Editor’s note: Today begins a series of stories on how Wheeling is “greening up.” In two stories this week, Weelunk looks at the power of one. Today, we feature uber recycler Joanna Merriman, who discusses what can and cannot be done in Ohio County today and her hopes for a greener, cleaner future for the city. Tomorrow, one teacher and a bunch of fifth-graders ask local restaurant owners to do their part to reduce “plastic island.” Stories in upcoming weeks will include a look at area businesses that are leaning green, other models for recycling and an open discussion on Wheeling’s eco-future with city officials. 

If it’s in Wheeling and it can be recycled, there’s a pretty good chance that Joanna Merriman knows where and how to do it.

Self described as “eco-friendly,” Merriman has developed a reclamation strategy that would challenge the outer limits of even the greenest of municipalities. And that would likely be because she does not technically live in one. Without curbside service because her home is beyond Wheeling’s waste-collection zone, she has learned to recycle the harder way, loading up her Prius and hauling the stuff herself.

Cloth shopping bags have eliminated the need for most plastic bags in the Merriman household. Not only are they eco-friendly, they’re easier to pack, she said of their rectangular structure. The bag on top is second-hand, being a favorite of her late father.

“People laugh at me,” she said with a bare wisp of a smile. But Merriman takes such ribbing in stride. It’s the future at stake, she added, shuddering at the idea that her generation’s grandchildren could grow up in a world with no barrier reefs if we don’t green up quickly. “It’s mind-boggling.”

That kind passion in mind, she shared her broad recycling knowledge and some hopes for Wheeling’s eco-future in a recent interview with Weelunk.

A bin for every bottle

Merriman takes recycling so seriously, she and husband Doug are down to one small bag of trash per week.

How? She makes good use of her Prius, taking plastics, cardboard and paper of all sorts to Oglebay bins managed by the Ohio County Solid Waste Authority. Paper with personal information goes to WATCH (Wheeling Area Training Center for Handicapped) for an additional shredding step.

Recyclables, left, are sorted and stored next to the family vehicles, which include two Priuses. Plastic planters next to the bins are headed back to Lowe’s, which Joanna Merriman learned has a pot-return policy after asking eco-questions. The Merrimans collect rainwater in a barrel, right, to water deck plants.

She doesn’t stop there. Bottle tops that are often left out of the reclamation stream are shipped to a recycler in the deep South. She takes her glass to an undisclosed location over a state line. Wary that her outlet for the latter could be challenged should her Mountaineer status be made obvious, Merriman declined to share precisely where.

“I try not to harm the environment as much as is possible without ruining my life,” she said with a sigh of resignation. “Although some people think it would be ruining their lives just to recycle.”

Not recycling is something Merriman cannot fathom. Long before the couple moved to Ohio County 15 years ago, she became committed to preserving the environment as a young adult. Her first votes, cast in her home nation of England, were for that nation’s Green Party.

“It started with dolphins and whales,” she reminisced of her environmental journey, her knees tucked tidily under her chin so that only her bare toes peeked out from a long and swishy skirt.

Joanna Merriman poses with her dog Dexter outside her Ohio County residence. Her clothes and home reveal an appreciation of order and beauty, but Merriman said that doesn’t require much that’s “new.” On June 1, she embarked on a mission to go one year without purchasing any new clothes. Thrift-store clothes are still on the table, she noted with a smile. A St. Vincent’s volunteer, she wishes more people would consider second-hand shopping to reduce manufacturing waste.

After becoming a U.S. citizen, her attention turned mainly to recycling. She is particularly concerned with items that could wind up floating down the Ohio River and making it all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, where they could spell trouble for those dolphins and whales.

“To me, it just seems obvious that we should be making an effort to not increase waste. … There’s a limit to the number of landfills that you can have. (And) already, you can see just by looking at the news that there’s a problem of plastics in the ocean.”

Plastics are the area where she would especially like to see the city of Wheeling do more. Currently, curbside pickups do not include items like milk jugs and plastic water bottles. “You can’t really expect the whole of Wheeling to go (to Oglebay or elsewhere) and recycle their plastic.”

Beyond the curb, she would like to see doubled-up disposal/recycling cans up and down the entire waterfront, particularly at Heritage Port. That alone, she believes, would help keep plastics out of the river and, therefore, out of the ocean.

She acknowledged the city cannot do it alone, however. “People have to respect that, or it would all fall apart.” She noted that improper disposal is already a problem at the Oglebay bins. “The really disturbing thing is several people put things in these containers that don’t belong there. … This week, there was broken glass in the bit where you drive up with your car.”

Add in sodden masses of cardboard boxes that rogue recyclers don’t bother to break down, and it can be bad. “They’re making Oglebay look messy,” she said with a frown.

A greener day coming

There may always be limitations on both the individual and government end, but Merriman is hopeful that Wheeling could soon become a model for small-city greenness.

“We’re experiencing this re-growth at the moment. The downtown, with all the new apartments and everything,” she said, the silver bangles that wrapped one wrist shifting as her gestures became more animated. “Wheeling could almost market itself as an eco-friendly city and bring in even more people.”

She sees a day when those new downtown apartments could launch Wheeling as a national model for stellar recyclable collection. A day when government efforts would spread to the business sector, and non-biodegradable coffee cups would disappear from the city. When the school system would follow suit and abandon Styrofoam food trays and plastic utensils in favor of student lunchware that could be washed and re-used.

When families all over the city could be down to one small bag of weekly trash, as she and Doug Merriman already are. When consumers would search for less packaging and ask every business pointed questions about waste.

When individuals would look at even their own environmental vices straight in the eye. And do something about it.

“I fly a lot. I know that that’s not environmentally friendly,” she said as an example of addressing vice. To offset her travels, she plants trees through the Sierra Club, shooting for one tree per flight. “I’m a little bit behind on that, but I’m not doing too badly.”

The city, the county, the individual — Merriman sees it all, well, subtracting down instead of adding up.

“A small person in a small town,” she said in her soft British tones. “Anyone can make a difference.”

Got Milk Jugs?

There are several options to give them and many other recyclables a new life, depending on where you live.

Inside the Wheeling city limits, curbside recycling is available on a bi-weekly pick-up schedule. Call the city at 304-234-3653 to get an official bin. Accepted items include magazines, newspaper, office paper and cans made from aluminum, bi-metal, steel and tin.

Inside Wheeling or elsewhere in Ohio County, drop-off recycling is available through the Ohio County Solid Waste Authority. Bins located at Oglebay Park and the Clearview Volunteer Fire Department accept aluminum and steel cans, plastics (1, 2, 4 and 5), cardboard (non-wax coated), newspaper and magazines. No plastic bags — including any used for storing recyclables — are accepted. For more information, call the Authority at 304-234-3884.

Private entities also offer some recycling services to city and county residents. WATCH, a division of Russell Nesbitt Services Inc. accepts paper for shredding and recycling at its Main Street location in the downtown. Pick-ups are available if large amounts of paper are involved. Call 304-232-1750 for more information.

Sources: websites and officials from all three entities

(Photos by Nora Edinger)

• Nora Edinger writes from Wheeling, W.Va., where she is part of a three-generation, two-species household. A long-time journalist, she now writes in a variety of print and e-venues, including her JOY Journal blog at noraedinger.com. Her first work of fiction, a Christian beach read called “Dune Girl,” is available on Amazon Kindle.


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