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Morgantown business takes care of the after-party

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Photo courtesy of Green Earth Event Services Photo courtesy of Green Earth Event Services
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By CYNTHIA McCLOUD

For The State Journal

Event planners make sure there are enough drinks, silverware and other supplies. But they may give little thought to clean-up, maybe assuming trash will be put in the venue's dumpster.

Garth Lindley of Green Earth Event Services in Morgantown is trying to change how organizers plan events by getting them thinking about what to do with trash when the event is over.

He works with event coordinators to plan how trash will be managed during and after the event. At a recent Empty Bowls fundraiser in Morgantown, he set up a system for collecting and transporting the compostable bowls, cups and spoons to a recycling facility that takes those specific materials as well as getting the leftover food to a pig farmer to use as animal feed.

"A lot of waste is generated from events. I think you have to look beyond just (cleaning up)," Lindley said. "It's much easier to just throw it away, but we've got to get beyond that. We're throwing away resources we could be reusing in a lot of ways.

"It has been phenomenal the amount of positive comments I've heard from event planners such as ‘We should've been doing this a long time ago,'" he said. "There's a definite hunger out there. People see all this stuff going in the garbage and think ‘but what can you do about it?' I'm trying to solve the ‘what can you do.'"

Lindley got the idea while attending events.

"I do triathlons and marathons and 5Ks and 10Ks," Lindley said. "I was doing a triathlon back in 2010 and there were a bunch of plastic bottles and stuff all bagged up. 

"I said ‘If you're not going to recycle it, if you're going to throw it away, do you mind if I take it?'" 

He stuffed as much as he could into his car and got it recycled.

"Every race I've done, I've always seen plastic water bottles in particular. I thought, ‘Somebody ought to be doing something about this.' I looked around and nobody does this."

So Lindley started — small at first — calling his project Eco Race Events. This year, with the help of public relations students at West Virginia University, he rebranded the venture Green Earth Event Services.

For his first endeavor four years ago, Lindley asked a friend who directs races at Coopers Rock if he could bring boxes labeled to separate bottles and other recyclables from regular trash. 

Last year, he served 20 events including 5K and 10K races, primarily around the Morgantown area.

Lindley is finding the public is catching on to throwing the right thing into the right bin and he has less sorting to do. 

"It's dealing with the public," Lindley said. "When somebody is done with something, they don't care where it goes. But you do have to think about it. It's an education process."

The process can come full circle.

"SustainU is a company here in Morgantown that makes T-shirts out of plastic water bottles and recycled clothing," he said. "I've been trying to steer a lot of races to using them for their T-shirts. 

"Think about the overall impact of shipping T-shirts from China." 

Lindley then listed the raw materials consumed, the carbon footprint of the planes and trucks hauling the shirts and the overall economic impact. 

"Those jobs are not in the U.S., but with SustainU they are," he said.

Right now, Lindley sustains Green Earth out of his own pocket while he works with the WVU College of Law to file paperwork to get nonprofit status. Then he can apply for grants and get donations. 

At his day job as associate director of development, Lindley raises money for West Virginia University's College of Engineering and Mineral Resources. Green Earth Event Services is something he does in his free time when he's not working for WVU.

He even took a vacation day from his regular job to clean up the mess from the college's annual Pumpkin Drop competition for schoolchildren.

Lindley and engineering students sorted cardboard, stuffed animals, hay, packing material and other things the contestants used to cushion the fall of their gourds. A lot of waste scatters when the pumpkins plummet from the roof of the engineering building, but the pumpkins became pig feed and compost at the WVU Farm. Other event materials were recycled.

Lindley said he's always been ecologically minded.

"In Kingwood where I grew up, my parents composted. we took table scraps out, we recycled as soon as recycling was available," he said. "It was something you did and you didn't really think about it and it just became a habit. Then I started reading more stuff and paying more attention to issues not only in West Virginia but internationally and it motivated me. 

"You can't save the world but you can save your corner of it. This is my way of contributing."