Recycling Program Educator

Recycling Program Educator

A conversation with . . .

Kate Melby

Climate Kids: Kate, what's there to know about recycling?
Kate: Oh, there's a lot to know. And the more people know, the better recyclers they are.
CK: What's your job exactly? And where do you do it?
Kate: I work for the recycling program of Emmet County, Michigan. I am the communication and education coordinator. I teach kids, families, and businesses about recycling.
CK: Like what?
Kate: Well, did you know that a TV can operate for three hours on the energy saved by recycling one aluminum can?
CK: You're kidding!
Kate: Not many people realize how much energy they are helping to save by recycling. The less energy used to produce materials like aluminum, paper, plastic, and steel, the less pollution goes into the environment.
CK: And the less we contribute to global warming?
Kate: Right! In our county we have a really great program. Over 80% of the people in our county use our recycling program. All together, we are saving a lot of energy.
CK: What do you recycle?
Kate: Let's see. We accept over 50 different materials, so it's hard to know where to begin. We recycle newspapers, boxes, magazines, catalogs, junk mail, office paper, juice boxes, milk cartons, paper cups, glass bottles and jars, plastic tubs, plastic trays, plastic cups, plastic bottles, metal cans, foil, aluminum trays, aluminum cans . . .
CK: Hey, we should have asked is there anything you don't recycle?
Kate: Yes, there are some things: greasy paper like dog food bags and pizza box liners. Plus a few other things like plastic food wrap, cereal box liners, and crunchy plastic like potato chip bags.
CK: Where do you take all this stuff to be recycled?
Kate: It goes to a lot of different places. Some are nearby, and some are far away. Nearby we have a plastics factory and an iron works factory. They will take some of the plastics and the steel cans. Some of the material must be trucked quite a distance.
CK: But doesn't the energy used to transport the stuff cancel out the energy saved by recycling it?
Kate: I can see why you would think so, but no. Actually, recycling saves so much energy compared to producing new materials from Earth's natural resources that it more than makes up for the fossil fuels used in transporting it.
CK: You said one aluminum can is worth three hours of energy to run a TV. What about other materials?
Kate: Recycling plastics saves 70% of the energy that would be used to produce brand new plastic. Recycling paper and cardboard saves 40%. Recycling glass saves 30% and steel cans saves 60%. And recycling aluminum saves 95%! Think about that the next time you are tempted to throw a soda can in the trash!
CK: You sure are passionate about recycling. Why did you choose this career?
Kate: I have always been passionate about the environment and the health of our planet. I have a college degree in Natural Resources and the Environment. I wanted to write about the environment, talk about the environment, and teach people to take care of the environment.
CK: And a career in recycling gives you all that?
Kate: Oh, yes! I am so busy. For our county's recycling program, I maintain a web site, write a newsletter and lots of press releases. I write radio ads and do TV interviews. I give tours of our recycling center to adults and school groups. We put decals on recycling bins. We marched in the 4th of July parade in our town, with our mascot, Emmet the Recycling Robot.
CK: What do you do to people who don't recycle?
Kate: We don't put them in jail or anything like that! But we try to teach people about recycling so they will want to help. Sometimes, for example, people don't do a good job of rinsing out their peanut butter jars before recycling them. That makes a nasty mess for my coworkers who sort the recyclables. So we bought a bunch of inexpensive scrub brushes and attached a little poem to each one, “Give us a hand/Clean out your cans.” We put one of these brushes in the recycling bin of each guilty household. It worked!
CK: That's funny. Well, you have certainly raised our recycling awareness, Kate! Wow. Three hours of TV for one aluminum can. Who knew?
Kate: Keep recycling!
Photo of crew at recycling plant.

Crew at the Emmet County, Michigan, recycling plant works on processing paper for recycling.