Marion County is increasingly sponsoring services that help people reduce their impact on the environment. They’re providing the options to compost food scraps, properly dispose of prescription medications, opt out of unwanted mail and help businesses become a little more EarthWISE (certified, of course).

Marion County is also one of the sponsors of the second annual Friends of Straub Environmental Center 2011 Mid-Valley Green Awards, which is recognizing community members that are making outstanding efforts towards sustainability.

Individuals, businesses and organizations were nominated by the general public in the categories of recycler of the year, sustainable business of the year, green building of the year, EarthWISE business of the year and the Green Apple Award for education efforts.

The winners will receive a plaque made out of recycled glass from Aurora Glass, a non profit based in Eugene.

Alan Pennington, waste reduction coordinator for Marion County, says more people are familiar with the Green Awards this year as compared to last year. In 2010, there were 26 nominations and the awards ceremony was held at Willamette University. This year, there were 39 nominations and the ceremony will be held at the Salem Conference Center.

The Friends of the Salem Saturday Market were nominated for ‘recycler of the year.’

While the name “Salem Saturday Market” implies fresh, locally grown foods, an outdoor market can cause a lot of pollution, from pounds and pounds of food not being composted to hundreds of plates and utensils ending up in landfills.

Thanks to Friends of Salem Saturday Market, Salem shoppers need not worry about any of that. Volunteers will be ready to help customers properly dispose of every bit of waste at several waste stations throughout the grounds.

A group of volunteers came up with a committee called the “Zero Waste Work Group,” which launched the “Zero Waste Zone” project last year with the help of a Marion County grant to help fund waste stations, gloves, cans, signage, and other things to get started. They got a smaller grant this year, but organizers hope the project will soon be self-sustaining.

“The Zero Waste Zone started July 24th and we were able to reduce garbage by 83 percent,” says Stephanie Matlock Allen, president of the Board of Directors, explaining that there previously were some recycling bins, “but they were hard to see and if they weren’t convenient, people didn’t use them, and it just seemed like such a waste.”

Now plates and cups can be composted together with the food waste, making it much easier for customers.

“The biggest step was that food vendors all agreed to change the serving materials that they used. All of the plates and cups are made of compostable cardboard,” says Matlock Allen, adding that the project was inspired by the news that the Corvallis company Allied Waste would be picking up biodegradable waste in Salem at no extra cost.

Friends of Salem Saturday Market is always looking for volunteers to help not only at the waste stations but in classes, kids’ activities and on their ‘bike valet,’ where a volunteer keeps on eye on people’s bikes while they play around the market.

Speaking of bikes, the local bike shop South Salem Cycleworks (SSC) not only promotes the alternative transportation mode “for ecological reasons and for the conservation of paving new surfaces” but they’ve NEVER used dumpster service.

“Almost everything gets recycled. I take the [office’s] coffee grounds and orange peels home and I put them in my personal compost or green bin,” says Michael Wolfe, SSC owner. “We minimize materials that can’t be recycled.”

The company breaks down unusable bikes for parts and then recycles them as steel or aluminum scrap and it also uses organic degreasers and non-aerosol lubricants. They also choose to pay a higher electric bill to support PGE’s windpower generation.

A new option at SSC is the ability to recycle rubber, which can now be taken to Les Schwab to be reused. SSC’s motto is “Re-CYCLE – Get back on your bike.”

At Jane Goodall Environmental Middle School, kids are taught all green practices, from recycling to growing food. They reuse and recycle paper as much as possible and have signs to remind students and staff not to waste resources, from paper towels to classroom lights. Kids also do projects such as being shown a pile of trash and asked to sort out what could be recycled or composted and what is truly garbage. They also do some composting and grow edible gardens. According to Principal Tricia Nelson, the plan is to continue what they’re doing. “We have earned our ‘green school’ status. Kids and staff all have learned to be better managers of our resources and that helps the whole community so we’ll keep up with that.”

The fact that public markets, green schools and bike shops have eco-friendly practices may not come as a surprise, but other Salem businesses and services are taking enormous extra steps.

