RECYCLING: Recycling Program Creates Jobs, Alleviates Poverty

What benefits do community-based recycling programs offer low-income and urban communities?

Not only do they improve collection, processing and overall recovery, they also create jobs and foster economic development, according to the National Recycling Coalition (NRC), Alexandria, Va.

Last September, the Recycling to Build Community (RBC) project, placed 22 VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) members in 15 non-profit recycling organizations around the country for one year. The RBC project was a joint effort of the NRC and AmeriCorps*VISTA, a program of the Corporation for National Service, Washington, D.C.

These volunteers' goal is "to strengthen and supplement efforts to eliminate and alleviate poverty in the United States by encouraging all walks of life and age groups to perform meaningful and constructive volunteer services," according to the NRC.

VISTA members chosen for the RBC program spent two and one-half days in Kansas City, Mo., for pre-service orientation, said David Gurr, a VISTA program manager. The orientation teaches participants skills such as economic development strategies, increasing public awareness and participation and maximizing work force diversity. Members are assigned according to their backgrounds and the chosen community's needs.

For example, VISTA Member Ro-bert Moran uses his four years' woodworking experience in New York's Bronx 2000 project to teach wood pallet recycling to previously unskilled workers.

According to Job Developer Scott Peltzer, Bronx 2000 participants train for 13 weeks (five days a week, from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.) be-fore they are eligible to enter the job market. During this time, Mor-an teaches trainees to use various woodworking equipment including table saws, drills, arm saws and hand sanders. In addition, he helps them prepare resumes and polish their interviewing skills.

So far, said Peltzer, of the 35 people who have gone through the program, three have been placed in positions and 18 have undergone at least eight weeks of on the-job training. He and Moran help the trainees find jobs by contacting wood manufacturers and recommending them as potential employees.

Peltzer maintains contact with Moran's former students during their training and for 90 days afterward. "For the most part," he said, "the jobs are going very well for both the employers and the em-ployees."

Across the country in Arcata, Calif., VISTA Member Taura Green-field discovered residents needed an after-school recycling group. As a result, children ages five to 14 began collecting recyclables door-to-door every other week. "Kids get [recycling education] in school, so they are hip to the idea," she said.

The sorted materials are taken to the Arcata Community Recycling Center's buy back program. The money earned is placed into the Kid's Fund. So far, said Greenfield, the $150 collected has paid for a hot-fudge-sundae party and a root beer-float movie night. A community pool trip also is planned. "The goal is to get [the children] out of the area. Most [of the families] don't even have a car," she ex-plained. "There's just not much for kids [to do] in low income housing areas."

The residents have been receptive, according to Greenfield. They not only recycle glass and aluminum, which earn the children money, but also other materials such as plastic and newspaper.

To ensure the program will continue after she leaves, Greenfield is grooming a local university's anti-poverty program to take over. Cur-rently involved residents and local citizen boards will offer help and guidance in Greenfield's stead.

Meanwhile, in Chicago, VISTA Members Kara Brandt, Kathleen McGee and Joshua Parker began the city's first mobile buy-back recycling program, in cooperation with the Chicago Department of the Environment, the city's resource center, the Chicago Housing Authority and Waste Management Inc., Oak Brook, Ill.

The three volunteers drive to drop-off sites in the city's housing developments where residents bring recyclables every Saturday. After the sorted materials are weighed, residents are given a voucher to be redeemed at a nearby store.

So far, the program has created two jobs that involve light accounting, truck driving and manual la-bor. "[The employees] do everything we do and get paid for it," said McGee.

She estimated that approximately 500 residents participate; some bring materials to the truck, the elderly donate recyclables for pickup and children distribute fliers.

The Chicago project has applied for another VISTA volunteer for next year, said McGee, because "we can't necessarily [arrive at] a sustainable level in one year."

In addition, the NRC also has asked for twice as many members for 1997 projects; however, the number sent will depend upon Con-gressional approval and funding, VISTA's Gurr said.

Other RBC locations include Pitts-field, Mass.; Wash-ington, D.C.; Knox- ville, Tenn.; San Francisco; Milwau-kee; Omaha, Neb.; Lansing, Mich.; St. Paul, Minn.; Win-ona, Minn.; Kansas City, Mo.; and Dur-ham, N.C.

For more information, contact: Linda Shotwell, National Recycling Coalition, 1727 King St., Ste. 105, Alexandria, Va. 22314-2720. (706) 683-9025. Fax: (703) 683-9026.