(10/2011) By Nancy Peterson, First Unitarian Society of Schenectady, NY

The First Unitarian Society of Schenectady, NY, (FUSS) has completed a three-year Environmental Justice project. Working with Schenectady Inner City Ministry (SICM), a grant proposal was submitted to New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Office of Environmental Justice in April 2008. Grant approval was received in October 2008. FUSS Green Sanctuary initiated the idea, Schenectady Inner City Ministry (SICM) submitted the grant to DEC, and FUSS continued to be involved, with several volunteers working throughout the project and others joining in as needed.

The grant was for $50,000 for education in the inner city about proper handling and disposal of household hazardous waste. In 2009, the working committee planned, prepared public education materials, hired an outreach worker from the inner city community, and started the public outreach campaign. We had one collection day in October 2010 and another in June 2011, both at the SICM Food Pantry parking lot, which was centrally located and easily accessible to the population we were serving.

After the meager household hazardous waste collection we did in October 2010, our June 25, 2011 collection was successful beyond our wildest dreams. About sixty people had pre-registered, almost double the number in 2010. People who pre-registered were assigned to come at 10:00, 11:00, 12:00, and 1:00, about a quarter of the total at each hour. By 9:45 there were over twenty cars already lined up!

When we started checking the registrations, we found far more unregistered than pre-registered. Although we had an incentive program to encourage pre-registration (a $10 gift certificate to Target), most people were there not for the gift certificate, but because they wanted to get rid of many years’ accumulation of household hazardous waste. By noon, the truck was almost filled to capacity. At that point we decided to turn away unregistered people so that those who were assigned to come at 1:00 wouldn’t be justifiably irate. Of course many unregistered were irate, because pre-registration was not required.

Although the County has a monthly collection at Hetcheltown Road, many people hadn’t heard about it. There is obviously quite a need for this service.  We hope our three-year grant program has served as a pilot for the city or county to follow up at various locations, convenient to various populations within our local area. Jeff Edwards, County Solid Waste Planner, said he is interested in continuing to hold a collection day at the SICM Food Pantry parking lot once each year.