If You Offer Recycling, They Will Come

by Emilia Emerson

Back in April, Butte lost the majority of its recycling services, most notably for plastics. It wasn’t the first community in Montana to do so as the Flathead Valley had already suffered the same loss and many other towns would follow. The (seemingly) overnight disappearance of options for plastic recycling was felt hard in Butte. Immediately after services stopped being available, I was greeted, almost daily, by bewildered community residents with cars loaded with plastics asking where NCAT’s community recycling bins had gone. I’d apologetically break the news, and they’d drive off, wondering what to do.

Though the situation is far from great, I was heartened by the community’s reaction – it showed that the people of Butte want recycling services and will actively use them if given the opportunity. I saw this again, just this week when NCAT hosted its annual Electronics Recycling drive. With the help of Yellowstone E-Waste Solutions, NCAT employees waited outside the office for residents to bring by old computers, printers, cell phones, and other defunct electronics that had been sitting in their garages and attics for years.

As the day wore on, we began to fill pallets with all kinds of gadgets. It was like a treasure hunt sifting through everything. Some notable finds included a VCR rewinder (Be Kind, Rewind!), and a telephone that looked like it was from another century entirely. While most people stopped by with one or two items, an old laptop and a printer that never got used perhaps, there were a few trucks that pulled up absolutely overflowing with old electronics. These were mainly local businesses clearing out old technology to make way for newer models. But the same was true for every car that stopped by and that was how grateful every person seemed to have a chance to responsibly get rid of their old tech. It was clear how appreciated the recycling drive is within the community.

Butte and the rest of Montana face a great challenge in trying to find new ways to offer recycling services throughout the state. It’s not an easy task by any means, but within this community at least, the difficult first step – having residents who actively support recycling and want the option – is already done, and that helps pave the way for whatever comes next.

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 Emilia Emerson holds a bachelor’s degree in Digital Art from Northeastern University. Prior to Energy Corps, Emilia volunteered with the Grand Canyon Trust, focusing on wildlife conservation. Emilia joined Energy Corps in October 2017 and will serve at the National Center for Appropriate Technology in Butte as the Energy Corps Team Leader. She will focus on member support through team building, mentorship, project coordination, and serve to expand the capacity of the program to conduct educational presentations that meet the full scope of the program’s data quality goals. Additionally, she will help organize and direct service projects, like the day of service on MLK day. She hopes to utilize her design and illustration skills to create materials that raise awareness and interest in sustainability.

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