If a new city of Flagstaff program takes off as planned, 30 citizens will be certified by March 30 as master recyclers, trained to spread the word about reducing, reusing, recycling and composting throughout the city.
In a six-week master recycler course beginning in February, interested citizens can get trained in waste prevention and composting through field trips, lessons from city staff and presentations from people in the private sector working in waste minimization and environmental sustainability.
Like a master gardener program, the city’s aim is to give people a certificate-level education, said McKenzie Jones, sustainability specialist with the city.
“You're getting essentially a fairly detailed class with guest lectures where you can really learn and delve into this information in a way that is not really available to the average citizen,” Jones said.
The course will go broader than recycling and composting as well with a curriculum that will address topics like the sharing community, toxics reduction, fixing and reusing and food waste prevention.
Dylan Lenzen, a waste minimization aide with the city, said the tentative lineup includes guest speakers from the city’s solid waste and recycling collections departments, Roots Composting, Willow Bend Environmental Education Center and a personal chef.
The program is an effort to boost Flagstaff’s below-average recycling rate. Residents and businesses are currently recycling 14 percent of their waste while the national average is 34 percent, according to the city.
Piece of a larger puzzle
Training citizen experts who can spread the word about ways to minimize waste is one of several different tactics the city is pursuing to reduce per-capita waste generation, Jones said.
Another is the planned replacement of the handful of recycling bins and all of the trash cans downtown with more than 30 dual-stream trash and recycling bins, significantly expanding that area’s recycling infrastructure, Jones said. The new bins are expected to arrive in February, she said.
New marketing materials are in the pipeline as well. Those will be aimed at teaching people what to do with certain common materials, like paper cups or milk cartons that many people think can be recycled by the city, though they actually can’t, Jones said.
Several pilot programs in the works address food waste prevention and low recycling rates in multifamily complexes. The latter involves targeting one complex with a mix of marketing and outreach and improving the availability of recycling collection bins, then measuring the impact, Lenzen said.
Under a food waste prevention pilot started in the spring, a group of NAU students and a group of city employees were given buckets and scales to measure their food waste and were also asked to attend two workshops on waste minimization strategies. When the results came in, the city saw a 40 percent decrease in food waste among NAU participants and a 25 percent decrease in food waste among city employees.
The city also is contracting with Willow Bend Environmental Education Center as well to offer recycling education programs to all first and fourth graders, Jones said.
“We’re trying to approach it from a variety of angles,” she said.
Flagstaff got the idea for a master recycler program from several other cities including Portland, where there are now wait lists for the class sessions, Lenzen said.
Training citizens to personally spread the word about recycling seems like a foundational element of successful city recycling programs, he said.
“There is a positive way to create behavior change and one of the best ways is to have positive interactions with people,” he said. “So a conversation about reducing food waste is more effective than a Facebook post about it.”
The class costs $50 and includes a requirement that course graduates will volunteer 30 hours teaching others the basics of waste minimization.
Jones said the volunteer commitment isn’t something the city is worried will be a deterrent.
“What we've found is that our community is really excited about volunteering and people want to make a difference in their community. Sometimes they just don't know how or don’t have the right information,” Jones said. “This is really just channeling all that energy folks have to make the community a better place.”