Authors: Michael Hutchingson, Green For All Fellow
I never felt that I would face any new challenges in life that I could not handle. Growing up in the inner city of Kansas City, where I had lived all my life, had taught me many life lessons. However, the challenge of moving to Nashville and trying to set up a recycling program in a new city is one of the toughest things I’ve ever done. Recycling by definition is to convert one thing into something new. Through the process of setting up this program I feel I have myself been recycled, transformed into someone new.
I came to Nashville full of hopes and dreams. I was the man with the plan. I’d recently been trained by Green For All as a Fellow and joined the EarthMatters team with two other fellows. This was a blessing. I had the ongoing support of GFA, so I had all the ingredients to succeed in my new city. I soon learned, though, that it wasn’t as easy as I thought. I had new friends, a new city, and exciting information to share with my new community. Needless to say, I was becoming someone different..
I took on the challenge of setting up the recycling part of the GRACE model for EarthMatters. GRACE stands for Gardening, RECYCLING, Action, Composting, and Education. I had big ideas about how to set up the recycling program. I wanted to train volunteer site managers at different locations in African-American communities to collect recyclables from their neighborhoods. We would sort the recyclables and take them to the large recycling center. The site managers would be the middlemen and they were the missing ingredient. We used this neighborhood strategy to get going until we got the EarthMatters recycling sites ready.
Through this pilot, I learned that there are many reasons recycling is not more pervasive. People don’t feel waste management is a major problem. It’s somebody else’s job to deal with trash. Caring about recycling is just not a priority. So I had to change the way I approached engaging the community in recycling. I decided that I needed to be the recycling leader and do the program myself first. I eventually became an expert and discovered the pitfalls and details to correct. Doing is leadership.
Through this project, I came to know the city and the people. I developed new relationships and it opened up communications in my new job. I was able to really give insight into the site establishment at EarthMatters. I am now in a better position to help others. I know how to set up and replicate our recycling program. But I had to recycle my own way of thinking first.