Press from Country Wisdom News

Zero to Go Models the Future of Waste Management

by Melissa Orozco-McDonough   

Though most local towns and municipalities in the Hudson Valley currently have active recycling and solid waste management programs, getting people to want to recycle and to practice proper, responsible waste disposal is still an issue. People are probably not sorting their waste incorrectly on purpose; it’s far more likely that they simply have not been taught how to do it properly. With recycling rules varying from state to state and even county to county, it’s no wonder people are confused. Organizations and businesses like Zero to Go of Beacon, NY are forming throughout the region fix this problem.

Founded by Sarah Womer in 2011, Zero to Go is an education-based waste management company focused on composting and recycling. Among the services offered by the company are zero-waste event services, consulting services for everything related to waste in commercial and residential settings, compost pickup, and the sale of compostable products (cups, plates, etc.). According to Sarah Womer, Zero to Go began in a rather unconventional way. “My friends and I were trying to come up with a way to get styrofoam products out of Beacon’s restaurants and schools. In short, we weren’t able to at the time because prices for styrofoam were (and still are) so much cheaper than paper, plastics, and tin. I gave up and turned my attention to electronics recycling, organizing several drives with a second party recycler to collect unwanted electronics for safe recycling.”

“The electronics recycling industry hit a large road bump and I was no longer able to work with high-quality, responsible recyclers. So I turned my attention to the 20 to 30 public events that happen in the city of Beacon every year, leaving a huge mess of garbage in their wake. Me and my friends started to separate recyclables from the garbage at events, which led us to get donations of recycle bins for events, which then led us to get our own bins and bring them to events. Instead of sorting recyclables during or after the events, we now have a team of educators that stands behind the bins and helps the public understand what goes where.” 

Some of the Hudson Valley events that Zero to Go has provided zero waste services for include Beacon Riverfest, the Beacon Jazz Festival, Community Day at Upper Landing Park in Poughkeepsie, the Firefly Feast in Beacon with Common Ground Farm, the Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, the Hudson Hop and Harvest Festival in conjunction with Peekskill Brewery, and many more. “We’ve done 15 events this year already, and have several planned for the fall,” Sarah says. The company is growing every year; they achieved B Corp status in 2013 (a Fair Trade-equivalent certification issued to companies and businesses dedicated to social and environmental issues), and they won the Best for the World award in the environmental category for three years running. They’re currently building out a huge calendar for next year, while carefully keeping track of how many bags of compost, recycling, and garbage they collect, and publishing the metrics after each event.  

“Our best event to date was the Hop and Harvest Festival, which brought 4,500 people to a craft beer festival from 11am to 9pm. We had only 8 bags of trash and 120 bags of compost. To achieve such excellent results, we planned well in advance with the organizers, who made sure that every vendor had compostable products. We generally take 2 months to work with organizers on this, and we encourage as much advance planning as possible to make events successful,” Sarah said. “Our team is passionate about recycling and composting, and we know all the rules for recycling in any county where we are hired. The rules are different from county to county, but our job is to empower the public through information.”

A Zero to Go waste tent at Poughkeepsie's Community Day Celebration in August 2015. Photo courtesy of Zero to Go.

A Zero to Go waste tent at Poughkeepsie's Community Day Celebration in August 2015. Photo courtesy of Zero to Go.

 Sarah states that people are often very excited to speak with them about their recycling questions, “and they’re also thrilled to tell us about how they’ve been composting. We’re pushing compost culture! I’m from Hyde Park and have lived in Beacon for 10 years. I’m very proud of our work and know that it’s inspiring many people to action in their homes and at work.” The company’s latest endeavor is Beacon Compost, a project for which the company successfully raised $20,000 to launch a food waste pickup service in Beacon, accomplished by bike alone. “We use heavy duty cargo bicycles with electric assist motors to help us carry hundreds of pounds throughout town,” Sarah says proudly.

“Our partner in the program is Empire Zero, a compost hauler based in Albany. We collect material from 34 customers and stage it centrally for Empire Zero to pick up every Monday and bring to a Kingston industrial compost facility. Because it’s being processed by an industrial system, we’re able to collect meat, dairy, and [commercially] compostable products like bioplastic cups made of sugarcane stalks. That means it’s very easy for our 4 restaurants and 30 residents to compost, as we accept so many materials in our program. We’re averaging 800 pounds per month for residents, and 6,000 pounds per month for businesses.”

“It’s been a very successful program. We’re about to enter Phase 2 and expand the program to more residents. We hope to have 100 customers by the end of the year. The cost to be in the program is $50 per month for residents. The program is not accepting any more businesses at this time. Phase 3 is the creation of a Beacon compost facility, so we can close the loop and produce high quality soil in our community for farmers and growers, as well as reduce the cost of running the program.”

For more information on this wonderful company, what they do and how you can get involved, visit www.zerotogo.org and www.beaconcompost.com.