Kelly Millman, waste reduction and recycling specialist at ReCollect Systems, has dedicated her life to waste reduction and environmental sustainability. From the onset of her career, Millman has been crafting and implementing effective waste and recycling strategies for residential, multi-residential, waste hauler and special events programs. She has rapidly sharpened her skills by working frontline—regularly conducting waste audits and assessments, while building and presenting comprehensive outreach strategies for communities.
“Kelly’s relentless passion and commitment to environmental welfare and sustainability spark movement and action in those around her. All the while, her down-to-earth sensibility and common-sense approach to real problems allow her room to roll up her sleeves and get meaningful work done,” says David Eaves, CEO of ReCollect Systems. “Kelly is successful in everything that she does, because she thinks of others before herself. Her selfless commitment to building up those around her attracts like-minded people who share her vision of a clean, healthy and sustainable planet.”
Millman was honored with a 2019 Waste360 40 Under 40 award earlier this year and recently spoke with us about ReCollect Systems’ solutions/products, how education and outreach efforts can help improve recycling efforts and how communities can successfully launch organics recycling programs.
Waste360: How did you begin your waste and recycling career?
Kelly Millman: I was very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to start my career in waste and recycling with a one-year internship for Niagara Region Waste Management. Niagara Region offers great programs and has an amazing relationship with Niagara Recycling, the local materials recovery facility.
The internship was the perfect way for me to get my start in the waste and recycling industry. I was involved in everything from nitty-gritty auditing to public presentations. The internship both inspired and motivated me to continue within the waste and recycling industry, and I will always be thankful for that wonderful opportunity to build roots.
Waste360: What does your role as waste reduction and recycling specialist at ReCollect entail?
Kelly Millman: At ReCollect, my role is waste reduction and recycling specialist. I consult with communities and private waste haulers and work with them to implement digital outreach solutions that reduce contamination, while educating people to recycle better.
As waste and recycling programs change alongside rapidly changing markets, participating effectively in those programs can be a real challenge for communities and organizations. It’s very satisfying to help build digital communication strategies that provide people the right information, at the right time, and help them make responsible recycling choices. It all begins at the bin.
Waste360: Can you tell us about ReCollect and its solutions/products?
Kelly Millman: ReCollect builds digital communication tools that help organizations educate people to recycle better.
Our Collection Calendar helps communicate important scheduling changes and delays in collection pickup to people in real-time, with powerful reminders in a range of formats including an Android or IOS app, text, email, phone or digital/printed calendar reminders.
This helps to prevent excessive support calls and emails from people when your collection schedule changes due to poor weather, holiday schedules, construction and road delays.
Our Waste Wizard helps teach people how to recycle properly.
All of our digital tools focus on helping organizations leverage digital to build better recycling programs, and all of our tools are custom branded to those organizations.
Waste360: In addition to your role at ReCollect, you also volunteer for the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA). Can you tell us about the authority and some of your work there?
Kelly Millman: The Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority delivers environmental programs within the region that ensure sustainable growth, conservation and restoration of the area. I have participated in many of NPCA’s programs contributing to tree-planting efforts, eastern bluebird monitoring and waste management at events.
It’s very rewarding to be able to contribute to the efforts that keep my community healthy and beautiful for generations to come.
Waste360: In college, you helped launch a waste diversion program to reduce dorm room waste. Can you tell us about that program, which is still used by Niagara College today?
Kelly Millman: The Niagara College’s Environmental Management and Assessment (EMA) program provides a waste management course that equips students to perform a comprehensive waste audit with recommendations for a campus facility.
I was part of a team that kicked off the efforts made within the dorms and was able to increase diversion efforts within the campus dorms. The EMA course has continually built on this success with annual auditing and improvements.
It was great to learn about the impact an audit and plan can have while being part of a program that has had a huge impact on reducing the campus’ waste as a whole. This was another experience that left me inspired to continue my contribution to the waste and recycling industry.
Waste360: How do you think education and outreach can help improve recycling efforts?
Kelly Millman: Everyone knows contamination is a huge issue right now, and it’s an issue that’s reshaping the industry. Education and outreach methods are key to reducing contamination very early in the recycling process—before the material even reaches the curb.
If done properly, education efforts can have a huge impact. Proper education and outreach programs will engage with residents regularly while making the information they need readily available. Many communities and haulers we serve are working to provide a constant trickle of “what goes where” information that targets contamination materials one at a time while enticing residents to further engage and learn more.
Waste360: What do you think are the main challenges around waste diversion and reduction, and how can the industry help municipalities, companies, residents, etc., overcome some of those challenges?
Kelly Millman: I think one of the main challenges around waste diversion and reduction is just how quickly the industry is evolving. There are constantly new products, packaging and program rules being introduced, and I think we need to make recycling as simple as possible to reduce contamination and continue to ban the products and packaging that aren’t able to be successfully recycled.
Another key to these problems is innovation. I have spoken with many communities that simply are not able to offer the robust recycling programs they once had due to changes in the market. I have also noticed the shift of goals from “increasing diversion” to “reducing contamination,” and while I understand why this is necessary, I hope that innovation allows us to adapt in a way that would encourage both. Innovations in recycling processes and material markets could be the answer.
Waste360: There are also challenges around setting up an organics recycling program, which you experienced firsthand during your internship in the Niagara Region. What advice would you give to a community that’s looking to start an organics recycling program?
Kelly Millman: Be ready for objections, and use those objections (i.e., “It smells.” “It’s confusing.” “I don’t need another bin.”) to start a conversation. It’s easy to get bogged down in the objections that come along with an organics pilot or program, but you can also use them to your benefit.
Part of my internship was to get multi-residential buildings signed up and ramped up for the new organics program. I would host open-house events to educate the tenants on their new program, and every event would start with an onslaught of these objections. I’ve learned that if you inquire about the objections, you can often turn them around and use them as conversation starters.
To address the common concern of smell, I would often ask these questions: What do you use to control garbage can odors? Does anyone have any ideas for how we might reduce the smell from the green bin?
Once I had the conversation going, I would try to contribute the solutions Niagara Region was proposing: The bin has a lid to help cut back on smells and adding used coffee grinds can help reduce the smell.
I’ve found this method to be useful in ensuring residents know they’re being heard and you’re there to address their concerns.