By Alexandra Molnar, Contributing Writer
Northborough – Members of the Northboro Junior Woman's Club (NJWC) recently returned from Phoenix, Ariz., where they attended the annual convention of the General Federation of Women's Clubs (GFWC). There, the NJWC was awarded second place in the annual GFWC Community Improvement Program for its polystyrene recycling project.
The project started in 2010 after Jane Walsh, chair of the NJWC's Conservation Committee, read an article about ReFoamIt, a Framingham-based company that collects polystyrene (also known as number 6 foam or PS6). Polystyrene (PS) is a petroleum-based plastic, so it takes hundreds of years to biodegrade. ReFoamIt compacts the foam and sells it so that it can be made into new products such as rulers, CD cases and picture frames.
“[I] immediately thought, “this is important, and this is doable,”” Walsh said.
She presented the idea of a foam recycling collection day to the Conservation Committee, and after being further inspired by a successful collection event in Grafton, the committee began to plan one in Northborough.
The pilot foam recycling project took off in the spring of 2011 when the NJWC held its first one-day collection event for residents to come and dispose of their foam products free of charge in coordination with the Northborough Department of Public Works and the Northborough Recycling Committee.
The turnout was so great, the dropped-off materials filled the ReFoamIt collection truck in four hours, before the event was even scheduled to end. Some people came with entire car-fulls of foam, while others tossed in their empty coffee cups because they just happened to be driving by. Many people inquired when another event would be held.
“It was very rewarding and validating that people brought foam on the day of a collection because it told us that we weren's the only ones thinking this was an important thing to do,” Walsh said.
This success inspired the Conservation Committee to explore new ways to facilitate foam recycling. In 2014, the NJWC hosted two collections, one in conjunction with Household Hazardous Waste Day, and the other as a stand-alone event. They were both very successful.
Four years after they started the program, the NJWC has been rewarded for their efforts.
The GFWC's Community Improvement Program Award recognizes a specific project, spanning at least two years, which aims to improve a community based on its specific needs. In order to be considered for an award, each Junior Women's Club must submit an application outlining the goals, plan and outcomes of the project.
“I think it's really great because it really gives a national exposure to Styrofoam and its limited recycling options .If [Styrofoam] is going to be around, there should be a way to recycle it and get it out of the waste stream, because it doesn's go away,” said Bridget Breyfogle, a member of the Conservation Committee.
Walsh described the prize, which included a monetary award of $3,500, as a significant recognition for the NJWC, even though they have been recognized as the top club in Massachusetts for the past 11 years for their efforts in preventing domestic and child abuse, promoting women in math and science, and holding community events such as an Apple Pie Café at Northborough Applefest and a town Easter Egg Hunt.
The money must be used on a project to further meet the needs of the community. Though the Conservation Committee has no concrete plans yet for how they will designate the funds, they hope that the money will allow the NJWC to establish a system where foam can be collected on a regular basis. The NJWC would like to focus on fostering a long-term relationship with the Northborough Recycling Committee and the town to make the vision a reality.
In order to raise awareness, members of the NJWC created posters showing examples of items made of PS6 foam and how they are recycled, and displayed this information at the Northborough Free Library. Walsh and other members also reached out to the Environmental Club at Algonquin Regional High School where students and staff were working on a project to recycle foam lunch trays. The NJWC connected the Environmental Club with ReFoamIt and donated supplies to the club to help them recycle trays after lunch in addition to volunteering their time to the cause.
The efforts of the group of 55 Northborough women has already had a large effect on the surrounding community: the Shrewsbury Recycling Committee now also recycles foam, and the Westborough community is now supporting it after the NJWC introduced the concept to a Girl Scout troop in Westborough.
“When we ended up being second that was way more than we had ever expected, so we'se really excited about that,” said Mary Kemp, who has been a member of NJWC for 22 years.