Real Readers is an Earth911.com series featuring the stories of real people making a difference in the world. Are you or someone you know going above and beyond to do something for the Earth? Tell us about it!
You are walking through your company’s cafeteria and buy a bottle of soda. After you finish your drink, you go to throw the bottle in the recycling bin and realize that there isn’t one. The same thing happens to you a few hours later when you accidentally print two sets of the same report. Do you just throw all this recyclable waste away? What can you do?
Pat Cosby, engineering aide for the Columbus Water Works in Columbus, Ga., felt the same way. One day as he was walking through the drafting room at his work, he went to throw something away and discovered all 10 trashcans available to him were full. It was a shock that all of this paper was simply being thrown away.
He started a personal mission to collect all of the copy paper and blueprints thrown into the trash every day for a month. At the end of each workday, he pulled all of the paper out of the trashcans, folded it and placed it in stacks around his work area. By the end of the month, he had such a large pile that his desk was barely visible.
He decided that all of this waste was simply too much to put back in the trash cans, and instead loaded it in his truck and took it to a local paper recycler. Then, Pat obtained some large recycling bins and directed his fellow co-workers to dispose of the paper in these bins in lieu of the trash cans.
A few months later, they cleaned out their archive room and managed to recycle 400 pounds of paper. That was just the start. As Pat’s enthusiasm grew, so did the company’s passion for recycling. Suddenly they were recycling everything: aluminum cans, plastic bottles, cardboard, floppy disks and CDs.
He even made it a point to ask the maintenance crew to take old, burnt out fluorescent bulbs, place them back into their boxes and drop them off at Home Depot. This way, they could ensure that the items were disposed of in an environmentally safe manner. “Since 2001, we have kept over 147,000 pounds of paper and cardboard out of the landfill,” Pat noted.
After Pat conquered recycling at his work place, he began to see more potential in the community. For several years, Pat would drive through town after Christmas and see several trash bags and cardboard boxes out by the curb, filled with wrapping paper and packaging material (i.e. cardboard) left over from the holidays. This bothered Pat considerably, and he decided to take action.
Get it Started
Last year, Pat launched a community-wide Christmas wrapping paper recycling program. And here’s how he did it:
- He contacted the director of the city’s curbside recycling program and pitched his idea.
- He contacted Caraustar Industries, which is one of the city's local paper and cardboard recyclers. They were all too happy to assist Pat, and the city of Columbus lent four trucks to assist with collecting the wrapping paper and cardboard. These were to be set up at the community’s four Christmas tree recycling drop off sites, which were located in parks around the town. Caraustar would then pick up the trucks when it was time.
- The next part was toughest for Pat. He had to get the word out, and there was absolutely no budget to do so. So, he went to work contacting the local television stations and the newspaper. The television stations gave him airtime that enabled him to market this new program. In addition to this, the newspaper wrote an article about it. Pat also spread the word through church leaders, in hopes that they would put this information into the hands of their congregations.
When all was said and done, Pat collected 500 pounds of wrapper paper. For the Christmas 2008 season, Pat ran the project again and collected 720 pounds. When asked about Christmas 2009, Pat said, “My goal this time around is 1,000 pounds.”
Pat has additional hopes for starting another program in the near future for recycling clothes. His hope is to find a company that will accept used clothes that are not in good enough shape to donate, so they aren’t simply thrown away.
What You Can Do
If starting a recycling program in your community is right up your alley, Pat has plenty of advice. For a start, get in touch with your local paper recycling company if one exists. Usually, they are more than happy to help. They may assist in lending bins that you can set up at drop-off sites for members of the community to utilize. When these bins are full, you can usually contact them and they will pick them up and switch them out with empty bins.
Knowing the lingo helps as well. When you call up your local paper recycler, they will generally refer to this type of paper (wrapping paper) as "rag" paper, because the fiber content is small, which is why you cannot usually recycle this type of waste in your general recycling bins.
The next step is to get the word out. Contact your local news stations, radio stations, newspapers, schools, and churches. And most importantly, be motivated, diligent and optimistic!