Fitchburg native Antonio Ledesma and his Great American Rain Barrel Co. provide businesses and homeowners with re-purposed plastic barrels for collecting
Fitchburg native Antonio Ledesma and his Great American Rain Barrel Co. provide businesses and homeowners with re-purposed plastic barrels for collecting rainwater to use domestically. NASHOBA VALLEY VOICE / SCOTT SHURTLEFF

AYER -- Fitchburg native Antonio Ledesma is saving Massachusetts' earth and water, one barrel at a time. His company, Great American Rain Barrel Co., procures single-use plastic barrels that would otherwise be discarded into landfills, then outfits them for re-purposing, some 20,000 per year.

Ledesma is the point man for a simple, yet innovative, network of resource reuse. The rain barrel initiative solves several environmental and municipal problems by taking 60-gallon plastic drums scheduled for the landfills, and turning them into private reservoirs.

Since 1988 Pastene foods in Italy has exported bulk-packaged products such as pickles and peppers, etc. to a small company in Hyde Park, Massachusetts, Orleans Packing Company repackages the foods into consumer-sized quantities for retail. And for years the empty, single-use plastic barrels were sent to landfills and recycling plants around the area, at great cost of disposal to Orleans and at great expense to ecological equilibrium. The 50,000 barrels per year are of top quality "food grade" manufacturing, born in Italy and died in America.

Along came GARB with a solution to the garbage. With a few alterations and some prettifying paint, rain barrels are birthed from the discard. Ledesma's unique marketing strategy helps move the barrels into entire municipalities at once. Currently operating in 17 towns, including Ayer, GARB first asks city officials for the right to promote the barrels to residents. Not all towns allow for the private collection rainwater.


Most cities oblige once they learn of the benefits.

The transformed barrels have a screen barrier to prevent mosquitos and vegetation from entering the system. The top lid has a both "shotgun" holes to receive rainwater directly, as well as a wider opening to accommodate downspouts from home gutters. Along the body of the barrels are three additional holes, called ports, at various points. One at the bottom allows for a spigot to draw water as needed, or to connect a garden hose.

Ledesma is a partner in both GARB and its partnering organization, Green World Vision. The Fitchburg native who now lives in Leominster, explained how GARB shares its wares with homeowners. "After we get the go-ahead from the town," he said. "We set up a booth at whatever events are happening. We tell them about the barrels' durability--one will last a lifetime if emptied during winter months--and about how they can collect pure rainwater to use in irrigation, to wash cars, or for any other outdoor use. We then take orders over a certain period of time and deliver the entire town's barrels in a single day."

They moved into Ayer on July 2 and will take orders for six weeks then bring the projected two hundred or so products in mid August. "The benefit of doing business this way is that the town works as a single purchaser, requiring only a singe delivery." This bulk-buying drops the regular price of $119 down to only $79. "Over a hundred towns in Massachusetts have already participated in this program, including Shirley and Pepperell."

Once the shipment arrives to the designated location in the community, purchasers come and pick up their barrels, which come in four color choices. The 20 lb. barrels, at 39 inches tall and 24 inches wide, fit into any car and are a simple two-step up. The town benefits in that it's own water supply is not compromised by lawn watering and car-washing, an important detail during the summer.

For Ledesma, whose company generates a marginal profit on the transactions, the real value is to the environment overall, which is his primary objective and the central mission of Green World Vision.