Opinion: Local and Green – We Need You To Join An Amherst Sustainable Neighborhood Team

Based on the poster - "We Can Do it "by Artist J. Howard Miller , 1942. Public Domain

This column also appeared in The Amherst Bulletin.

Darcy Dumont

Just imagine our whole town organized for sustainability and climate action! Neighbor to neighbor outreach to educate and energize residents! What a thought!

Members of Zero Waste Amherst (ZWA) are organizing sustainable neighborhood teams to help get the word out to residents and businesses about new sustainability initiatives and opportunities, including new town programs. ZWA especially hopes to work with the town to implement a proposal currently being considered that would reduce our waste by at least 40%. It would do so by changing to a town contract with a single hauler, obtained through competitive bids, that would provide universal curbside compostable materials pick up, a pay-as -you-throw fee structure, and local composting! If adopted, it would start in January of 2024. We expect this project to excite and energize residents and to save the town money on outreach and education.

Sustainable neighborhood team responsibilities for outreach on the proposed hauler reform proposal might include distributing town and Zero Waste Amherst educational materials to your neighbors, door to door, and speaking with them to make sure they understand participation in the newly adopted curbside compost pick up program, what goes in the compost bin and what does not, and how they will be billed.

We believe that sustainable neighborhood teams won’t be called on to do the outreach until spring or summer of 2023, but we need a commitment now to show the Town Council. Neighborhood outreach would need to occur within a certain time frame, but volunteers would have a lot of flexibility within those limits.

Volunteer work will be strictly non-partisan and limited to education and outreach for new programs promoting town wide sustainability.

We hope to have a good cadre of volunteers to make sure this effort gets off to a good start and saves the town money. It is important that we are able to reach all residents in town. The more volunteers we have, the smaller the ground each has to cover so please spread the word!

An example is that I am going to volunteer to be on an Orchard Valley sustainable neighborhood team that would, at least once a year, reach out to the 270 households in our neighborhood to let them know about new programs and how they can be involved –  and to answer questions. I expect we’ll have three or four people on the team to help get the work done. We’ll be handing out flyers, presumably in partnership with the town, and speaking to people who are home.

This is a really good way to get to know your neighbors and to encourage community within your neighborhood.

Our hope is that the program can expand to be used for climate action and other sustainability outreach in addition to zero waste outreach. For example, it could provide outreach and education about upcoming programs such as heat pump discounts, Community Choice electricity aggregation, town-wide climate challenges provided through the upcoming ARPA funded community climate dashboard, energy efficiency and home retrofit resources for tenants and homeowners, the purchase of electric vehicles, carpool/ride-the-bus, and alternative transportation efforts, water and energy conservation efforts, and expansion of pollinator habitats in town.

Sometimes we hear feedback that we shouldn’t put the responsibility for solving climate change on individuals but instead focus on the big players. Of course, it is true that the big players caused our excess emissions and hold primary responsibility. But everyone needs to be in on the solution – businesses (large and small), government, institutions, and individuals. Sustainable neighborhood teams can be scaled up and modeled by other communities. Northampton already has a whiff of interest after hearing about our project!

Other towns have already created similar programs, the leaders of which are often called “Block Captains”.

You can help grow a groundswell of support for sustainability in Amherst. And it will be rewarding and fun as well.

Learn more about this proposal and how to sign up to be on a neighborhood team at https://zerowasteamherst.wixsite.com/home/sustainable-neighborhood-teams-sign-up.

You can also send a message to the Town Council at TownCouncil@amherstma.gov saying why you think that the proposed waste hauler reform will be good for residents, the town, and the planet. Learn more about the ZWA proposal at https://zerowasteamherst.wixsite.com/home/hauler-reform-curbside-compost-pick-up.

Darcy DuMont is a founding member of Zero Waste Amherst and of Local Energy Advocates of Western MA. As a Town Councilor, she sponsored the legislation creating the Amherst Energy and Climate Action Committee.

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