Here Comes Spring, and the Kick-off of the 2019 Master Recycler Program!

By Jennifer Farrell, URA board member

Spring is naturally an exciting time of the year. As much as I love the winter season—watching snow fall, drinking copious amounts of hot beverages and donning my most colorful scarves—like most people I am ready for a new season. For me, this new season also brings the start of the year’s Master Recycler program.

For those of you not yet familiar with Salt Lake City’s Master Recycler program, it involves a series of classes offered by Salt Lake City’s Sustainability Department. The classes are split up into categories of “cores” and “electives.” There are two core classes that together provide a foundational knowledge and first-hand look at how waste and recyclables are processed in this valley. In the first core class we tour the Salt Lake County Landfill, discuss the history of waste in this country, the true costs of landfilling and incineration, and how waste fits into the big picture of sustainability. In the second core class we delve into the world of recycling, looking at how the processes work and the benefits of recycling our materials. We also explore the limitations of our recycling systems, prevalent challenges to the industry, and tour the facility that processes Salt Lake City residents’ recyclables. The recycling tour is easily the most anticipated event of the program since this behind-the-scenes experience is not generally open to the public.

Students attend a minimum of two elective classes (there are six electives to choose from) on other topics such as: composting, living a zero-waste lifestyle, waste as it relates to climate change, green initiatives in the work place, and more. To provide meaningful and practical information, the program relies on experts from these various fields. Some of those who continue to contribute to the program include: Ashlee Yoder with the SLCo Landfill, Roger Horne with Waste Management, Frank Young and David Johnston with SLC’s Waste and Recycling Division, Dr. Brenda Bowen with the University of Utah, Jason Utgaard with Momentum Recycling, and Brooke and Andre Finlinson, who are some of the many Master Recycler alumnus serving and leading in their communities.

A Master Recycler sorts recyclables.
A Master Recycler sorts recyclables.

The Master Recycler program is able to succeed year after year because of partnerships with these dedicated individuals; if it were not for their willingness to volunteer their time, we would not be able to offer such a robust curriculum without a registration cost or other fees. Instead we are able to offer it in exchange for eight hours of volunteer time from the Master Recycler students that can be fulfilled in a variety of ways.  The hours can go back to assisting the partnerships that contribute to the program, they can serve the community at a variety of events looking for experienced Green Team volunteers, or they can be used on a waste-related project of their own design. No matter how the hours are fulfilled, the main purpose is to connect the Master Recycler students with people and organizations striving to make a positive impact.

I imagine you reading this are similarly striving to make a positive impact – you are part of the proverbial choir. You care about our environment and the living organisms (including us humans!) that live on this planet and believe that dealing with our waste responsibly is part of securing the dream of a healthy and sustainable future. These beliefs are also true for those that initially sign-up for the Master Recycler program. Most know, even before they start, that wasting less and recycling is important, but they just don’t know enough to be confident in their ability to make significant impacts. Thus, the goal of the program is not to create new converts but instead to empower the choir with the knowledge, skills, and confidence to start making changes in areas where they have the influence to do so. And this is where it gets exciting: individually one person can’t do everything but when many individuals start to engage and lead then the ripples created add up to a big wave.  

In this program we have had school teachers with the power to influence hundreds of new minds, company owners changing how they operate business, employees who were inspired to act within their companies, blog writers reaching out on a weekly basis, community council members learning how best to engage their constituents in sustainability, product packaging engineers responsible for designing the very materials we are trying to keep out of our landfills, event organizers who directly affect the way waste is produced and disposed of for thousands of people, members of nonprofit organizations serving the public, retired individuals who volunteer in their community regularly, college students just starting on their path, and many others, all stepping up to create change. This is my fourth year serving as Director of the Master Recycler program, and each year it brings renewed inspiration for me as I get to experience the level of passion and commitment from those that participate. This is why I am just as excited for the start of the Master Recycler program as I am for spring!

If you are interested in the Master Recycler program and would like to sign-up or find out more please go to www.slcmasterrecycler.com. This year’s class schedule is posted on the website with a link and instructions for registration. Classes are open to individuals over the age of 18 who live, work, or are involved in Salt Lake City or surrounding communities. Please also feel free to reach out to me directly at masterrecycler@slcgov.com.