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Our History – Earth Decade Committee

Sudbury’s Earth Decade Committee was born of a groundswell of concern inspired by the celebration of the 20th anniversary of Earth Day in 1990. Our awareness of the preciousness of our planet raised issues too urgent for a one-time event followed by a return to the status quo.

Under the leadership of the late Jane Coddington, EDC began with a handful of members encouraging residents to compost, recycle, and practice organic gardening. Since then, the organization has grown to more than 300 in and around Sudbury. Our quarterly plastics collection is EDC’s flagship community event and keeps tons of plastics out of landfills annually.

EDC also serves as a way to connect with neighbors and fellow citizens interested in protecting the environment, and to learn how to help locally and globally.

A more complete history of EDC Prepared by Peg Whittemore (June 2006)

In 1990 an Earth Day 20th anniversary celebration was sparked by Peter Noyes Elementary School teachers led by Barbara Pontecorvo. They organized a group of people, notably Jane Coddington, Dorothy Allen, Laury Hammel (of the Longfellow Club), Susan Thiel, Libby Van de Kerkhove and probably others. After the celebration was over, the group met and decided to morph into the Sudbury-Wayland Earth Decade Committee.

We became a 501(c)(3) organization known as SWEDC in 1994 and are still registered that way, even though Wayland eased out after a few years. (Changing the name is not made easy by the State!)

By 1992, after a few years to get really going, Jane and Dorothy began to whip the group into shape. Promoting composting by selling composters was one of the first efforts and attracted many people to the committee (including myself). The info I could gather shows sales of about 500 composters both from this project and another one held later in 2002.

In 1992 the committee formulated a Purpose Statement as follows:

  • Provide mutual support in the ongoing task of examining and changing our life styles
  • Promote environmental awareness within Sudbury by educating ourselves and the community
  • Serve as an advocate of sound environmental policy when action is called for.

Also in 1992 Jane was instrumental in organizing a program of EcoTeams where small groups gathered to hold meetings for discussing ways to become more environmentally oriented. This six-month program was developed by Global Action Plan for the Earth, based in Woodstock, NY, with monthly action goals of reducing garbage levels, improving home energy efficiency, conserving water usage, exploring ways to cut down on car usage, evaluating your consumption habits, and educating and empowering others. These teams were organized over a period of at least two years. That same year the committee began promoting recycling of paper at Natick Paperboard.

In October 1994 the first plastics recycling program, organized by Dorothy Allen, was held at the Sudbury Town Hall. Thirty-two people brought plastics with a total of 121 lbs. collected.

For comparison, after 46 collections we have recycled 36 tons of plastics – an average of 1565 lbs. per collection.

A Backyard Ecology program began in 1995 for education in native and drought resistant plants, the control of invasives, how to attract butterflies and birds, and ways to minimize or eliminate the use of chemicals on lawns.

In 1996 a book club was organized to promote reading of environmental books. A list of 25+ books is available for anyone interested. (We just recently completed reading and discussing The Lexus and the Olive Tree by Thomas L. Friedman describing and discussing how to understand the globalization of our world.)

In the same year, EDC was nominated by the Selectmen and received an award for Excellence in Environmental Education from the Massachusetts Secretary of Environmental Affairs.

When the landfill closed in 1996, EDC began to find ways to become involved in improving recycling. This gradually increased to a peak in 2005 when members volunteered to monitor the materials being put into various bins during three summer months. This effort improved the quality of recycled materials and resulted in financial credit for the enterprise fund.

Three awards came our way in 1997: the first, from the League of Women Voters, called “Women of the Year”; the second, from the Senate, for “outstanding work in the areas of recycling, composting and educating citizens about the environment”; and the third, from the House and Governor Weld, congratulating the Committee for being selected by the League of Women Voters! A bit amusing, eh?

Promotion of a program called Integrated Pest Management became the main focus for 1998 and 1999 with plans for submission of an article to Town Meeting requesting the Selectmen to appoint a committee to study adoption of an IPM policy. This would seek to use natural controls before applying synthetic chemicals, following the Precautionary Principle. (Familiar with this? No?) – I shall define it. “When an activity raises threats of harm to the environment or human health, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context, the proponent of an activity rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof.” In other words -“Better safe than sorry”-or- “Look before you leap” -or-“First do no harm”!!

This IPM work led to a proposal by MASSPIRG and the Toxics Action Center for a ballot initiative for a Children’s Protection Act. EDC’s efforts in collecting signatures supporting this initiative resulted in yet another award from the Toxics Action Center.

The Children’s and Families Protection Act (CFPA) was signed by Governor Celluci on May 12, 2000. In May 2001 the Sudbury Board of Selectmen unanimously adopted an IPM policy.

This history of EDC could not be complete without recognition of our great loss when founder Jane Coddington died in August of 1999. We struggled to continue our efforts and did so by dedicating them to her memory. Here is a thought that expresses Jane’s dedication to the environment.

The law locks up both
man and woman
who steals the goose from

off the common,
But lets the greater felon loose
Who steals the common
From the goose.

The Jane Coddington Award was established in 2000 to be presented on Earth Day, and the first award was received by Laury Hammel of the Longfellow Club at a celebration held at the Stone Tavern Farm on the Boston Post Road. Laury has a long record of dedication to environmental stewardship and was one of the founders of EDC. Later recipients of the award, each with his or her own history of environmental and recycling activism, are Ursula and Frank Lyons, Dorothy Allen, Mike and Ann Meixel, Lew Russell, Sara Abramovitz and Joanne Thompson, and lastly, Bruce Langmuir in 2006.

EDC became a permanent part of the Healthy Schools Committee which met regularly with the LSRHS Building Committee to promote environmentally healthy decisions for the new high school, and many of our ideas were accepted.

In 2002 EDC joined a coalition with nine other towns to reduce the use of pesticides in residential, municipal, and business properties. This coalition was awarded a $10,000 grant from the Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) for educational materials, training and networking. To begin the effort EDC mounted an exhibit at the Goodnow Library on alternative products and resources for gardens and lawns.

2002 was also the year that EDC mounted a Prius display in the 4th of July Parade with five Priuses owned by members and friends of the steering committee. To highlight the emphasis on energy conservation the cars were led by walkers, bicyclists and roller bladers.

The latest award came in 2004 in connection with the Riverfest celebration when the League of Women Voters again nominated EDC for environmental efforts connected with the CFPA in keeping pesticides out of the rivers.

Many of the projects discussed in this history are ongoing. The latest big effort involved the monitoring of plastics collected at the transfer station in the summer of 2005 to try to educate people in how to recycle productively. The best result was the decision by the town to start taking plastics #3-7 (and unmarked) which relieved EDC of the four times a year collections at Curtis School. Since that material did not contaminate the #1-2 bin, the town was able to receive Enterprise Fund credit from Conigliaro’s in Framingham.

The latest issue sponsored by EDC is promoting the passage of town-wide PAYT curbside pickup. Town Meeting voted to refer this project to a town committee for further research. Subsequently, the Town has established the Sudbury Waste Management Options Committee to look into this issue.