Small steps, big impact
Longtime St. Paul member Rachel Evans has always had a passion for recycling but just last year, she took on the role of communications coordinator for the Waste Commission of Scott County.
Rachel is a graduate of Valparaiso University where she obtained her undergraduate degree in biology. She says it was recycling at home that influenced how she thinks about caring for the planet.
“I’ve always had a passion for recycling thanks to my parents who helped us recycle as kids. More recently I’ve thought more about how can I lessen my trash too,” Rachel said. “I’ve done that by purchasing reusable items such as washable napkins. Leading a more environmentally conscious life can be accomplished slowly through small, thoughtful ways of minimizing your impact. It’s not all-or-nothing, all at once. You can make small changes as you go. Through my current position with the Waste Commission, I see the landfill and see that we need to be cautious about our waste.”
Rachel’s role as the communications coordinator is to educate and inform Scott County residents on how to dispose of their waste safely and properly and make others aware of the programs the Waste Commission offers through facility tours, presentations, and online communication. She brings a fun spin to the communication role. In February, she caught many people’s attention through punny Waste Commission valentines posts on social media.
Originally founded in 1972, the Waste Commission of Scott County, has come a long way in those 50 years. Moving from dumps to sanitary landfills, sorting recycling yourself to putting all of your recyclables in one bin, and expanded programming including grant and outreach programs.
The Scott Area Landfill, the Scott Area Recycling Center, the household hazardous materials facility, and the electronic waste division are the four facilities that make up the Waste Commission.
“The electronic recovery center offers a lot of ways to get more life out of older products. The electronics are taken apart and divided. Any piece that could be reused is sold. We find interesting vintage pieces and laptops that are in great condition. Often these items will be sold at the Habitat ReStore.”
On your neighborhood’s recycling date, the trucks pull up, the arm scoops up the blue bin, and slowly empties the contents into the truck but what happens once that recycling leaves your curb?
“The recycling trucks come to the commission where everything collected from the blue bins gets weighed and then dumped on the floor. Through a series of machines and people, the Waste Commission sorts all of the various recyclable items into their own commodities like milk cartons, paper, aluminum cans, etc. The individual materials are bailed together and the bails are sold to companies all over with much of the recycled items staying in the Midwest.”
While the commission works to recycle as much as possible, some items, mostly plastics, are notoriously difficult to recycle.
“Nationwide, soda/water bottles and milk/detergent are the most recycled plastics. The challenge for us regarding plastics is mainly “wishcycling”. Wishcycling is putting non-recyclable items in your recycling cart in the “hopes” the items will end up being recycled. Common items in this category include plastic bags, hoses or hangers, straws and utensils, and styrofoam,” Rachel said. “I’m personally working on reducing my use of non-recyclable plastics by packing reusable utensils for lunch, opting for paper or reusable bags when shopping, using mesh produce bags, and using beeswax wrap instead of plastic wrap.”
For anyone who wants to have a positive impact but isn’t sure where to begin, there are many resources available online.
“I read and follow podcasts. There are many low-waste resources out there,” Rachel said. “I read books about different ways to reduce waste and chose a few to get started that make sense for my life. Anything from using a reusable item, composting, and buying second-hand. 101 Ways to Go Zero Waste by Kathryn Kellog is my favorite book. It’s a list of ways to reduce waste, categorized by room. It helps to identify practices that may work for your household and make sense for your life. There are easy practices for anyone to get started.”
The Recycling Journey
Where some of your recyclables go after being processed at the Scott Area Recycling Center
- Mixed paper and cardboard go to Valparaiso, IN to be made into cardboard for USPS and Amazon
- Aluminum cans go to Berea, KY to make more beverage cans
- Plastics go to Dundee, MI where they are ground into pellets and eventually made into non-food grade bottles like Tide and Mr. Clean
- Tires go to Des Moines or Minneapolis to be ground into chips for fuel, drainage material, playground mulch, or AstroTurf fields. Others get ground up onsite to be used in landfill processes.
Celebrating Earth Day at St. Paul and beyond
WELCA Spring Gathering
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Quad Cities Resources
Saturday, April 22, 9:30-11:30 a.m., Chapel
WELCA Co-chair Linda Allebach is organizing the event alongside other WELCA members. The objective of the spring gathering is for members of WELCA to connect with each other and inform and arm attendees with resources of earth-conscious organizations in the Quad Cities. In her selection of presenters, Linda has carefully gathered organizations that accept pre-loved items and give them away to others in need instead of selling them.
“The focus is to help people rethink their possessions. To know what you have, use what you have, love what you have, and give away what you don’t need to local organizations. I want attendees to see that you don’t need all these items to live a happy and fulfilling life and the joy these items may bring to others.”
The gathering is open to all St. Paul women and their guests. The morning will include refreshments, presentations, and fellowship. Sign up at the Info Center or at stpaulqc.org/signups.
Participate in a neighborhood cleanup
Spring cleaning the St. Paul neighborhood
Saturday, April 22, 10 a.m.-12 noon
Three times a year volunteers don bright vests, grab buckets and litter picker-uppers, and take to the streets surrounding St. Paul. The Make it Yours Neighborhood Cleanup has been beautifying the neighborhood for more than 10 years.
Jules Irish has been coordinating the cleanups since 2015. She said it’s a great event for everyone to participate in.
“Anyone who can walk and hold a bucket or grabber can participate,” Jules said. “We love to have families. It’s a great experience that teaches children to care for our environment at a young age.”
The immense impact litter has on our environment makes these cleanup events vital.
“Taking care of our environment is doing God’s work. When you litter, that garbage gets ground down, makes its way into the drains, and eventually ends up in our rivers and oceans. Those pieces of litter start adding up in our water systems, creating a whole chain of events.”