ecomaine recognizes efforts in sustainability with 2019 eco-Excellence Awards

A total of 16 Individuals, Nonprofit Organizations, and Businesses received awards for their commitment to sustainability and community throughout 2018

PORTLAND, MAINE – (March 26, 2019)  Citing the achievements of 16 individuals, organizations, and businesses – and one municipality – ecomaine’s Board recognized outstanding efforts in sustainability, waste management, and “green living” through the 2019 eco-Excellence Awards, which were given on March 26 in ecomaine’s Community Room.  Awardees range from teachers and schools to dedicated community members, golf course superintendents and businesses.

“I am continually amazed at the effort and commitment on display by our eco-Excellence Award winners, year in and year out,” said ecomaine Outreach & Recycling Committee Chair Caleb Hemphill.  “To be able to bring them all together to celebrate and share ideas is an important part of what ecomaine is all about.”

Added ecomaine CEO Kevin Roche, “At a time when we are hearing about communities moving away from recycling programs, our eco-Excellence Award winners are here to remind us of the importance of remaining committed to recycling and landfill diversion.  It isn’t always easy, but they are proof that dedication to sustainable waste management will pay off.”

The full list of awardees is as follows.  (All photos by Brian Fitzgerald.)

Individual Lifetime Achievement eco-Excellence Award:

Gary Glick, Falmouth High School
If you’re a long-time friend of ecomaine, going back to the days when we called ourselves Regional Waste Systems, you might know that our Lifetime Achievement Awardee was actually named ‘Recycler of the Year’ in 2004 at the precursor to these awards.

As the Falmouth High School Earth Club’s faculty advisor for years, our honoree has virtually singlehandedly organized all sustainability programs at the school. He guides and teaches students, who, to a one, cite him as inspirational through his guidance in and out of school. In fact, his colleagues and students couldn’t help themselves from sharing their praise for Gary – a couple of examples…

From a colleague:
Gary is dedicated to doing everything he can to do “tikkun olam”, a Jewish phrase that, roughly translated, means “repairing the world”. I don’t know where he gets the energy from to keep so many projects going as well as teach and raise two wonderful daughters. I have loved having Gary as a colleague and know where I can go if I need to hear a bad pun/joke. He somehow manages to look at the huge issues facing us as a species/planet head-on and just work to do his part to improve the world. The number of students he’s mentored over the years as a teacher and as the advisor for the EAC or doing the Coastal Clean Up is impressive to say the least. He is an inspiring human being.

From a student:
Mr. Glick was a wonderful teacher to have for my first year of science in high school. Having someone who was so passionate and excited about science made me passionate and excited about science from the very first day of school. The amount he cares, not only about his kids and his class, but about the actual content and information that he is teaching us is unparalleled. Mr. Glick is also someone who will not back down from his stance on things that are important to him, like climate change, which is something everyone could have a little bit more of – he will not back down from adversity.

From another student:
Mr. Glick is an incredible teacher in the way that he inspires passion out of his club members and students. He inspires us to take the initiative and move beyond what we are doing in class and think about how we can actually make a difference. I like to think that some of my growth has come from him and the way he motivated, starting in my freshman year. Nobody deserves this award like Mr. Glick does because of the hard work, passion, and energy that he puts in and inspires out of his students year after year.

Overall Individual eco-Excellence Award:

Tania Ferrante, South Portland High School
 Tania received so many glowing nominations, that deciding on her award was almost too easy! So much so, that we’ll let the nominations do most of the work, here…

According to Linda Zembsch: “Tania has been a real innovator at South Portland High School. She started an Ecology class and a Sustainability Committee in our school whereby we now recycle and compost. Not only that, there is now a share table for students to put untouched and uneaten raw fruits and vegetables, and unopened drinks for other students to take. It is amazing how she has used her time and energy to get our school moving in an eco-friendly direction.”

Carrie Barbosa wrote in: “Tania is our sustainability queen! She has worked tirelessly to create programming and awareness throughout the South Portland School District. Her accomplishments include creating an ecology course; starting a school-wide – then district-wide – composting and recycling program, diverting hundreds of thousands of pounds of waste from landfills since its inception; organizing “Sustainability Week” which includes guest speakers, films, field trips, and hands-on activities.

Karen Brenner says: “Tania has implemented a highly successful recycling program, composting program, and she coordinated the design, fundraising, and installation of our brand new courtyard green space. Tania has engaged students and staff in all of the “eco” programs.

Nela Alvarez-Sotomayor put it well: “Tania is THE reason why South Portland High School recycles and composts. She implemented those programs, and motivated her students to do so, too. She is one in a million.”

