2015-06-26 / Front Page

City buys water bottles for employees

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

South Portland City Manager Jim Gailey holds up a stainless steel water bottle at the June 15 city council meeting, one of 300 issued to all city employees in an effort to eliminate the use of paper and plastic cups. (SPC-TV courtest image) South Portland City Manager Jim Gailey holds up a stainless steel water bottle at the June 15 city council meeting, one of 300 issued to all city employees in an effort to eliminate the use of paper and plastic cups. (SPC-TV courtest image) SOUTH PORTLAND — As part of her goal to achieve “zero waste or darn close to it” at city-sponsored events, South Portland’s new sustainability coordinator, Julie Rosenbach, has instituted a ban on disposable water bottles.

At the June 15 city council meeting, City Manager Jim Gailey announced the city had issued a stainless steel water bottle to all employees as one of several steps taken by Rosenbach to divert up to 90 percent of what is ordinarily thrown out at celebrations into recycling and composting.

“This will be the only drinking tool they will have on staff,” he said. “Future events that we have, such as the summer cookout, will not have any cups. The employees will have to bring their drinking bottle in order to drink

“We’re doing away with single-use plastic water bottles,” Rosenbach said, noting that water at the event will be dispensed into the new bottles from fivegallon jugs of city water, rather than given in the form of bottled spring water, as in the past.

Gailey said Rosenbach also plans to ensure all cutlery, plates and napkins at such city events are made from material that is either recyclable or can be composted. In a press release issued Tuesday, Rosenbach announced she had hired Portland-based composters Garbage to Garden to man the employee barbeque and Family Fourth events, and to lead composting education at city-sponsored summer school programs.

“This is just for city events,” she said. “I can see us someday contracting for curbside composting throughout the city, but we’re not there yet.”

In a follow-up interview Tuesday, Rosenbach said she is paying Garbage to Garden $300. She also said she purchased 350 of the water bottles form Connecticutbased

4 All Promos for “about $1,700.”

“These new bottles are something that is going to last for an extremely long time, so it’s really cost effective to provide people with something that says how important it is to promote reusable over disposable,” Rosenbach.

“Targeting bold waste reduction at municipal events is the next step toward reaching our goal of increasing South Portland’s recycling rate to 35 percent by 2017 and 40 percent by 2020,” she said. “Under the leadership of the city council and City Manager Jim Gailey, South Portland has been stepping up its effort to be a more sustainable community, and waste reduction is a big part of it.

“This is a city-wide effort and we want to lead the way,” said Rosenbach, noting that since being hired in March as South Portland’s first sustainability coordinator, she has taken steps to update recycling bins in municipal buildings and to place new bins at outdoor locations such as Willard Beach.

“We want to show the community how easy it can be to reduce the amount of trash we generate,” she said.

Money used to fund that effort comes from the same sustainability fund used by the city to hire Rosenbach.

Creating a new sustainability coordinator position within city hall had been a longtime goal of Gailey’s. In 2013 and again in 2014 the job was one of the last cuts made in his annual budget proposal in order to meet the bottom-line guidelines set by the city council.

But then in November, South Portland received a $127,194 windfall from ecomaine, the waste-to-energy facility in Portland it uses to process city waste and recycling. That month, ecomaine distributed to its 20 owner municipalities $1 million, derived from better-thanexpected revenues in the previous fiscal year.

From its ecomaine payout, the city council agreed to set aside $28,038 to pay for a new climate czar from January to the end of the current fiscal year, June 30. Adding in the cost of health insurance and retirement benefits, along with state and federal withholding, brought the total cost of the position to nearly $42,000, a number that doubled when funded for a full year as part of the city’s 2016 budget.

In March, Rosenbach, a former staffer at the Environmental Protection Agency in Washingto, D.C., then working as manager of sustainability initiatives at Bates College in Lewiston, beat out 135 applicants from 28 states for the job.

“A good sustainability person will more than make up their salary in grants brought into the city and on (energy) savings, and other things we haven’t thought of yet,” said Mayor Linda Cohen at the time, when voting to create the position.

After spending $23,000 on three-year leases for two Nissan Leaf electric vehicles, $300 to buy 50 recycling containers for use at various city buildings and $3,000 on a Level II electric charging station for the planning and development office on Sawyer Street, the city council placed the balance of its ecomaine money —$58,894 — in a “sustainability reserve,” giving Rosenbach a bank to work with to implement various green projects.

According to Rosenbach, her efforts to reduce waste at upcoming city events stems from a model spearheaded by South Portland’s Energy and Recycling Committee at last year’s “Willardfest.” At that neighborhood block party, just one bag of trash was generated, she said, from an estimated 1,600 participants. To achieve similar success at the Family Fourth celebration, Bug Light Park will be set up with two centralized waste tents and satellite bins, along with signs and volunteers to help answer questions about what goes in trash, recycling and compost bins.

“We invite all who attend to ask questions and pitch in to help reach our goal,” Rosenbach said.

Then, at the South Portland’s employee appreciation picnic, organized and catered by the city’s Wellness Committee, city staffers will use only reusable, recyclable, and compostable materials, along with their new city-issued water bottles.

“About the only thing we expect to see in trash is the utensils, and next year we’re aiming to make those compostable as well,” Rosenback said.

In other new initiatives, the Redbank Community Center After School and Teen Center programs will instruct students on the benefits of composting in a new program set to begin next week.

The Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Department was able to launch the program using an Out of School Time grant, Rosenbach said.

“In working with Garbage to Garden, the children and staff will be composting their snacks and meals and learning how composted waste will benefit the community garden at Redbank in the spring with a free delivery of finished compost to start the garden when planting season begins,” said Lisa Thompson, senior leisure services manager for the recreation department.

For more information about how to reduce waste in your home, look for the column in the Sentry authored by the South Portland Energy and Recycling Committee.

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