By James Bash
For the Hollywood Star News
When it comes to recycling, Portland is one of the leading cities in the nation. Rose City residents are getting better at sorting food and trash so that much of it can be re-used or composted in one way or the other. Part of the reason for this success is due to the efforts of people who complete the Master Recycler Program. The program is sponsored by the City of Portland, Metro, and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
Since its inception in 1991, the Master Recycler Program has enrolled 30 recycling enthusiasts, who sign up for an eight-week course that spans January and February. They hear from 27 experts who work for for-profit and non-profit organizations in the area of recycling and waste management. They also take tours of recycling and compost facilities. After completing the class, they are armed with the latest information and go into their communities to share what they have learned.
“The people who take the course want to make a difference,” remarked Lauren Norris who is in her tenth year as the coordinator of the Master Recycler Program. “Our master recyclers make presentations in their communities, participate in rep events, organize green teams at school or work, volunteer at lending tool and share libraries, and help make creative use of reclaimed scrap. We have 40 partners who are ready to help them get involved.”
Each class gets a tour of the Material Recover Facility and sees how recycling gets sorted. They also get to go behind the scenes at Free Geek, the Rebuilding Center, and other recycling companies to find how things work. In the classroom, specialists from a local company tell how they recycle electronics waste. That kind of recycling has a lot of challenges, including finding markets to sell the reclaimed material.
According to Norris, the popular topic in class lately is food waste.
“The average American family throws away 20 percent of the food that it buys,” explained Norris. “Master Recyclers learn tips on meal planning and proper food storage. But it’s not just for families. We are trying to help business reduce their food waste, too. Master recyclers have been very effective with hospitals, restaurants, grocery stores.”
Because the Master Recycler Program is held in the Portland metro area, one class takes place each year in Multnomah County, Washington County, and Clackamas County. The Portland class will take place in January and February. Adults 18 and older can sign up through the web site masterrecyler.org or call 503-545-8976. The classes are held on Wednesday evenings plus two full Saturdays (for tours). The cost is $50 and a scholarship program is available.
Over the year, around 1,500 people have graduated to become master recyclers. After completing the course, they receive a monthly newsletter that keeps them informed about upcoming events and ongoing educational opportunities, such a as lectures, special tours, and workshops.
“We have lots of success stories,” noted Norris. “And our master recyclers report their volunteer hours. Last year they talked to 35,000 people at many events like fairs and farmers markets. The real stars of this program are the volunteers.”
One of the most newly minted master recyclers is Babs Adamski, who lives in the St. Johns area. Since graduating, she has participated in the Fix It Fair at George Middle School in North Portland and at a Sunday Parkways event in Northeast Portland.
“I have always been involved in recycling,” said Adamski, “but I wanted a wider view, understand market changes, and the latest information. The Master Recycler Program has a good structure in engaging in community outreach.”
If you have attended the Oregon Brewers Festival over the past few years, you might have met master recycler Francisco Gadea. Gadea, a Woodlawn resident, has accumulated more than 140 volunteer hours, including helping to lead recycling efforts at the festival.
“Every year the festival generates less garbage and more recycling. We always have people at the stations. People want to do the right thing, but they are in a hurry and will do the wrong thing. We make sure that doesn’t happen. The main thing is to talk to people. Make sure that they put the material in the right container. It is all really positive.”