Northwest Senior and Disability Services has recycling bins, shreds and recycles all confidential documents, and in the past year furnished all offices with scanners to move toward using less paper products. Batteries, light bulbs and electronics are also properly disposed of. “Anything that can have trace amounts of mercury needs to be disposed of properly,” says Jerry Sims, business services manager.

In the IT field, one company featured for doing its best to prevent contamination is the EarthWISE-certified Compex Two, based in Silverton. Besides reusing and recycling normal things from the office, like paper, packaging and Styrofoam, they also recycle hardware and provide the same service to their customers.

“If someone’s computer dies, it’s part of our services that we recycle it for them if they buy replacement hardware from us. That way we can ensure that it gets properly recycled,” says Heidi Redford, business developing manager, mentioning that it is actually illegal to throw electronics into the trash. Not only can Compex Two properly dispose of e-waste, but the company also often refurbishes computers and donates them (a recent recipient was the Oregon School for the Deaf). They also try to encourage customers to get newer machines that use less electricity, and they do a lot of their own IT work remotely, through the internet, which reduces driving.

Moving into the future, Compex Two already started practicing ‘cloud computing’ and is trying to push customers in that direction. Cloud computing stores data in large systems over the Internet rather than on personal hardware and the technology is believed to be more energy-efficient.

One of the most energy-efficient buildings in town is Painter’s Hall, originally built in the 1930s and restored last year. Painter’s Hall is the first certified LEED platinum net zero energy building in Oregon. It features a 20-watt solar power system on the roof that, according to Painter’s Hall community coordinator Shannon Stewart, generates three times the power that the building consumes. “The building is also set up with a geothermal loop that heats and cools 70 of our home sites plus our commercial buildings. It’s a very innovative heating and cooling system,” says Stewart. Rainwater is harvested for all toilet water, and ‘zero waste’ is used by offering reusable plates for all events held in the building as well as in the cafe.

“We don’t have to-go disposables. You have to dine in or bring a reusable container,” says Stewart. They’ve also started growing food in their yards for the cafe’s soup, lunches and salads. “We pretty much topped out everything,” says Stewart.

Illahe Vineyards in Dallas is really trying to go back to practicing winemaking as the French did 100 years ago, and their natural practices are reflected in their wine.

They have several green certifications such as LIVE (ensuring sustainable growing and winemaking practices) and Salmon Safe (nothing goes into the soil that would be harmful to the rivers or streams). The building is solar powered and they also harvest all rainwater from the winery’s roof and use it for cleaning instead of using well water (the cleaning process during harvest requires large amounts of water). Last year, they started using a team of draft horses to reduce diesel use. “When deciding to take the extra step in being sustainable and use draft horses, it was because that’s the way they used to do it in France. A lot of wineries have lost track of that and we wanted to incorporate that back into our philosophy,” says Bethany Ford, national sales manager. “The horses are a recent work in progress. We just started mowing with them last year. It’s takes a lot of training.”

In the future, Ford says the family wants to go even more sustainable by reducing spraying to a minimum (the spraying is already limited by the LIVE certification standards which allows only certain chemicals). They also plan to do all native fermentation in their wines, a more natural technique that reduces the use of packaged yeast, instead leaving it to the yeast that’s already in the grapes.

“We let our fruit be our fruit. The flavor is a little more wild and more expressive of the terrier on our site. It’s less controlled,” says Ford. “We are making a product that you are going to drink so we want it to be as great as possible. Our motto is ‘from soil to bottom:’ don’t intervene, don’t add chemicals. The product you’re getting from us is going to be purely characteristic of the varietal. Our Pinot noir is 100 percent Pinot noir. We don’t add enzymes to extract color, we don’t add tannins. It’s really true winemaking.”

The 2011 Mid-Valley Green Awards take place April 9th at 5 p.m. at the Salem Conference Center. Tickets are $50 and include a choice of prime rib dinner, mozzarella stuffed chicken breast or vegetarian seasonal ravioli. Tickets can be be purchased by contacting Alexandra at 503-391-4145 or e-mailing alexandra@fselc.org. Walk-ins are also welcome.

AWARDING GREEN

April 9, 5 p.m.

The 2011 Mid-Valley Green Awards

Salem Conference Center

200 Commercial St. SE, Salem

Cost: $50