From Energy Corps member Rob Moore at Washington County Environmental Affairs:
In the words of the great 20th century philosopher, Kermit the Frog, “it’s not easy being green.”
I was always under the impression that recycling was easy. You wash it, take it to the curb, and away it goes to the great recycler in the sky to be easily and affordably turned into a second use product. Having entered Energy Corps with this conception I was overwhelmed as I began to dissect the number of individuals, companies, and machines that have to adequately function to turn our recyclable waste into a new product. Moreover, there isn’t an established “best” way to do this. You can pick it up or drop it off, process with a single stream or dual stream, curb sort or conveyor sort, sell as mixed or separated (especially paper), clean it or trash it, try to sell it, pay for it, or break even (markets and commodity prices rise and fall just like food or oil). All that and you haven’t even touched the multifarious companies competing to pick-up, transfer, and process our recyclable goods. So how do we, as individuals interested in furthering sustainability, make a difference?
The answer I’ve found, and tried to hold as a guiding principle, is to function with a small group and move outward. Since moving to Fayetteville, my house, much under the guidance of housemate and fellow Energy Corps member Ben Maddox, have reduced the size of our trashcan twice, saving us a few hundred bucks a year. So step one, especially when my job involves teaching others about sustainability, is to preach reduction. Use less. Not that this is always easy (I am constantly amazed at how often I forget to bring my reusable bags to the grocery store) but it isn’t especially hard either. Step two is applying this when I go to work.
While I get to do a bunch of different projects for my Energy Corps term (so far I’ve worked with school gardens, rural recycling, environmental education for school groups, and waste research) the project I’m most excited about entering the new year is working with the Springdale public school system to increase (or in some cases implement) and streamline recycling for the entire school district. Springdale is a neat case study because the recent local growth has created a district with twenty-seven schools, eleven of which were built in the last ten years, covering an extremely diverse student body. While part of my job will be dealing with companies and pick-ups and what not, I have found the largest difference is made not by finding a more efficient pick up schedule (though having your trash picked up half-full every day isn’t especially cost effective) but by specific individuals getting excited about recycling in their schools.
I am working closely with a group of E.A.S.T. students (Environmental and Spatial Technology) at HarBer high in Springdale to asses and improve their recycling program. I am consistently amazed at their ability to function at an organizational and professional level on par with most professionals I have worked with, not to mention the skills the program teaches (one girl is learning GIS), while maintaining the conviction and excitement reserved for the age of sixteen. They have coordinated with administration and custodial services to set up a full waste audit for the beginning of February, and from there we will start to enact tangible change to increase the diversion rate of recyclables from trash. My goal for the rest of the year is to use what I learn with them to work with other schools to put together recycling initiatives across the district, at which point we can begin to address district wide questions of waste management. The way I see it we have a responsibility to enact change through ourselves, onto our community, and out into the world. So maybe it’s not always easy being green
“but when green is all there is to be
It could make you wonder why, but why wonder why
Wonder, I am green and it’ll do fine, it’s beautiful
And I think it’s what I want to be”
Rob is from Army bases nationwide and has spent his time post-college doing his best to live the life of a sustainable vagabond. He has worked in sustainable agriculture and education with Heifer International in Arkansas, has done green construction in Florida, and took a winter off to snowboard in California. He graduated from Rollins with a B.A. in philosophy and religion and is looking forward to starting a part time masters in philosophy at the University of Arkansas in the spring.