AYER — Laurie Sabol grew up in St. Louis, the child of Great Depression-era parents who repurposed and reused every household item, leaving nothing to waste.
Not surprisingly, those traits were ingrained in Sabol, who, as an adult put them to use as chairman of the Ayer Recycling Committee.
But after 20 years the woman known for leading the way in Ayer recycling and reuse efforts has retired.
“I grew up with the philosophy of trying to minimize waste as much as possible. As I became an adult and struck out on my own, I just fell into the importance of recycling waste, waste-minimization and source-reduction, because we don’t have room to throw anything away anymore,” Sabol said.
As Sabol considers new volunteer opportunities, she remain mindful of environmental concerns.
“We all know we’ve become quite the throwaway culture. That’s not Massachusetts-wide, that’s not America-wide, that’s pretty much planet-wide unfortunately,” Sabol said.
From trading single-use plastic bags at the grocery store for reusable ones to embracing reusable water bottles, Sabol said reduction is every bit, if not more important, than recycling. “The less stuff we generate, the less noxious fumes, the less greenhouse gases we’ll have, the less we’ll have to mine for precious metals, etc.”
Sabol is frequently asked how to dispose of difficult materials, but her role with the recycling committee has been as an organizer. Every fall the committee hosts a nonhazardous, regional recycling day called “Recycle Your Reusables” that Ayer and 20 surrounding communities have participated in. What started as a small event with people dropping off items at the Ayer-Shirley Regional Middle School blossomed into something much greater at Bemis Associates Inc.
“We never had anybody get hit by a car, which is a miracle because we would have literally hundreds of cars come through,” Sabol said.
Planning Recycle Your Reusables always started months in advance with the small committee working through logistics, public relations efforts and finding volunteers. Sabol describes the days themselves as “long” but “very rewarding,” noting that many towns across the state host recycling days and community cleanups. Sabol also coordinated the annual Keep Ayer Beautiful community cleanup event, sponsored by the organization Keep Massachusetts Beautiful.
“Over the years that we’ve done it, we’ve easily eliminated 100 tons of materials from the waste stream. Materials that have gone either to be reused because they’re in perfectly good condition or that have been recycled thoughtfully, sensibly and environmentally into new products,” Sabol said.
The work that went into hosting both annual events was seen firsthand by committee member Dan DeMille.
“Laurie has been a tireless worker for Ayer and the surrounding community. She has helped to keep thousands of tons out of the traditional waste stream by coordinating the Recycle Your Reusables event,” Demille wrote in an email. “That event is way more work than the average person is willing or able to commit so she deserves a thousand thank you’s for that event. Ayer is a cleaner place due to her coordination of the annual Keep Ayer Beautiful trash litter pick up. She will be missed as she moves on to new endeavors.”
Committee member Rebecca Jones called Sabol’s work ethic “awe-inspiring,” especially as she handled the planning of these events with “little assistance.” Jones met Sabol three years ago and found her to be welcoming. She describes meeting her as helping to open the doors to ways to serve the Ayer community.
“It’s easy for what she does to be overlooked, as it’s somewhat ‘invisible’ until you attend one of the events and see the DPW truck filled — two or three times — with bags of trash and debris collected from roadsides, or the filled trailers, boxes and dumpsters and lines of filled cars at an RYR event, and hear the thanks expressed by patrons and residents, especially when they suddenly notice the difference while passing through town, in the disappearance, though unfortunately temporary, of trash and debris on roadsides and public areas,” Jones said.
At this month’s Keep Ayer Beautiful day, Sabol said many new faces participated, including high school students, and young couples. Sabol describes it as “fantastic” especially as she’s uncertain about who will lead the committee going forward. The committee has five members, two of whom work full time.
As Sabol prepares to depart from the committee, she remarked that there are two common items in people’s everyday lives that many don’t know are recyclable — textiles and plastic bags.
Clothes, shoes, backpacks, belts, hats and stuffed animals are all easily recyclable, Sabol said.
“As long as they’re clean, dry, and odor-free they can be recycled. There are numerous drop boxes in every town including Planet Aid, the famous yellow boxes, and lots of other companies have drop boxes for textiles,” Sabol said.
As for plastic bags, the best way to recycle those is to bring them to your nearest supermarket and look for a container that is often tall, white, and made of cardboard with an opening in the top.
“That includes Market Basket bags, bread bags, produce bags, dry cleaning bags, and product overwrap on your paper on your paper towels,” Sabol said, remarking that as long as the bags are plastic and not cellophane — “Anything that’s a little bit stretchable.”