Recycling Matters: Green Business in Norwood

Originally Published Feb 15, 2010 in Norwood Transcript and Bulletin

Also posted Feb 18, 2010 by GateHouse News Service on

Recycling Matters: Green business in Norwood

Lately, I find myself asking the businesses I frequent whether they recycle. Not many say yes.

By Susan Clare / columnist


CAPTION – Bob Levitan (left) and Vic Babel (right) of Babel’s Paint and Decorating in Norwood stand in front of their single-stream recycling bin.

Photo copyright 2010 Wicked Local

Many of us have practiced some sustainability all along for various reasons, including a sense of stewardship over the earth, hygiene, and frugality. For a while now, scientific research has been accumulating evidence that willingness to reduce the adverse effect of human activity on the world and its environment is no longer optional. Further, economic events have presented us with an imperative to reduce consumption and reconsider waste, from the national budget all the way down to our grocery shopping and laundry.

I expect I’m not unusual when concerns about sustainability arise in my mind as I plan my future, make purchases, fill my garbage bin, and deal with what I am coming to see as my regrettable contribution to environmental and economic neglect. Is it enough to recycle diligently in my home, or is it time for me to extend my awareness further? Access to plentiful information from scientists, medical researchers, economists, and political specialists says that I have to broaden my efforts, and one of the results is that I now try to patronize local businesses, preferably green ones.

Lately, I find myself asking the businesses I frequent whether they recycle. Not many say yes. Very quickly, they realize the answer is unacceptable, and begin citing inconvenience and cost. So, I talked the owner of a business in Norwood that does recycle, to see if it really is prohibitively expensive and inefficient.

Vic Babel, owner of Babel’s Paint and Decorating, tells me his business has been going green for some years now, and the plan is to continue learning and improving. We are sitting in an upstairs coffee room where no Styrofoam or plastic cups are to be seen. As per company policy, employees use and wash and reuse their own ceramic mugs. With us is Bob Levitan who has thrown himself wholeheartedly into Babel’s green plans. Levitan says, “It isn’t enough just to recycle. The larger picture includes reducing and reusing as well.”

For several years, Babel’s has been recycling regularly with Waste Management, Inc., The corporation that also runs Norwood’s residential recycling program. Babel’s business comprises four stores, in Canton, Foxboro, Needham, and Norwood, and Vic’s home is in Norwood. All four stores recycle, but the Needham operation has no place to keep a single-stream receptacle, and so all recyclables from there are brought back to the bin in Norwood.

Yes, it does take time to recycle,” Babel said, “but we’re getting more efficient at it as we go. It needs practice.”

When Babel first set cans for recyclables in his store, there had to be signs everywhere, reminding employees to use them. Now, there are no signs; a habit has developed, and the people at Babel’s recycle as easily and quickly as they once threw their waste into the garbage.

At first, it was a pain in the neck. It took us about three months to settle in. And this is just phase one,” Babel said.

Phase two, a bit more ambitious, will see Babel’s stores redesigned to be eco-friendly, including the paint on the walls, the lighting, and re-plumbing the coffee room we sit in so that hot water is available to wash those reusable coffee mugs.

Businesses can do this without ruining themselves financially,” Babel said. “If some renovation is planned, make it green.”

He mentioned the “Room a Day” plan at our local hospital. Only one room at a time is being painted, with low-volatile organic compound (VOC) paint, spreading the cost over time and avoiding the need to shut down substantial portions of buildings during the process.

And here is an opportunity to talk about the bottom line. Norwood does not use residential taxpayer dollars to provide waste disposal, either recycling or garbage, for businesses. Is the cost to businesses prohibitive? Babel greets my question with good news. He and Levitan estimate that the current recycle-trash cost is about 25 percent less than Babel’s had been paying for trash alone.

They believe two things largely account for this reduction in expenditure. First, recycling is cheaper than trashing. Recycling service companies make money by selling what they collect and recycle, and they don’t have to charge as much for their services as they do for trash (where the only profit is made upon collection). Second is the gradual refinement of recycling at Babel’s. Trash has been reduced so that it now only needs picking up biweekly, rather than weekly. Babel’s is simply paying less to dispose of the same amount of material.

The excitement about sustainability at Babel’s is heartening, as they talk about their plans to take it even further. They are looking for ways to make the products in their stores more eco-friendly.

By the end of this year,” Babel said, “70 percent of the paint we sell will be low VOC.”

I asked Vic Babel if interested businesses from Norwood might call him to talk about just how recycling works in his stores, and he said he welcomes the chance to share his experiences with them. He can be reached at 781-762-3128.

As a resident of Norwood, I try to make my dollar speak for me. I ask businesses what and how they recycle, and tell them I want them to make the effort. I patronize businesses that do recycle, and let them know it’s a factor in my decision. I imagine a few of them see me as a middle-aged busybody. But fairly often, I wind up having a brief dialogue with an owner or manager who would like very much to recycle.

This is where a little economic incentive would tip the balance. If enough patrons make their wishes known, businesses will respond. These businesses need our patronage, and will take measures to keep it. If they know what we want.

There is personal benefit to me, as well. I’m aware that the expense of garbage removal factors into the prices I pay as a consumer. And, the environmental matter bears directly on my life and the lives of my descendants. Besides, if you speak up as well, I won’t stand out as the lady who slows the checkout line or distracts the manager who is busily stocking shelves because an employee called in sick.

It seemed a good idea to talk, as well, to a couple of the recycling services with a presence in Norwood, and to provide some resource numbers and web addresses where businesses can find support and information. This will appear in a column next week.

Susan Clare is a member of the Norwood Recycling Committee. Your comments and suggestions are always welcomed and will be responded to as soon as possible. Please email


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