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Utah Recycling Alliance Aims to Score Zero

Local initiative sets sights on hard-to-recycle items.


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  • Courtesy Utah Recycling Alliance

The message behind the Utah Recycling Alliance is that “non-traditional” items—as opposed to those you put in those oft-blue, ofter-plastic disposals—can be reused. And that “zero waste,” a term coined by environmentalists for the recycling of all products, can be accomplished. 

For five years, the organization has held annual summits, award ceremonies and film screenings to that end. Since late July, it has also hosted Collection of Hard-to-Recycle Materials (CHaRM) events where non-traditional items can be recycled. It’s a practical way in which the URA is moving the needle on perceptions of recycling.

“The purpose is to get people thinking differently about their trash,” says Mary McIntyre, URA executive director. “And of course there is value; there is a tremendous amount of material and opportunity to keep it out of the landfill.”

The next opportunity to rid yourself of those items is from 8 a.m.-noon this Saturday at the open lot at 352 W. 900 South in Salt Lake City. It’s generally free, though a $3 donation to the URA is suggested to cover event costs.

McIntyre says interest in the recycling event—the organization’s third—is palpable. “We had no idea of the interest in terms of vendors to step up," she says.

“[The city] was incredibly generous with the terms," McIntyre adds, pointing out that SLCgreen, an initiative of Salt Lake City’s sustainability department, secured the lot on 900 South.

Debbie Lyons leads the sustainability program anchoring the city’s progress to meet its goal of being a zero-waste city by 2040.

“We are more than happy to help,” she says. “It’s convenient for residents, so we made it available for the CHaRM. … The city had this vacancy and no plans to use it.”

The URA gained nonprofit status in February 2011. Then Eric Lombardi came to town. The 25-year executive director of Eco-Cycle Inc. spoke in March 2012 at the Intermountain Sustainability Summit, which URA, alongside Weber State University, hosted.

“It was Eric Lombardi’s presentation … that planted the seed for the CHaRM,” URA Board President Kate Whitbeck says.

“I am flattered,” Lombardi says of his apparent inspiration. “I give a good speech, OK?”

Since then, URA has followed Lombardi’s Community Zero Waste Roadmap, a guidebook of sorts, to make sure the Utah organization has “the right policies, programs and infrastructure in place to move our community toward a materials management approach to waste,” Whitbeck says.

“It’s sort of our Bible,” she adds.

Founded in 1976, Eco-Cycle is the gold standard for stateside community-based recycling organizations. According to its website, the company currently has 60 staffers, and as of 2007 was processing close to 50,000 tons of diverse recycled materials a year.

Whitbeck is clear on what the URA hopes to accomplish. She calls Saturday’s event the makeshift lot operation, “the first step toward creating a permanent facility to handle hard-to-recycle materials.”

American flags, couches and guitar strings are perhaps some of the more unique items that can be recycled. Skis will be turned into furniture after they are utilized at the Wasatch Brewery for what may be the world’s largest “shot ski,” she says.

Recycling advocacy for McIntyre goes back to her creating a recycling bin in her cash management division at First National Bank of Maryland years. The California native advocates for recycling because of her children.

McIntyre’s three children and Whitbeck’s two will be at hand on Saturday, to help with the muck.

Whitbeck says she spends time “in all different corners” of Utah with her husband and two kids. “To see a plastic bag floating down waterways is upsetting.”