. A second class of interns and a program that will enable residents to adopt a storm drain are both in the works. The hope, Arati says, is that residents will acknowledge that working on environmental issues matters to them personally, and that what might start out as a short-term adjustment will lead to permanent change.

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