How RethinkWaste connects with community

RethinkWaste, San Carlos, California, coordinates extensive outreach efforts with its community to improve recycling education.

Education outreach is an important component for business at South Bayside Waste Management Authority (SBWMA), more commonly known as RethinkWaste

“It’s a big component of what we do here,” says Julia Au, recycling outreach program manager at RethinkWaste.

While the agency has a small staff of just 11 full-time employees, it devotes more than half of those positions to helping with recycling education projects. About a year ago, Au says RethinkWaste hired a few people to be fellows and manage some of the education-related projects that she says they “didn’t really get to completing.” 

Currently, she says some of the agency’s employees focused on education-related efforts are working on a public spaces pilot project. The goal of the pilot project is to expand recycling and composting options in public spaces such as parks or downtown corridors. Au says the agency Is working to educate people in the Bay Area of California on recycling and composting properly at parks.

“We added recycling, trash and composting and are testing out signage on that,” she says. “We put up receptacles in August [of 2018]. It’s interesting to see whether people are actually composting. Recycling is doing well—a lot of the parks didn’t have that. That bin is doing well in the parks. But now it’s about trying to get them to compost.”

She adds that having additional fellows has allowed her and others at the agency to spend more time on these types of projects.

“The fellows bring new energy to programs—especially our facility tours,” she adds. “We used to only have two people do tours. But bringing on more staff allowed us to shift priorities. It spreads the wealth around and helps us achieve the projects we need help on.”

Tours are a big part of RethinkWaste’s community education. Emi Hashizume, environmental education manager, currently helps to lead the agency’s tour program. The agency first started to host tours in 2012 as a way to educate community members. To get an idea of the importance of these tours, Au says Rethink Waste hosted 5,354 visitors on 213 tours in 2018. About 70 percent of the tour visitors came from schools. Au estimates the agency offers at least five to six tours per week, on average. 

“We built the facility to accommodate tours,” Au says. “We want to allow people to see where their trash and recycling ends up. Because we have a transfer station and a MRF (material recovery facility), they can see both sides. For many who visit, it’s an eye-opening experience, and seeing the trash helps them spread the message about sorting correctly back home.”

RethinkWaste tours are interactive. Au says the agency takes time to educate visitors on what material goes into each cart. The agency also has some displays that allow kids to play and learn at the same time. 

Au adds that she’s not sure whether RethinkWaste’s tours are any more comprehensive than what other MRFs might offer, but she says the difference is that it’s “just a big part of our program.” 

Find out more on RethinkWaste in the April issue of Recycling Today

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