Waste to Wealth Plenary Panel
"The Global and Regional Context: Why Rural Appalachian Solutions Matter" Plenary Panel
Photo by Adam Birkan

Waste to Wealth Summit Brings National Experts to Athens

Brittany Murray
September 19, 2012

The Waste to Wealth Summit, held Thursday and Friday September 13 and 14, was an opportunity to bring together individuals from Ohio and two adjacent states to examine how to build and sustain rural wealth from resource recovery and recycling-based businesses.The Summit was organized by the Appalachia Ohio Zero Waste Initiative (AOZWI), which works together with our local communities to increase waste diversion and support the development of a zero waste economy. AOZWI is coordinated by Rural Action in partnership with Ohio University's Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs with funding from the Sugar Bush Foundation. Rural Action is a regional, community development organization that strives to create a sustainable future for Appalachia Ohio.

A plenary panel held Friday morning, "The Global and Regional Context: Why Rural Appalachian Solutions Matter," discussed the global context of solid waste practices and legislation in Central Appalachia.  The panelists included were Karen Luken, Global Solid Waste and Wastewater Director for President Clinton's Clinton Climate Initiative; Earl Gohl, Federal Co-Chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission; Tony Logan, State Director, Ohio, USDA Rural Development; and Pam Curry, Executive Director, Center for Economic Options.

As part of Clinton's Climate Initiative, Luken works with the 40 largest cities in the world to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through improving solid waste management systems. She states, "We focus on diverting waste from landfill deposal through recycling and through composting, but we're also very focused on converting garbage into energy."Luken explains that doing so requires a balanced budget. Therefore, the Initiative looks at market conditions, cost, labor concerns, and technology providers in its approach. Luken ended her part of the panel by attempting to inspire the audience:

"Trying to achieve zero waste is hard. It's important to us; sadly, it's not important to maybe 90 percent of the world. But we have to be the leaders; we have to stay committed because as Margaret Mead always said: 'A small group of people—those are the people that really do change the world.'"

Gohl has worked for Appalachia Regional Commission (ARC) since 2010 after spending 20 years in Pennsylvania state and local government.ARC focuses on economics and how to invest in the people of the Appalachia region to advance their communities. He explains that throughout Appalachia there are many incredible communities who create their own armies of teachers, entrepreneurs, mayors, economic developers, and environmentalists that have "an incredible amount of energy and an incredible amount of imagination, and it is our mission and responsibility to figure out ways to engage them and move the needle farther up the scale."

As Ohio's Director of USDA Rural Development, Logan oversees community development programs that provide assistance to Ohio's rural communities.He stated, "I think one of the major policy initiatives that we should all be advocating for are renewable fuel standards at the federal level and renewable electricity standards at the state level. "He explains that although these standards are currently in place, it is important to continue to advocate for them. These initiatives are important because municipal solid waste is a very valuable, biological input needed to generate energy.

The two-day event brought together regional stakeholders from Appalachian communities throughout Ohio, as well as Kentucky and West Virginia. Attendees were provided information on innovative rural recycling programs, entrepreneurial and market opportunities for recycled material, and solid waste management policies needed to create a zero waste economy in Central Appalachia.