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EPA Celebrates Earth Day by Recognizing Four from Rhode Island With Environmental Merit Awards

Release Date: 04/22/2003
Contact Information: Peyton Fleming, EPA Press Office, 617-918-1008

BOSTON – In honor of Earth Day, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's New England Office today recognized four individuals and organizations from Rhode Island with Environmental Merit Awards. The awards, given out since 1970, honor individuals and groups who have shown particular ingenuity and commitment in their efforts to preserve the region's environment. This year's competition drew nearly 100 nominations from across New England.

"The individuals and groups we are honoring today are New England's real environmental heroes," said Robert W. Varney, regional administrator for EPA's New England Office. "Often with little fanfare, they have invested huge amounts of their time to make New England's environment cleaner and safer for future generations. We owe them all a huge debt of gratitude."

The winners from Rhode Island were among 40 from across New England. Awards were given in the categories of individual; business (including professional organizations); local, state or federal government; and environmental, community, academia or nonprofit organization. Also, for the first time, special lifetime achievement awards were presented this year.

Winners from Rhode Island were:


Northern Rhode Island Conservation District, Greenville, R.I.
The Northern Rhode Island Conservation District has educated thousands of children, parents and teachers in the Woonasquatucket River watershed about potential environmental and health threats from the river. The district serves as a model to other urban watershed education programs and was recognized by EPA Administrator Christie Whitman this past November during a visit to Providence. Since the program began in 1998, more than 1,000 elementary school children in the Providence area have received the "Do's and Don'ts for the Woonasquatucket River" education program through their school or at summer camp. More than 60 teachers and educators have also been trained. In addition, thousands of multi-lingual brochures have been distributed. The district is developing a similar kit that can be used across the country. They are also piloting the tool kit in the Blackstone River watershed.

West Warwick Sewer Commission, West Warwick, R.I.

After two decades of sticking to its vision, the West Warwick Sewer Commission has developed a successful program that sells composted sludge to Rhode Islanders who use it as soil conditioner and cover material. For years, the regional wastewater facility was paying nearly $500,000 a year to send its sludge to the state landfill and occasionally an incinerator. Alarmed by the price tag, the commission began a composting program with the idea of reusing the material and saving money at the same time. After years of tinkering to find the best composting ‘recipe,' the program took hold last year. In 2002, the town hired a consultant to help it market the compost, which it gives away to residents. In 2003, the town will be selling its compost under the name WonderWorks. It produces 20,000 cubic yards of composted sludge each year and has cut its annual sludge disposal costs by more than $300,000.

Business and Industry

Rhode Island Mercury Reduction Program, RI
Stericyle Inc., the R.I. Department of Environmental Management, the R.I. Department of Health and the R.I. Dental Society cooperated in a joint effort last year to remove elemental mercury from the state. Stericycle started the program in Massachusetts in 1999 and managed to recycle 1,747 pounds of mercury from hospitals, clinics, doctors and dental offices. The company then took the program to Rhode Island, yielding an additional 727 pounds of elemental mercury being responsibly recycled. The Rhode Island program also placed more focus on educational institutions and manufacturing facilities. The program will continue in Rhode Island this year and is now slated for duplication in other states served by Stericycle. While small fees were charged in some instances, Stericycle bore most of the transportation and processing fees. Key players in this overall effort were Paul B. Hartman, Stericycle's regulatory and compliance and safety manager, who initiated the mercury project in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and Thomas J. Brandt, a DEM employee who coordinated the project among Rhode Island's various agencies.

Target Corp./Target Stores, Minneapolis, MN
The Target Corp. has demonstrated how a large retail operation can make significant strides in environmental improvements and reducing waste. Recycling goals are set for each store based on sales amounts. Last year, company stores recycled over 270,000 tons of materials and additionally reduced waste through community salvage programs. In New England alone, Target's 27 stores last year recycled 6,766 tons of paper and cardboard. The company also recycles outdated computers, aluminum, cadmium, nickel, lead acid, aluminum and shrink-wrap (as well as glass and bottle recycling on a local level). Target also works with vendors to reduce product packaging. Nearly 100 percent of the clothing Target sells arrives without excess packaging and 95 percent of all shoes arrive without stuffing. Target also requests that overseas vendors ship goods in traditional corrugated cardboard, without rice paper, ensuring that boxes can be recycled. Target's Environmental Team is also active in national recycling and cleanup programs. Last year, more than 6,300 volunteers participated in the Keep America Beautiful Operation Clean Up America. The results of those efforts: 83 playgrounds cleaned and 26,000 flowers planted.