Remember the 1970s, when recycling was in its infancy and the ubiquitous blue bin made its first appearance? Fast forward to the small town of Great Barrington, nestled in the foothills of western Massachusetts, which has taken community recycling to the next level by strategically placing 15 artfully inspired recycling bins along its busiest streets in a program that could prove a model for communities around the nation.
Within the last few years, there has been growing interest in providing recycling for residents and visitors in downtown Great Barrington. The Center for Ecological Technology (CET), a Massachusetts-based non-profit environmental organization, received seed money to develop the initiative from the U.S. Department of Agriculture through the agency's Rural Development program. CET met with local government, community and business representatives to determine the best way to generate enthusiasm for recycling.
CET then worked with the Great Barrington Department of Public Works (DPW) to conduct a pilot recycling program using 15 off-the-shelf recycling bins. The bins were placed in the downtown area for the collection of bottles and cans. An overwhelming majority of residents and visitors used the recycling bins.
The success of the pilot program led to a plan for permanent recycling containers. “The Art of Recycling,” as the program came to be known, was born.
Raya Ariella, then a specialist in waste management and renewable energy at CET, now serves as the community coordinator for the program. She oversees a collaborative effort between CET, IS183 Art School of the Berkshires in Stockbridge and the town of Great Barrington.
Ariella formed a committee to recruit local artists to design recycling bins. One goal of the project was to have the bins constructed of at least 95 percent recycled material, and Ariella encouraged the artists to incorporate used, recycled or scavenged materials. The concept was to create 15 unique and functional permanent public art installations that would be placed next to the town's existing decorative, old-world style trash receptacles.
Business owners and town officials supported the unusual initiative. Grassroots fundraising efforts earned $18,000, which was used to pay each artist a stipend and to cover associated costs. The bins were unveiled at the Lascano Gallery in Great Barrington on Sept. 4, 2006, before being permanently installed downtown.
Each installation houses an easily removable circular plastic bin that is 32 inches tall and 38 inches wide. But the art on the outside of the bins varies widely.
Many of the designs involve metal work, including copper piping, old gear chains and New York City street signs. In a case of form literally following function, one is even encrusted with crushed recyclables.
The town has embraced the new bins. Jamie Cahillane, CET's director of recycling services, says the bins are “filling up more quickly than expected.” The Great Barrington DPW collects the recyclables in addition to the trash and transfers them to the town-owned recycling center. As a member of the Springfield Materials Recycling Facility, the town receives revenue for every ton of paper and beverage containers it delivers ($40 per ton in May).
“People come to the Berkshires for the arts, cultural activities and the natural beauty of the area. ‘The Art of Recycling’ builds community, protects the environment and showcases local artists,” says Cahillane.
To see additional bins and for more information, visit www.cetonline.org.
Jamie Cahillane is director of recycling services and Susan Slattery is director of marketing and development for the Center for Ecological Technology, which promotes energy efficiency, renewable energy, waste management and environmental education.