My name is Emily and I am the new Materials Management Coordinator for the City of Flagstaff. This means I am the new coordinator for the Master Recycler Program! As I step into this role, I am learning so much about what you all do and what the City does to increase public knowledge and participation in recycling. I am so excited to jump in and start doing the work with you all! But before we get started, I wanted to take a moment to introduce myself and share what I experienced during my first week on the job.
I am personally invested in environmental justice and sustainability. I moved to Flagstaff in 2015 to go to graduate school at NAU and specialized in environmental communication research. I have studied zoos, captivity, wildlife management, and other important elements of sustainability. While I was finishing my degree at NAU, I met my partner, Elliott, and found a home here in Flagstaff. We live with our dog, a sweet labradoodle named Nana. I teach speech communication courses as an adjunct professor at Coconino Community College and am a PhD student at Prescott College. Elliott and I had the amazing opportunity to spend our summer volunteering for the National Parks Service in Yosemite National Park.
In Yosemite, I was reminded of how important sustainability education is. I believe people can be motivated to more sustainable behaviors if they are educated on the impacts their behaviors have. I had this experience during my training week for my new position here at the City. I spent most of my time meeting the teams of people I will be working with and taking tours of all the different facilities. Daniel, the Collections Manager in Public Works, asked if I wanted to go on a ride along in a recycling truck. I answered, “Yes!!” and he said, “Great! See you tomorrow at 6am!” Despite the morning grumpiness that accompanies waking up at 5:00am, I was excited to head out to Public Works and hop on a recycling truck. After meeting with the lead workers, the drivers and I walked out to the barn. I got outfitted in the proper PPE (vest, hardhat, etc.) and boarded a truck with Henry. I was impressed by everyone’s friendly attitudes so early in the morning and thankful to see that Henry seemed excited to take me along on his route. Our Thursday morning route took us through Downtown Flagstaff. I expected to cruise along Beaver and San Francisco and after an hour or so move on to the next route.
Wow, was I wrong! Four and a half hours later, after avoiding traffic around the schools, navigating through construction zones, and squeezing down alleys, Henry and I moved out of Downtown Flagstaff and into the surrounding neighborhoods. We chatted about Flagstaff- its people, its charms, and its needs. Henry’s extensive knowledge of the area is impressive. He knew every house, which houses have recycling bins, and often knew something special about the families he services. After five hours of collecting throughout the neighborhoods, we had collected about 350 cans. Henry shared that he typically will collect between 900-1100 cans each day! He usually dumps his truck twice a day at the Materials Recovery Flagstaff (MRF) on Butler. He took me there to show me how he delivers the recyclables. Henry and Carrie, the office manager at the MRF explained how the operation works. The operation and economic success of the MRF is dependent on recycling centers and manufacturers purchasing our town’s recycled goods.
I learned two important lessons about recycling over the last week. First, contaminants matter. Dirty recycling is simply not very valuable. If our bales of aluminum cans are mixed with trash, no one will buy it. These materials then get sent to the landfill. If we want to make smart choices in disposing of our materials, we must do more than simply recycle. We need to recycle right. Second, recycling was humanized for me. If I throw garbage into my recycle bin, another person must dig through and remove it. These choices make another person’s job harder and potentially dangerous. Henry told me that he once spent an hour picking up broken glass that had fallen onto the street when he dumped someone’s bin. My tour of the MRF and ride-along with Henry inspired me to think about the consequences of the choices I make when I dispose of my recycling.
I am so inspired by all of you who have committed to educating the Flagstaff community about recycling right. I consider it an honor to work with you! I hope that as I take over the Master Recycler program, I can be responsive to your needs as Master Recyclers so together we can provide effective outreach and service to our community. It is my goal to facilitate this program in a way that continues to empower your strengths as environmental advocates. You are making a huge difference in this community. I am excited and ready to join you in your efforts.