By Lisa Loomis

The Valley Reporter is joining other members of the community in looking at its carbon footprint. The Low Carbon Diet is a four-week program designed to help individuals, and in our case, our office, lose 5,000 pounds of carbon emissions a year.

The guidebook for this exercise came from Yestermorrow where a handful of people put themselves on the diet. Now some 30 people (including me/my coworkers) are going on the diet and then it will be rolled out to the community at large.

The program looks at a variety of changes that people can make in their own lives, how to tighten up your household, how to spread the word (we call this proselytizing) and then create an action program. Initially I planned to personally undertake the carbon reduction diet, but I realized that a great deal of my life is spent at the office and so decided to extend the 'diet' to the office and my unwitting but willing coworkers.

To start with, here at The Valley Reporter, we looked at our waste management and our recycling practices. As an office, we generate a lot of paper. We also recycle a lot of paper. We collect returnable bottles and cans but have been lax on general recycling. That ended this week with the designation of a large black can as the recycling bin and the taping up of signs reminding people to recycle.

We spent at least half of our weekly planning meeting discussing what is and isn't recyclable and I called the landfill as well as John Malter, head of the Mad River Valley Waste Alliance, no fewer than five times for clarification on what we can and cannot recycle. (Malter, for those who don't know, preaches the gospel of recycling up and down Route 100 from Waterbury to Warren, not excluding Moretown.)

Compostable coffee cups confused us (not in recycling but in compost) and cereal boxes were first out but then back in the general recycling bin. Yogurt containers were out but then back in the general recycling. Just FYI, ALL plastics (except number 4 -- plastic grocery bags and plastic of that ilk) are recyclable according to Malter. All paper is too, including glossy stuff and cardboard, although large amounts of corrugated cardboard should be separated off from the herd and be recycled separately.

Then we started debating what to do with paper towels. A call to Malter on his cell phone reached him at an airline check-in counter and he said paper towels could be recycled. He called back when his plane was delayed to report that paper towels are not recyclable, but said they are compostable. We don't compost here at the office (yet!) so for now we're putting them in the trash and have discussed whether paper towels are made with bleach and dioxins and whether we really want to grow carrots in them.

It's only Wednesday afternoon and our recycling bin is half full of loosely packed items. And people are actually rinsing/cleaning the stuff out! A compostable coffee cup which we immersed in a bowl of water to watch the process is unchanged after 36 hours -- we're debating whether we need dirt and worms to speed the process along. We've decided to take the regular copy/printer paper, which we use and recycle, and turn it upside down to reuse in our printers once more before recycling it.

We've pledged to religiously turn our computers off at night, turn the lights off when we leave a room and always take a travel mug when we head to the coffee shop. I have called Casella Waste Management which picks up the recycling for our office, and I hope to follow our garbage next week to see where it goes and what happens to it after it leaves here.

We'll take a look at the 'lifestyle' components of the low carbon diet next, after following our trash. I may not be able to get my coworkers to open up about things like how they wash their clothes and whether they take 5 or 10 minute showers. We'll apply whatever we can to the office -- we don't do a lot of laundry here, but we certainly deal with heating and cooling systems. Stay tuned.