by Amanda Card
Whether it was Al Gore’s environmental film or state governments’ eco-initiatives, local townships are paying more attention to the potentially ominous roar of Mother Nature.
With an extensive recycling program, a solar commitment by the township’s school district and a green-minded Parks and Recreation Department, Whitemarsh is ahead of the curve on moving towards a greener environment – addressing at-home needs as much as township programs.
Long gone are the days of separating paper from plastic. Whitemarsh Township offers single-stream recycling, a convenient time-saver for eco-friendly neighbors. Aside from the typical prohibition of pizza boxes, single-stream recycling enables residents to dispose of their degradable recyclables into one container.
“We do have a pretty large recycling program,” said E. J. Lee, assistant township manager.
That they do. Whitemarsh goes above and beyond the typical call to green conservation and offers residents an outlet for unwanted computers and other electronics. Unlike some townships who host monthly – or yearly – “e-waste” collections, Whitemarsh’s “Whitemarsh Living” magazine advertises safe recycling of “computers, monitors, printers, microwaves, video recorders, stereos, telephones and DVD players” on a daily basis. Materials can be taken to the Township Building during regular business hours, Monday through Friday.
Parks and Recreation also contributes by running annual sneaker recycling programs. Each year, the township recycles 15 to 25 pairs of sneakers to Nike regrind centers. There, the soles of the sneakers are recycled into playground material.
“We’ve been recycling the sneakers for a number of years now,” said Doug Knauss, director of Parks and Recreation.
The township also offers programs teaching locals why certain household items, like CFL light bulbs are dangerous to dispose of with the rest of the garbage.
“The mercury in the bulbs can contaminate the soil of landfills,” Knauss added.
Whitemarsh also advertises the use of safer electricity using the environmentally preferred, high efficiency rated halogen bulbs. The township and Philadelphia Electric Co. together promote incentives for companies to use green electricity and efficient energy alternatives.
“The Recreator,” Whitemarsh’s local newsletter also showcases the community’s other upcoming programs including the November Compost Workshop. “Composting with Worms” introduces families to the benefit and ease of composting, a healthy and eco-driven mode of food disposal.
Whether you’ve never composted or have one already installed in your yard, “Composting with Worms” offers a learning environment.
“We try to make sure that each workshop is conducted by someone with a good understanding of how that program works,” Lee said.
For a mere $15 a family, attending residents will learn the importance of composting and are encouraged to come as a group.
“Bring the whole family,” Lee said. “It’s a family effort, so teaching everyone in one place is important. It helps when everyone will be involved.”
The Township’s environmental enthusiasm can be found in the school district as well. Last year, Colonial School District entered into a new division of eco-friendly education.
This past April, board members unanimously approved the addition of solar panels to schools in the Colonial District. Times Herald reporter Jenny DeHuff reported that Colonial contracted with Tangent Energy Solutions, of Kennett Square, under the supervision of Dave Turner, the company’s CEO.
According to DeHuff, during meetings with local companies to perform the desired solar panel upgrade, Turner said that the carbon dioxide this displaced “could have been produced by 112 cars in a year … and will save the school district approximately $1.5 million over the course of a 20-year period.”
The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development explained the logistics of the installation: “The cumulative 700-kilowatt system will include a 440-kilowatt rooftop device for Colonial Middle School and a 265-kilowatt system for Colonial Elementary School. The system will generate approximately $880,000 kilowatt hours of energy annually, which could save the district nearly $110,000 in energy costs every year.”
Colonial plans to educate its students and residents by providing websites with information on the functionality and efficiency of solar panels.
To further the township’s environmental awareness and education, Colonial kicked off the first Eco-Fest, a community gathering at Plymouth Whitemarsh High School.
“Partnership between the township and school district was very successful [and] we were able to reach beyond the Whitemarsh boundaries,” Knauss said .
The inaugural year likely will not be the last. Lee said that so long as people are interested, “Eco-fest will run again.”
Knauss supported Lee’s anticipation of a future Eco-Fest. The Parks and Recreation Department was one of the main supporters of last year’s Eco-Fest, so Knauss had no hesitation in saying, “We’re planning on doing it again in 2012.”
“We’ll be sitting down in the near future to start planning,” Knauss said.
Contributors to Eco-Fest were local companies that were “green in business practice or green in what they offer,” Knauss explained. Such companies will again be included in upcoming plans.
Whitemarsh Officials’ priority for increasing accessibility to greener lifestyles is reflected in township decisions. Battered by a depleting economy, parks and recreation departments are likely to face sharpest budget cuts in areas that are not so ecologically aware. The vast green space available to Whitemarsh residents, however, keeps park improvement and accessibility a high priority for township officials.
With five spacious parks in their township, Whitemarsh residents often experience the pleasure of the great outdoors. From sporting events at the athletic fields to neighborhood basketball games and trail wanderings, township parks offer endless weekend enjoyment.
Currently, Whitemarsh Township plans to improve the accessibility and activities of Leeland Park, at North Lane and Jones Street. Leeland formerly offered a T-ball field, two basketball courts and picnic tables. According to “Whitemarsh Living” magazine, renovation plans “include a new basketball court, a bocce court, horseshoe pits, a porous asphalt walking path, two rain gardens and a seating plaza with bathrooms.”
“My goal as we have gone through renovations is to be the good neighbor – to make sure the park is enjoyable for them too,” Knauss said. “Storm runoff is a growing concern in the community, so we’re reducing the possible runoff due to additions we’re making to the park.”
The township experimented with porous asphalt before. Koontz Park, the newest addition to Whitemarsh’s recreation places, was built with porous asphalt trails and, according to Knauss, was successful in decreasing runoff from storms.
As technology continues to make advances in improving eco-friendly programs, Whitemarsh will continue to take on new challenges to raise green awareness. The process of keeping up with new cost effective preservation concepts is “an ongoing leaning process,“ Knauss stressed.
“We’re more aware of the world around us,” he said. “Just by preserving and reducing our carbon footprint in the area, [that knowledge] helps tremendously. Not that it’s unique, but that’s important.”
Amanda Card is editor of the Arcadia University student newspaper and an intern with the Local this fall. Look for her coverage of Whitemarsh Township here and online at chestnuthilllocal.com.