RRPicturecloseupblog As a 2006 graduate of Leadership Bellevue, a Chamber of Commerce community course, I was recently honored by the Class of 2008 and given the “Distinguished Alumni” award at their graduation. This was the culmination of a productive year in my commitment to raise awareness about the importance of environmental stewardship in the form of recycling in my community. After all, isn’t the responsible care of our environment one of the best gifts we can give to Mother Earth and one another? The Chamber accepted my suggestion to add a session on Recycling in Nebraska to their annual leadership program, and I volunteered to organize it. In addition to having the desire to educate members of the community who are committed enough to take part in the program, I had a self interest. After moving back to Bellevue, Nebraska in 2005 after fifteen years in Southern California, there was definitely a stark contrast in the level of commitment/interest in recycling with some here in Nebraska. I had to call to request recycling receptacles from our waste company, and when the receptacle arrived it was a small bin (only one when my family produces five bins per week and with no lid, which is not conducive to rain, wind, and snow). Shortly after I moved home, I read a notice that glass was no longer going to be picked up at the curb in the City of Omaha and the following year, our city followed suit. I knew if I volunteered to organize the Recycling in Nebraska course, it would force me to take the time to learn more about where my community stands on the issue of recycling and, with any hope, have the will to make a difference.

Our Bellevue Leadership class started the recycling session with a visit to the local recycling plant to learn about what is being picked up at our curbs and how it is sorted and recycled, which is interesting because we are allowed to put all types of recycling into one box. While there, we learned about an interesting program called “Recycle Bank” that has a sophisticated system to track how much each household recycles and then they send local grocery store coupons as a means to incent an increase in recycling. The disappointing news was that the refuse hauler for the majority of cities in our surrounding area doesn’t participate in the program, given that there is quite a cost to equip the trucks and distribute the special (98 gallon) covered, wheeled containers. While our city knew about the Recycle Bank Program, they signed another several-year contract with the current waste company, eliminating our ability to participate. However, I did learn that the city is now receiving a quarterly rebate from the waste company based upon the amount of recycling we produce, so that may give them an incentive (and funds) to promote recycling in the community. I’ll be looking into this in the coming year.

I also learned that the reason both Omaha and other surrounding communities stopped picking up glass from the curbs is that glass brings in the lowest return of recyclables (apparently there are no glass recycling plants in or near Nebraska), and recycling companies would rather focus on plastic, paper, cardboard, and other recyclables. So, unless you keep your glass (like we do) and take it to the recycling center yourself, all glass from the curb goes from your home, straight into the ground in Nebraska! It’s so interesting how recycling varies by city and state, too. I read that in Seattle, which is known for its environmental consciousness, you are fined if you put glass in the trash. It seems that recycling is more of an economic concern than a moral concern – if it makes money we do it; if there is no ROI, we don’t do it.

Another major initiative that I took on this year was working with the Vestry of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit, for which I am a member, to draft and submit a resolution for Stewardship of the Environment to the Episcopal Diocesan Council this past November. The resolution calls for staff and volunteers at all Episcopal churches and church offices in Nebraska to purchase recyclable products and to participate in recycling as a normal course of business and at all functions. Last month, the resolution was unanimously adopted and will go into effect in 2009! And further, a revised version of the resolution will be presented at the 69th Episcopal General Convention in 2009 for potential implementation in Episcopal churches throughout the U.S.

I have a passion for recycling simply because I believe it is the right thing to do for the future of this planet. We aren’t growing smaller, and we aren’t slowing down on our manufacturing, production, and consumption. Thankfully, most schools are showing leadership by teaching our children about recycling. For instance, we have the “KIND” club, “Kids in Nature’s Defense,” at our local elementary school. Our children and young people get it – they have more at stake than those “old-school” adults who turn a deaf ear and justify throwing recyclable refuse in the trash.

I have been encouraged when I hear of “green” initiatives popping up in our client organizations. The firms doing this understand that giving back is a fundamental value of younger generations and that environmental stewardship is part of the fiber of the Generation Y people coming into the work force today. I am hopeful that more organizations will adopt simple recycling ideas including these:

  • Reusing scrap paper as well as shredding and then recycling your firm’s shredded paper
  • Using “real” cups, plates, and silverware in your firm’s kitchen instead of disposable ones
  • Saving cans, plastic water bottles, and glass bottles if your local refuse carrier will not pick them up and asking employees to drop them off on a rotating basis
  • Refilling laser cartridges
  • Shipping material in reusable/reused packaging
  • Sharing newspapers and magazines

If you have ideas about your firm’s green initiatives, your own personal recycling activities, or information about what’s happening in your community on recycling, please post your ideas. And be sure to take the poll below so that I can understand if I am standing in the minority or the majority of our readers on this issue.