Newton wins big at Keep Ga. Beautiful Awards

COVINGTON -- Newton County has made an impressive showing in the Keep Georgia Beautiful Foundation Awards this year, with two local individuals and one organization set to be honored at the Nov. 2 awards banquet.

KCNB volunteer Lee Aldridge has been named Keep Georgia Beautiful's Woman of the Year, receiving the Carolyn Crayton Award; Newton County Solid Waste Director James Peters is the Public Works Employee of the Year; and Newton County 4-H took second place in the Waste Reduction for a Youth Group/School category. Keep Covington-Newton Beautiful nominated all three.

"I think it's wonderful. I had no earthly idea I would win. I was just really surprised and very, very proud," said Aldridge, a retired teacher who founded the precursor to KCNB, C.L.E.A.N., an acronym for Clean Living Around Newton.

"As a science teacher the environment has always been a primary issue with me. I feel we always have a part in keeping our environment pure and trying to keep it as clean as possible," Aldridge said.

Aldridge is a member of KCNB's executive board and co-chair of the school and education committee. During her first year on KCNB's board she was named "Rookie of the Year." Aldridge helped design a lab room in the Recycling Processing Center using recycled carpet and tire flooring, reused lab cabinets from an old school and paint from a community recycling event. She designed an interactive educational program for elementary and middle school students incorporating Keep America Beautiful curriculum into a Learning Lab and is currently involved in soliciting volunteers to man the stations during school group activities.

This year, Aldridge has coordinated coloring contests on recycling; completed numerous recycling presentations for elementary school students; worked at an education booth at the Great American Cleanup; distributed supplies to Covington Service Guild members for home/yard cleanups; collected toilet tissue and paper towel tubes for school crafts; donated "Water Cycle" posters and seed bookmarks to schools; given three classroom presentations on Earth Day; talked to a student body assembly at a middle school prior to a school-yard cleanup; donated recycling books to schools; made "Acid Rain" posters for 4-H; collected 47 glass bottles for science projects; and copied, assembled and distributed recycling coloring books to give out at Recycling Centers, along with other projects.

Solid Waste Director James Peters "was prepared to implement new, better and more efficient methods" when he took the position in 2006, according to KCNB's nomination. Peters took the landfill from underperforming to award-winning in just more than two years.

Under Peters' leadership the landfill received its highest ever inspection scores from the Environmental Protection Division -- 95 for Municipal Solid Waste and 100 for Construction and Demolition Waste. Under Peters, revenue from recycling reached $275,000, up from $195,000 in 2006. The increase was achieved through researching rates and negotiating with recycling and manufacturing companies, as well as separating glass by color to increase profit.

According to the nomination letter, Peters encourages his employees to pursue educational opportunities and advancement and helps them to achieve their professional goals.

Peters has suggested and personally implemented such upgrades as planting flowers around the landfill sign; designing an employee parking area; erecting a split rail fence along the main roadway; daily litter pick up and cleaning of roadways by water trucks; installing an oil/water separator; and constructing a drop off area for citizen use.

He also initiated and oversees paint recycling and pesticide collection; electronics recycling; clothes collection points at the landfill; bicycle collections; and cooking oil collection. Peters serves on the KCNB Recycling Committee.

Newton County 4-H scored second place for its partnership with KCNB on programs and events. 4-H'ers walking the track at the local Relay for Life in 2009 noticed aluminum cans and plastic bottles being thrown in trash cans. They decided to collect the pop tabs, recycled and used in fundraising by the Ronald McDonald House. The project has expanded to include collecting all recycling and inviting Youth Leadership Institute teens to help with collecting and sorting. They also provide trash bins near recycling bins to encourage the community to put items in proper containers.

4-H'ers also collect children books, sort, clean and label them and donate to The Learning Center, a local non-profit that focuses on early childhood literacy. Remaining books are distributed to other literacy programs. 4-H'ers also collect and donate printer cartridges to raise money for the local Special Olympics team; participate in Rivers Alive; coordinate recycling at schools; host a SquareCrow competition on the Square during 4-H and Recycling Week" and make crafts out of recycled materials.

"4-H'ers pledge their hands to greater service for their communities, so recycling and reuse programs are a great way to act on that pledge," said Terri Kimble, director of Newton 4-H. "Most of our projects are youth-led, too, so it's excellent service learning."