When a community dedicates itself to zero waste, it takes a lot of cooperation and coordination to make it happen.

So what happens when multiple communities in a region are striving to be zero waste? The need for collaboration becomes even more critical, especially when the focus is on hard-to-recycle materials.

“We have good momentum in our area with conventional recycling,” says Ed Newman, Rural Action Zero Waste Director. “What we’re trying to do now is focus on other materials to recover, which typically are harder to recycle. The challenge locally and throughout the region has been increasing capacity to handle recyclables and harder-to-recycle materials. As we expand into other counties, they sometimes don’t have as much access or available opportunities for recycling.”

One solution? A Reuse Corridor that connects Huntington, WV, Ashland, KY, Parkersburg, Athens, Amesville, Nelsonville, Logan, and other communities. Identifying and encouraging a recycling corridor creates more opportunities for communities to send their difficult-to-recycle materials to regional entities that can process the material. So if a company in Nelsonville can process mattresses and another in Ashland can handle textiles, communities throughout the region can send their recyclables there.

The result: Small recyclers that focus on specific types of waste can get the volume they need to make it financially viable, and communities have an outlet for their hard-to-recycle material that doesn’t involve putting it on a ship and sending it overseas.

Rural Action Zero Waste Director Ed Newman loads materials for recycling.

“This is a network of local entities working together,” Ed says. “It’s exciting and cool that we’re leveraging our strengths, creating synergies like volume, access, and increased aggregation of materials in ways where we support each other.”

Eventually, the goal is to set up regular routes that connect the various recyclers and communities in the corridor. “Maybe we’re still shipping some recovered materials to Cleveland or Indianapolis,” Ed notes. “But we’re also keeping a lot of it right here in our region, where it can provide jobs and other economic opportunities for local people and businesses who are processing it.”

For now, Rural Action is creating the means to store recyclables until the load is big enough to merit a trip to one of the recyclers. A 40-foot shipping container has been placed at Athens-Hocking Recycling Centers (AHRC) for medical equipment and supplies that are no longer needed.

“This entire project has involved building bridges with organizations, communities, businesses and entrepreneurs that can contribute,” Ed says. “One thing keeps connecting to another thing. It’s a growing network that’s building, and that’s going to be the strength of this corridor.”

Here are some of the partners involved in the effort thus far:

For more information about the corridor, contact Ed at ed@ruralaction.org.