Originally, the plan was for me to develop an information fact sheet for apartment building owners on the availability and cost of recycling. However, my goals changed and I ended up working exclusively with Wheatland Village, a recently opened retirement community in Walla Walla, to achieve three goals: 1.) oversee the current recycling program in place and improve upon it if possible, 2.) gather data about the residents recycling habits to better understand the efficiency of the established program, and 3.) develop a proposal to distribute to other retirement communities and multifamily dwelling units.
On the 6th of February I joined the Walla Walla County Resource Conservation Committee during their meeting at the City-County Health Building. There are nine members of this committee: Sandra Cannon, the chair and also the one I am officially working with, Sandy Simmons, the vice chair, Barbara Clark, Kate Johnson, Mike Dedman, Marty Gehrke, who contracts out his private recycling service in Walla Walla, Sharon Johnson, the waste management coordinator, Dennis Nally, who works for the City of Walla Walla Sanitation, and Hanna Swee, an AmeriCorps Sustainability Specialist who I am working with closely on my project. The group present agreed that I should help Hannah Swee on the current project at Wheatland Village in Walla Walla Valley. Hannah instituted a recycling program for the retirement community, and this program has received tremendous approval. This acceptance, however, is not typical of similar retirement homes and multifamily dwelling units and is partly attributed to the relative newness of the community (about one year) and the attitude of the staff and tenants who reside there. Routine is the key to a recycling programs success, and this program at Wheatland Village is successful because it has implemented this recycling process at its early stage. Unfortunately, other multifamily dwelling units in Walla Walla have been skeptical of recycling programs. Most businesses are only focused on one thing—profit. Any new program that might cost money is usually turned down, and recycling is more costly than just trashing the recyclables. This is the one main hurdle that must be crossed, and this program offers great potential in jumping it.
The recycling program at Wheatland Village is running very well. Every Monday, mixed papers, aluminum cans, and plastics (1 and 2) are hauled off. The recycling bins are located just within the indoor parking garages on the first floor in three of the four wings. The fourth wing is assisted living and includes no recycling services at this time. There is a room on each floor in each of the three wings where cardboard is collected and waste is sent down to the first floor through a chute. The cardboard is picked up every week by Wa-Hi volunteers and taken to a bin outside. Ever since the institution of the recycling program, the waste bins no longer fill up into the mouth of the chute and the recycling bins are almost overflowing. While there is no data to show an amount reduction in waste output since the implementation, it is obvious that that amount of recycled goods is that which has been diverged from the waste bins.
After a few weeks of discussing (with Hannah Swee, Ron Garrison, the Maintenance Director at Wheatland Village, and Amy Molitor, my internship instructor) several potential improvements to the program, I realized the best way to learn how well this program is running is to ask the residents what their opinions were. I have created a survey (attached) which I will distribute during the Wheatland Village’s Residence Council Meeting on the 9th of May. About 35% of the residents show up at this monthly meeting and the results of the questionnaire will hopefully direct the focus of any improvements (if necessary). During this meeting, I will also educate those present on what is and is not acceptable to recycle.
This internship has been a good, although slightly unsatisfying, experience for me. I have learned that it is not always easy to jump in on a project and add your two cents—many things take time. I found it an especially time-consuming process to just wait for appointments or replies from Ron Garrison. At least a week’s time would pass between each contact, and this has made it difficult for me to be productive like I would have wished. I think the reason this internship was particularly slow to get into (and why, at times, it seemed a low priority) was because of the success the recycling program was already experiencing.
I am very impressed by the efficiency of the recycling program. However, I do think that the cause of such success is unusual for a community. I think that Wheatland Village is an icon in recycling for other retirement homes or multifamily dwelling units. The Infrastructure in place at Wheatland Village is very impressive. I would suggest to those that continue this internship to focus solely on my 3rd objective, which is to convince other communities to initiate their own recycling programs. However, it is still important to gather as much data as possible from this successful recycling program in order to develop a solid proposal to persuade other retirement villages and multifamily dwelling units to adopt similar programs.
Another important aspect of recycling is increasing the output of recyclables. I did not focus on this area for improvement but it could definitely be a whole internship opportunity. Possibilities that have been considered by Sandra, Hannah, and me have been: working with Wheatland Village to purchase “green” products with recycled content, composting (within both home and the restaurant at Wheatland Village), and reducing junk mail by offering the tenants the info needed to remove themselves from national mailings.
Recycling Questionnaire: To help us better serve you
Do you recycle regularly? Yes No
If you answered no, why don’t you?
___ I was not aware of the recycling program
___ Recycling locations are hard to get to
___ It is not worth it
Please explain: ____________________
___ Other: _______________________
If you answered yes, is the current program adequate? Yes No
If no, please explain: _________________________
Thank you for your feedback. We hope that this survey will bring light to any improvements that can be made to the recycling program.
If you have any comments or suggestions, please feel free to write them below: