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Fake Plastic Trees: Earth Day 2011 Showcases Environmental Causes

Hundreds gathered on Saturday to learn about cutting edge technology and easy ways to be more eco-friendly

Shoppers hustled and bustled down the streets of the Central Business District on Saturday, as plastic bags containing Sidewalk Sale goods whisked through a grey sky. Conveniently, shoppers initially looking to save money on household and clothing items received an education on the economic value of energy and water conservation, as well as the importance of recycling for the 2011 Earth Day.

It was no coincidence the 2011 Earth Day (which for non-villagers falls on April 22) was held in conjunction with the Sidewalk Sale, and organizers and participants said this year's event was hugely successful.

"We are using nature to solve a man-made problem," said Ed Schwartz, the chairperson of the Ridgewood Environmental Action Committee (REAC).

The Saturday festivities were designed to showcase environmentally-conscious activities that could be easily applied to everyday life, Schwartz explained.

“There are things people can do to take responsibility for their own actions, things to make people’s homes and lives more sustainable.”

Village departments, environmental clubs, civic organizations, local businesses and universities were all teaching the greater community the hallmarks and sticking points of the so-called "Green Revolution" as hundreds planted saplings, tested rainwater barrels, pet turtles, composted and overall, simply had a good, educational time.

"It's great to see the Ridgewood community coming together to rally behind environmental causes," said Parks & Rec Deputy Director Nancy Bigos, who added that the credit for the event's success really goes to the young people – the students of the Ridgewood High School-based Students for Environmental Action club (SEA).

Best known for its "Turn Off the Lights" initiative at Ridgewood High School in which a conscious effort to reduce electricity has led to six-figure savings for taxpayers, club members were hard at work teaching kids and adults alike the virtues of better environmental practices.

The club also prompted the community take the challenge, this year's Earth Day 2011 theme – Do One Thing (DOT).

"The DOT project does a lot to educate the community," junior and co-president Kristina Hurley said. Those who pledge choose a goal on how they can better treat the earth and fill out a dot, many of which were elaborately decorated and demonstrated the environmental many youth in Ridgewood have.

"We had a lot of kids from Willard here," Hurley said. "[Kids] can be creative and they're really making a change. It was fantastic."

But don't shortchange the older students' creativity, they did after all construct a plastic tree. Yes, you read that right, a plastic tree.

"All these bottles were collected in just one day," explained junior SEA co-president Victoria Pan, standing beside a tree of about eight feet, made almost entirely of plastic bottles fastened to a bar of PVC piping, which held it together.

There were of course a few decorative leaves as well as DOT dots hanging from the plastic branches. The tree won't be staying at the park; it can soon be seen back at Ridgewood High School, the site of the original bottle collection, for a Sharing the Arts award.

Village departments were also there on Saturday, interacting with the population hands-on, often surprising residents with the range of services that go unseen but play a critical role in the lives of villagers.

“Ridgewood is unique in that it has its own water supply,” said Schwartz on the water purification in Ridgewood. “Most places in New Jersey are provided by United Water or reservoir water. Ridgewood taps into artesian wells under our town.”

"The fact is we have clean water,” the water utility department head Frank Moritz said.

Though residents do not see the treatment process, Ridgewood Water said that the water goes from the wells through the underground pipes to provide clean water. A pipe was showcased to further resident’s understanding of the purification process.

Reycling programming aide Johanna Luttrell said while recycling is important for the environment, there are other factors to be considered.

“In a time when there are so many economic problems that people and municipalities are facing, we also have to recognize its economic benefits as well."

Garbage disposal is a costly endeavor since garbage is put in landfills. According to Luttrell and Moritz, the Recycling Department pays $65.12 per ton of garbage and there is an average of 9,500 tons of garbage a year, which does not include the cost of trucking and labor. Recycling certain garbage will save money, the officials maintain.

But Village employees and students weren't the only ones touting the benefits of recycling, conservation and going green. Rob Schucker, of R&S Landscaping, was out with staff helping teach kids how to plant saplings, and of course, enjoy getting dirt underneath fingernails.

"We also had a rain barrel made out of recycled fruit juice," which Schucker explained provided lessons on water conservation and sustainability. The barrel is similar to the one at Willard School.

Across the park, Peter Maracalus, a sales rep for NATH Sustainable Solutions, showcased a series of compost systems that have been installed at local colleges like Bergen Community. Another, he said will soon be placed at Ramapo College.

The systems, which come in four sizes depending on need, run about $20,000 and process proteins like fish, chicken as well as carbohydrates into compost in just 14 days.

"The collaboration with students was most important to the success of the event," said Bigos. "I welcome their educational resources and enthusiasm," Bigos said.

Pan herself, however, credited a greater force for the success.

"Mother Nature has been so supportive. We really thought it was going to rain today."

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