EDUCATE AND ENCOURAGE COMMUNITY RESIDENTS TO PROPERLY RECYCLE
Community recycling programs and their associated rules can vary greatly in terms of what items can be recycled. Ryan lives in a community of 600 townhomes and condominiums in Falls Church, Virginia. Like most suburbs just outside Washington, D.C., residents come from all over the country and world to work in the nation’s capital. These residents sometimes continue recycling practices from their previous communities which negatively impact the local recycling program. For example, Fairfax County, the county where Ryan lives, does not accept glass bottles and jars in the county curbside recycling program. Yet neighbors continue to place glass in their recycling bins which break, contaminating the entire truck and damaging county recycling machines. After observing other incorrect items neighbors were placing in their curbside’ recycling bins, it became clear to Ryan that many of his neighbors simply did not know or understand how to properly recycle in his community and that education was needed.
Implementation of Project
Upon returning to Virginia from his spring semester at Alzar School, Ryan reached out to family, friends and neighbors to organize his action team. In late summer, the team performed important discovery work by interviewing the local trash company reps as well as Fairfax County reps to better understand the county recycling program as well as top concerns with resident recycling behavior. After briefing and obtaining approval from the Homeowners Association Board, the team began planning for a community event to coincide with America Recycles Day in November.
Team members reached out to local businesses to serve as event sponsors. Funds donated were used to purchase event supplies, refreshments, and gift cards/prizes. Since education was the primary goal of the event, the team created educational poster boards but also devised a game to allow residents to test their recycling knowledge by sorting items in a large bin into two smaller bins labeled “recycling” and “trash.” Attendees at the event were required to take the recycling knowledge test in order to compete for prize drawings to include gift cards, new recycling bins, recycling themed toys and recycling supplies.
“If I only change the recycling behavior of a handful of my neighbors through this event, that would be enough for me.” – Ryan Brownsweiger
Results of Project
Albeit there were chilly temperatures and windy conditions, neighbors had a great time poking fun at each of the teams as they tested their recycling knowledge and especially appreciated the opportunity to win great prizes. Over a hundred residents came out and were genuinely surprised and grateful to learn some of the incorrect assumptions they had as to what can go into their recycling bins. Residents shared that when they moved in they were issued recycling bins as part of the community curbside recycling program but were provided limited information or guidance as to what may be placed in the bins. The biggest takeaway Ryan and his team stressed to attendees was “when in doubt, throw it out” given that the county recycling collects only very limited and specific items. Information on where and how to recycle glass, clothing and other items that cannot go in the curbside bins was shared.
“Hello, Ryan! All week I’ve been meaning to write you and congratulate you and Lakeford for all your wonderful recycling efforts! I am amazed you and your community team would go to the extent you did, preparing the materials, obtaining equipment and securing gift certificates to enlighten residents about recycling and encourage their participation to make for a better Earth! As a longtime recycler, I applaud your volunteerism and work to improve our living! It was a pleasure to see. – Patricia Leslie, Staff, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors
As a senior at the Potomac School, Ryan will be heading off to college next year. However, he has committed to help the Lakeford HOA Board establish a Recycling/Earth Day committee to help make Lakeford more environmentally friendly and looks forward to helping plan neighborhood clean ups as well as earth day related events in the spring. Ryan’s event certainly generated a great deal of enthusiasm and interest in the community on topics surrounding the environment.
“I thoroughly enjoyed working with and getting to know my neighbors to execute this event. My CLP helped me to greatly strengthen my communication and organization skills. The attendees genuinely appreciated learning how to properly recycle in our community. – Ryan Brownsweiger