Individual Award Winners:

Jennifer Polley, Chelsea 
In nominating Jennifer, her friends at Stepping Stones Montessori School noted her passion for environmental sustainability. This, put mildly, is an understatement.  Since 2015, Jennifer Polley has led the recycling efforts at the school to the tune of nearly one ton of material per year for a small school of 80 students!  Additionally, she has led the school’s Recycle Club, providing real-life tools to students to reduce the amount of trash going to landfills, and building awareness in kids at a critical age.

Patty Distasio, Gray
Patty is a diligent recycler at home – many of us are! But Patty goes above and beyond in the Town of Gray and in her role as a phlebotomist at Maine Medical Center.  While Maine Med may have an active recycling program in their kitchen, Patty was disappointed that there was no recycling at the hospital’s labs.  So Patty started a collection program for the many (mostly plastic) containers that had been disposed of with the trash up until she came along.  For the past five years, she has collected and loaded these into her car and, on her own time, transported them to the Gray Recycling Center.  Patty hauls about 60 pounds of previously-trashed recyclables each week.

Gene Pierotti, Portland (Riverside Golf Course)
Gene is also committed to making sure Riverside Golf Course in Portland operates in an environmentally friendly and sustainable manner. In fact, he has taken some very exciting steps that make him a real leader in sustainable land care practices. Here are just some of the things Gene has done:

  • Reduced use of pesticides on the golf course by over 60%, and switched to only organic fertilizers.
  • Gene installed 48 nesting boxes to in locations selected by a local bird expert with the goal of expanding habitat.
  • Gene also established four bee hives on the course and has planted a wide variety of pollinator-friendly plants around the course. As part of this effort he identified certain areas of the course as environmentally sensitive habitat areas and marked them as out of bounds for golfers.

The golfers at the course have responded very favorably to Gene’s environmental efforts. This is to say nothing of the wildlife that surely appreciates it as well.

Meredith Banker, Scarborough
Meredith is a long-time advocate for recycling – three decades, in fact! She has implemented recycling programs in her workplace, and takes the extra steps to ensure that plastic films are properly recycled (NOT in the single-sort, thank you very much!)

She works toward a waste-free life, using sustainable, multi-use options and composting, as well. Furthermore, she has spent countless hours on our southern Maine beaches, picking up waste and disposing of it properly.

And the most notable part of Meredith’s work is that she is sharing it with others, including not only her son, but also her parents in spreading public awareness of sustainable waste management across the generations!

Michael Caudle, South Portland
Michael Caudle is a resident of Redbank Village in South Portland, where, in 2017, loads of recycling were unfortunately often full of non-recyclable trash. The City sought to address the issue by meeting with Redbank management and by hiring an intern to walk the route and inspect carts each Friday.  As a well-known member of the community in Redbank, Michael volunteered himself to accompany the intern, providing feedback to residents on their recycling every single week – they would give a green slip for a job well done, a yellow one for a warning, and a red one indicating that a load was too contaminated to pick up. Michael even brought a sense of creativity and levity to the challenge, designing caricatures to carry around on the last day of tagging bins.  Following the program, Michael has continued to be an irreplaceable advocate for issues of sustainability in his community, offering suggestions for continued improvement to those who wish to recycle properly at Redbank Village.

Paul Mathieu, Hiram (Sacopee Valley High School)
As the Program Instructor of the Functional Living Skills classroom at Sacopee Valley High School in Hiram, Paul helps each student reach the Individualized Education Plan goals that will help them get the most out of home, classroom, school and community living environments.  In the case of Paul and his students, this includes recycling!  He teaches his students about the importance of recycling and how to do it properly.  Not only is this is good hands-on experience for his students for possible employment after graduation, but it also instills a great sense of ownership and pride in his class, as school leaders in such an important program.

Dennis Brown, Windham
Dennis’s leadership of the Highland Lake Association Leadership Team, which includes Windham, Falmouth, and Westbrook, has led to a change of direction in the health of the Highland Lake Watershed. The Association monitors lake water quality, including analysis of natural and invasive plant species and coordinates additional testing, education, and personnel as needed.  In addition to this work, Dennis and the Highland Lake Association have helped to raise much greater awareness about the environmental impacts from phosphorus and other pollutants that can make their way into our watersheds. This includes actively engaging town leaders and staff toward improving the environment that we all call home, for work and play.  (Kim White pictured accepting on behalf of Dennis.)

Tom Pitman & students, Yarmouth (Yarmouth High School)
 We’re more than a little pleased to say that the story of Tom & Co. standing up here today starts with an ecomaine School Recycling Grant!  Under Tom’s oversight and planning, a few students at YHS were able to successfully build new waste, compost, and recycling bins in the high school cafeteria and to implement an effective waste diversion program.

Building these bins is one thing – impressive enough. But they took things one step further, in order to ensure that their fellow students and teachers knew how to properly use the bins, through a full-school assembly – that is certainly dedication!  Thanks to Tom and these students’ efforts in spreading the word throughout Yarmouth High School about separating recycling and composting, the new bins have reduced the school’s waste stream by 70%!  (Not pictured.)

Non-Profit Award Winners:

Friends of Scarborough Marsh, Scarborough
The Friends of Scarborough Marsh is an all-volunteer organization that works tirelessly to protect and preserve Scarborough Marsh, a 3,200-acre salt marsh, which is the largest in the state and is home to 43 endangered, threatened, rare, or declining species. It is also visited by tens of thousands of people each year.

The Friends’ work helps the marsh remain a healthy ecosystem for residents, visitors, and wildlife, alike. They offer an annual lecture series to educate the community about marsh-related topics; they conduct studies to understand threats to the marsh; and they coordinate clean-ups twice per year to remove litter and other debris that makes its way into the marsh.  Between the two cleanups held in 2018, the Friends recruited more than 150 volunteers and removed hundreds of pounds of trash from the marsh, including car bumpers and televisions.

Friends School of Portland, Cumberland
 Friends School of Portland is the first school in Maine, the first commercial project in Maine, and only the third school in the nation to achieve Passive House Certification – the highest voluntary energy efficiency standard in the world. Friends School of Portland is designed to be net zero, and expects to produce as much energy from its solar panels as they consume over the course of a year.

The school building has many other earth-friendly features. Lights are turned on by a motion sensor, automatically adjust to the natural light in the room, and turn off by themselves after about 15 minutes. Toilets at Friends School use 1-1.5 gallons of water per flush–much less than the 3.5 gallons used by the average American toilet!  The wood used on the walls and ceilings throughout the school and Meeting Room comes from the white pines the school had to cut to make room to build. They also compost food scraps and paper towels in every classroom and in the kitchen.

Business Award Winners:

Chase Street Soap Company, Scarborough
Mainers are people who work and play hard. And as such, we tend to get dirty sometimes.  That’s how you know you’re getting something done or having a good time.  And that’s when Chase Street Soap Company comes in. Because, even though we might get a little dirt under our nails, Mainers also appreciate getting clean with a good product that is ecologically safe and sustainable.

Chase Street makes a good product, but Jess is here because she uses very little packaging, and even makes a shampoo bar that doesn’t use any plastic bottle like normal shampoo. She also makes natural insect repellant and dog soaps, all with the same commitment to the very first “R” – REDUCING her packaging.

OutsideIn Maine, Cape Elizabeth
As a company that cares for and maintains interior plant designs, Erica and her team at OutsideIn are inherently “green,” if you’ll pardon the pun.

As we all know, plants have a great role to play in sustainability, from cleaning our air to controlling temperatures.  But the folks at OutsideIn take the care of their clients’ plants to the next level, in the name of sustainability. They use organic soap to clean the plants’ leaves.  They use recycled and recyclable plant containers.  Cotton towels are used and reused again.  Erica’s team walks to work, in order to save fuel emissions, and they have reduced paper use by handling proposals and billing electronically.   What’s more, Erica and her team spread the word about best practices like these, creating greater awareness of these eco-friendly practices.

Mainely Worm Bins, Gorham
Jock Robie at Mainely Worm Bins is dedicated to removing food waste and scraps from our landfills and waste stream. Through vermiculture – worm-based composting – Mainely Worm Bins makes it easy and fun to dispose of this wet food waste in a sustainable and productive way.

Worm bins create a terrific loop, where the worms compost food waste, generating rich compost that can then be used to grow more vegetables significantly better than chemical fertilizers.  Jock understands the benefits so much that he shares the practice as a community service. He gives presentations and offers three-hour programs to help people set up their own worm composting bins for free.

Municipal Award Winner:

City of Sanford & Sanford Public Works (Matt Hill & Kayla LeBrun), Sanford
A special 2019 Municipal eco-Excellence Award recognized the City of Sanford and the Sanford Department of Public Works for their prompt and cooperative reaction to the issue to contamination in the city’s recycling stream.

Facing the challenge of too much contamination that many cities and towns faced over the last two years, the City of Sanford took bold action, and partnered with ecomaine to quickly increase education in the City, while coordinating with Pine Tree Waste to inspect, tag, and leave contaminated bins at the curbside.

Initially, this strategy generated, it’s safe to say, a fair amount of backlash from residents.  But by standing their ground, and vigorously communicating with and educating its citizens, the City moved from a nearly 20% contamination rate to one that’s almost 0%.

About ecomaine and the eco-Excellence Awards
ecomaine, the nonprofit, recycling and waste-to-energy operation that serves a third of the state’s population, is located in Portland, Maine. The eco-Excellence Awards is an annual program organized by ecomaine to recognize businesses, schools, or individuals in any of ecomaine’s 73 member communities. Winners are selected based on the effectiveness, increased awareness, community impact, and ease of replication of their sustainability programs or initiatives.