The Cause: Recycling Advocate Katie LaJoie
Photographed at the Charlestown transfer station, Katie LaJoie has been opposed to the Claremont incinerator and supported extensive recycling since 1985. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
The Woman: Katie LaJoie, 62, of Charlestown.
The Cause: Helping Sullivan County communities transition away from the Wheelabrator Incinerator in Claremont toward a recycling-based system of waste management.
The Means: As an individual and through the Claremont-based group, Working on Waste, working to shut down the incinerator, by holding public hearings, compiling research on the impact of the incinerator, and urging officials to create recycling incentives.
The Impetus: LaJoie first heard about the plan to build an incinerator in Claremont in 1985. She and others attended a forum headed by Paul Connett, a St. Lawrence University expert on incineration pollution, who told them that incinerators are a major source of dioxin in the air and a bad example of resource management.There’s a great saying that goes, “Waste is a verb; it’s something that we do.” Waste is not waste until it’s wasted. I prefer to call it resource management. The beginning of my involvement with the incinerator and Working on Waste began with a concern about waste incineration — how it converts valuable resources into toxic air and ash.
We promote what is called a zero-waste model. It’s a model that’s being used elsewhere that seeks to use no waste — so everything that could be reused, composted, recycled is used, and that whatever is left of the residue you start working on that. This goes along with the premise that these are valuable resources that often get thrown away. Our goal is that we get out of the mindset that waste is natural and just something that is inevitable in our society. As Paul Connett said, we can’t act like we have another planet to go to.
During these years we’ve developed a blueprint for a closure plan, how a transition for closure of the incinerator to a recycling-based system would work. We want people to understand that people who work for the incinerator that their jobs won’t just be cut off — they could be integrated into the new materials recovery facility we want to put in place of the incinerator.
I would tell people who want to become involved in this issue to put some pressure on your local and state officials to make recycling a priority in your community. Urge them to look into making recycling more convenient and economically beneficial to members in the community.
I would tell people to maintain contact with those of us at Working on Waste who have been involved in this for a long time. Then, participate in future meetings discussing a plan to transition away from the incinerator.
Waste comes into the incinerator not just from Sullivan County. In 2010, most of the waste came from Keene. Many tons of waste also came from Ohio, Tennessee, Iowa and Vermont. One of the things that is so disturbing about this is for every ton of trash that is recycled by our community, Wheelabrator just finds a ton of trash from somewhere else to incinerate. Even if you are doing your part to help the environment, you are still getting the same amount of emissions pumped into the air.
There’s been an increase of the dioxin levels in the past few years at the incinerator that we’ve been tracking. When you have pollutants that accumulate in the environment and in your body, you can’t develop a “safe” emissions standard from them. It’s not as if every day you wake up and have a clean slate — these pollutants keep building up in your body. That is a big thing that we stress to people, because sometimes people will get a false (sense of) security, that because a facility meets emissions standards that somehow it’s safe. These emissions standards are not health based, but rather industry standards — something an incinerator can meet. In reality, all the mercury that’s been emitted from the incinerator since 1987 is still cycling through the environment, and more is being added every day. So we’ve had 25 years of these emissions, and they take their toll.
Photograph and interview by Sarah Priestap
Published in print on August 5, 2012.