“The Tri-County Sustainability (TCS) started a couple of years ago, and it began as a regional hub of Sustainable Jersey,” said Vicky Binetti, Environmental Commision chair for Washington Township. “It is a very active organization and it has been a great touchstone for our communities who are involved in sustainable Jersey activities.”
The TCS teams are smaller branches of Sustainable Jersey, which brings together municipalities and school districts to help make state communities more sustainable. TCS takes that goal and fine tunes it to focus on Gloucester, Camden and Burlington counties.
“What we are trying to do is focus our activities on helping each other,” Binetti explained. “We are all after the same thing: reducing our environmental impact and improving our environment locally. We know that we make the best progress when we are all doing it together.”
Two years ago, the team created an initiative called Towns Helping Towns, a mentoring program for communities that want to become more involved in sustainability efforts. Towns have been able to use its platform as a way to communicate new ideas and efforts.
Most recently, Ila Vassallo, from the Evesham Township team, attended a conference about the dangers of lead toxicity. Information from that conference was passed on to Binetti in Gloucester County, and she is now seeking ways to raise awareness for lead toxicity testing.
“The event turned out to be an eye-opener for me,” Binetti noted. “So much so that we have researched and learned that Gloucester County has a relatively lower screening rate for children in terms of blood levels than elsewhere in the state.
“It doesn’t mean there is higher lead poisoning, it just means that the check isn’t being done … It inspired work we will be doing here.”
The TCS team is now working on an initiative known as Zero Waste Wednesdays. Every Wednesday, the team will post on its social media platforms different ideas to create a zero waste lifestyle. Communities can participate in the initiative by posting on their own social media with the hashtag #0wastewednesdays.
“We have been slowly getting other green teams to come on and participate with us,” Vassallo said. “The initiative is to get people thinking about the question, ‘When you throw something away, where is away?’ And to understand that recycling is only part of the solution.
“We also have to think about reducing and reusing as well,” she added. “That translates into a lot of different areas like municipal waste and food waste.”
The team has many ideas on how to bring sustainability efforts to every community, including through Repair Fairs, events that bring people from across the state who use their “fix-it” skills to help others who may not know how to repair certain items.
According to Patrick McDevitt of the Monroe Township team, that helps create a mindset of fixing things instead of sending them straight to the trash. Other initiatives include energy-efficient transportation for municipal vehicles and ways to reduce municipal waste.
“Half the time with electronics, it’s that the fan inside is covered in dirt or dust and you just need a special screwdriver to open and fix it,” said Oaklyn Green Team representative Sean Moen. “Simple fixes like that work for a lot of different things.”
TCS teams meet through Zoom once a month to share ideas and initiatives. Members from all communities are welcome to join and bring their own input and ideas. The team also uses a discord channel where community members can ask questions or give advice to each other about a more sustainable lifestyle.
“One thing to remember about our group is that everyone is welcome,” said McDevitt. “There may be some people who don’t get along with their mayor and those people are welcome. They may not have the correct venue in their town, but we can speak out for them.”
More information on Tri-County Sustainability can be found on Facebook, Twitter and http://www.tcsahub.org. The next meeting will be Tuesday, March 30.