When Candice Bressler was first approached by Michelle Kaelke at the Alaska Department of Fish & Game (ADF&G) office about facilitating the recycling committee, her first reaction was a combination of surprise and skepticism.
“I didn’t think that I was the best person to do this,” recalled Bressler, the department’s Workforce Development Program Coordinator. “At the time, I didn’t even recycle at home!” Nevertheless, she allowed herself to be convinced by Kaelke and other staff the program would benefit ADF&G employees as well as the environment.
A year and a half later, Bressler recycles both at work and at home, and her colleagues refer to her as the “Green Queen.” The collective efforts of the department’s recycling committee have resulted in workplace improvements in offices throughout the state that make it easy for employees to reduce the amount of garbage that goes into the landfill while improving employee morale. So far, the Juneau headquarters office has achieved an astounding 40 percent reduction in office waste.
“Many of ADF&G’s employees work here because they are passionate about the department’s mission to protect, maintain, and improve the fish, game, and aquatic plant resources of the state,” said Kaelke, an ADF&G employee and founding member of the recycling committee. “The recycling program enables staff to carry out the department’s mission whether they are in the field, working on regulations, or reducing the amount of office garbage that goes into local landfills. It gives them another reason to be proud of working for Fish and Game.”
One of the first initiatives provided a personal recycling bin for almost every employee to put under their desk at the Juneau office. Fish-shaped signs point the way to the recycling room, which was an old storage space the group transformed into a neatly organized recycling station. Detailed signs mark large bins to separate out plastic, paper, and other recyclables while flyers explain the benefits of recycling for the long-term viability of Juneau’s landfill. Kaelke said bins upstairs make recycling convenient for employees who may not otherwise make the trip downstairs to the recycling room.
The well-organized room also turns recycling into a charitable act. Plastic bottle caps, which are not recyclable, are collected for art projects at the Canvas, Juneau’s local community art studio.
“The program is not just about reducing waste, but also about connecting more with our community,” Bressler said.
The recycling room was also the center stage for environmental education on “bring your kids to work” day. “The children had a blast separating the recyclables because we turned it into a game. They learned how recycling prolongs the life of the landfill, keeps plastics out of the waterways, and generally helps make the environment a better place for plants, fish, and other animals,” said Bressler.
The program is employee-driven, and volunteers take turn monitoring the recycling room.
“It’s really important to make the space clean, easily accessible, and highly organized,” Kaelke said. “If the place is messy, people are less likely to want to participate,”
ADF&G’s recycling program extends beyond the Juneau and Douglas offices. A department-wide quarterly newsletter called “Going Green at ADF&G” showcases successful initiatives statewide, such as the creation of a recycling area in the Anchorage office, and reusing one-sided paper as scratch paper in Dutch Harbor. This year, offices throughout the state have set up “freecycle” areas in break rooms where staff can set out gently-used items other employees can take for free, further promoting resource conservation. The newsletter also provides tips and interesting ways that people can reduce, reuse, and recycle.
Bressler said making the activities fun and engaging is the key the program’s success. The latest event at the Juneau headquarters office was the well-attended No Trash Bash that celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with an extra “green” flair: the event used real dishes, cups, and cutlery purchased from thrift stores by committee volunteers. The event’s attendees were more than happy to wash their own dishes, making clean up easy and keeping stacks of disposable plates, cups, and plastic cutlery out of the garbage.
Jim Penor, the City and Borough of Juneau’s solid waste coordinator has been a guest speaker at several potlucks held at ADF&G.
“What they’re doing is excellent,” he said. “Not only are they saving the city landfill space, but they’re also saving money on the monthly waste bill!
“I’d like to see more businesses start recycling programs like this one. This program sets a great example of what is possible.”
Penor invited businesses to contact him about the city’s special annual recycling permit that makes it easy and cost-effective for businesses to recycle.
“Many people think that it is too overwhelming to start environmental efforts at their offices, but it just takes a couple motivated people to start,” Kaelke said. “The key is to make it easy for everyone to participate.”
With Earth Day coming up later this month, businesses and offices around Juneau can take the opportunity to start recycling programs similar to ADF&G’s program model. Perhaps it will take the form of encouraging colleagues to team up for a community trash pick-up, or resolving to dedicate space for a small recycling station, or using reusable kitchenware for office events. When everyone does their part to reduce their environmental impact, he or she makes the decision to make Juneau a cleaner, more environmentally responsible community today to the benefit of future generations.
For more information about ADF&G’s recycling program, contact Bressler at email@example.com. To learn more about the city’s business recycling programs, contact Penor at 780-6009 or James_Penor@ci.juneau.ak.us
• Jennifer Nu is a freelance writer in Juneau. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.