By Kris Kaar, Resource Recycling Systems, Carton Council Field Team Member
Think about how you would assemble a team.
First, you’d look for folks who share a common goal. You’d want a mix of individuals, with varying yet complementary skills and expertise. Balance would be important – a good mix requires an understanding of how best to deploy everyone’s skills and foster teamwork among sometimes very different contributors. Not everyone can be a leader, or play offense, for example.
The same applies to the team behind any successful recycling program. It’s not just about the resident, or even the recycling coordinator. It’s about the entire team, many of whom skirt the spotlight. But without their involvement or their investment, there would be no program. Let’s take a moment to look at these important contributors, even those “behind the curtain” and think about how we all are ultimately needed to create and sustain effective programs.
The Resident: Let’s start with the “end user” – the reason that recycling is happening. A resident has a lot of power on this team.
Residents should want to recycle, not have to recycle. Wanting to recycle furthers cooperation and positive feedback for the program.
If, for example, they ask for new materials to be added, often if their voice is united and loud enough, they will be heard. If they choose not to participate, there is no recycling. We cannot recycle for them. We have to give them the tools they need (containers, collection, and information) and hope they respond.
The entire team has a role to play in ensuring the resident has these tools, and that they’re educated on how to recycle well and correctly. A coordinator has to ensure the residents are informed – on an ongoing basis – about what they can and cannot recycle (including, of course the carton!). A hauler has to make timely collection. The MRF has to make the program sensible and realistic for the resident without undue restrictions, and hopefully offer a long list of accepted items.
We all have to ensure our residents feel appreciated for the contributions they make. Just like any team member would want to feel valued, our residents should know how important they are to the program and, we can never take for granted that every recycling day, they choose whether to participate or not. (Most will recycle because they want to – not because they have to; it’s important to remember this.) If we, collectively, make them feel good about participating, and keep our programs evolving to meet their changing needs (adding new items to the list of materials we accept, upsizing our containers, etc.), we’ll have committed teammates for life.
Recycling Coordinator: Think of the Recycling Coordinator as the Team Captain – the driving and creative force behind the team – and most recycling programs – with a direct line not only to residents but to all stakeholders. And whether they sit at a municipal or a county level (or even state), they often advocate for, represent and deliver on programs. And, they help shape the program – how it works, what’s accepted, and how to make it better.
Who sets the recycling goals? An elected official. Who actually gets them done? The recycling coordinator.
This is why a coordinator is such an important, creative force. Think of them as the “in between” person – the one who is responsible for communicating information, desires, requirements between residents, the MRF and/or hauler, as well as resolving conflicts amongst all parties. Whatever challenges – goals, laws, obstacles – they face, they’re the ones who put the pieces together and make sure they’re getting what they need from their MRF and/or hauler – including writing the right specs for a contract, managing the budgets and of course looking at and understanding what’s getting collected – and delivering what his/her residents expect.
In Part Two, we’ll explore some other important players in the recycling process.