Sustainability Spotlight: Meet Recycling Coordinator Michelle Robinson and Educator Connie Hunter

sippi,Interview by Alexis Zosel, Green Student Intern

Connie Hunter (left) and Michelle Robinson (right) promoting recycling at Della Davidson Elementary School in October.

The City of Oxford Recycling Department works closely with the University of Mississippi and the Office of Sustainability. Campus recycling is collected by the City of Oxford and is sorted and baled at the Oxford Recycling Center. Additionally, recycling department staff participate in on-campus educational events including the annual Green Week Sustainability Fair and America Recycles Day and are key to the success of the Green Grove Gameday Recycling Program.

Running the recycling show is Michelle Robinson, Oxford’s recycling coordinator since May 2015. New to the recycling department is Connie Hunter, recycling educator. She joined the team in October 2017 after retiring from her teaching position.  As recycling coordinator, Michelle is responsible for managing employees, making sure all recycling is collected properly, promoting recycling, and anything else that may be needed. Additionally, she helps out the city’s director of environmental services. Connie, as recycling educator, visits schools and talks to classes about what, how, and why we recycle as well as helps plan and promote special recycling events.

Green Student Intern Alexis Zosel interviewed Michelle and Connie to learn more about recycling in Oxford, as well as sustainability projects at their own homes.

What first sparked your interest in recycling?

Connie: I can’t remember not recycling. I spent a lot of time with my grandmother as a child and she had lived during the Depression. She hardly ever threw anything away. She taught me all kinds of ways to reuse things. She made rugs out of bread bags, quilts out of clothing scraps, dollhouse furniture out of detergent bottles and so much more. She would have loved Pinterest. I got that from her. I’m always making something or grabbing something that someone is getting rid of to give it a new life. I was taught that the Earth only has a limited amount of resources and we should take care of and reuse what we have. If we don’t it will all be used up.

Michelle: When I moved into [the] Community Green [neighborhood] off of Molly Barr, I found out it was offered curbside. Then I started really looking into recycling and how it helped the environment. It is so interesting to me how recycled products can go make more products and the steps to get to that other product.

What is Oxford’s most recycled material?

Michelle: Cardboard

Where does our recycling go?

Michelle: Our recycling goes to different mills depending on the product. We ship to Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Sardis, Mississippi.

In what ways would you like to see recycling in Oxford expand?

Michelle: I would like to see a new recycling facility. We have outgrown our building and it is old. I would like to see more participation from the county. I think if these two things happened then we could expand more into glass and other recycled items.

Connie: It would have to be for the county to have curbside recycling. I get lots of request for this. They could always bring it in and drop it off but people want it to be as easy as possible.

What is your favorite part of working with recycling?

Michelle: Just learning all about ways to be sustainable and what all we can do to make this happen, it has changed me so much just in the last three years.

Connie: It sounds funny but it is kind of my dream job. Before, I was the person at my last school that was interested in the recycling. Now I get to go into schools and teach children about recycling. It gives me an excuse to talk to people all of the time about recycling. I think it is so important to teach children when they are young and begin good habits. Then they will do it easily without thinking about it.

We hear you have a pretty interesting project in the works involving a greenhouse in your backyard. Can you tell us what you are doing and why?

Connie: I am currently working on building a greenhouse in my backyard. I am using #1 PETE water bottles for the walls and roof. A friend of mine collected bottles from friends in her apartment complex. My daughter is helping me cut the bottoms out of the bottles. We have three walls up and hope to finish it soon. There are over 500 water bottles on each wall and roof. That’s 2500 bottles that were headed to the landfill otherwise. Then I plan to use plastic cups from restaurants for my potting system. I also have a flower bed lined with over 500 glass bottles. I have erosion problems in my yard and the bottle border helps keep plants and mulch in the bed and keeps the bottles out of the landfill.

How have you incorporated sustainability into your home life?

Michelle: .We as a family of five have one bag of trash a week, if that. I have started gardening, we have four chickens (NEVER thought I would have chickens), and I pay for my glass to be recycled because we don’t take it here in Oxford. My kids know a lot about recycling and being sustainable because of the steps we take at home to incorporate it. They love it! I fully believe if you teach it to them at a young age, make it fun then it will stick with them. They help water the garden, pick the veggies, feed the chickens, and so on.

I know you coordinate with the Office of Sustainability on some projects. Could you explain some of those projects?

Michelle: I think back in 2013, we partnered on a grant through DEQ. Blue recycling roll offs were purchased and placed around campus. We pull those bins on Tuesday of every week. I will also participate in any event I can with them. We also help with football game day recycling.

What are some other events you manage as recycling coordinator?

Michelle: Myself and Connie go into K12 schools to educate the kids. Since Connie has gotten hired, she has taken on this role more because I was not able to get into the schools while trying to do everything else. Connie has done a great job! I also go to Panola County and go into their schools because they bring their recycling to us. I am also the Director of Keep Oxford/Lafayette County so I organize beautification projects and litter clean ups.

For those living somewhere that does not offer recycling, what is the best alternative?

Michelle: Even in Mississippi I am sure there is somewhere that offers recycling within driving distance, it may be a drop off location that they have to go to but it is out there. Also there are alternatives in what they do at home. Instead of buying paper towels use cloth towels, instead of using Ziploc bags useTupperware/reusable containers, instead of buying water bottles drink from refrigerator or filtered water, and so on.

What is something you would say to someone who is reluctant to recycle?

Michelle: It is ridiculous not too. It is so easy. What is the difference in throwing a recyclable item in the trash can as opposed to the recycling can? If my 2-year-old can do it then anyone can. I would like to take a lot of people to the area by OPC Activity center so that they can see all the trash that is still there from 30+ years ago.

Connie: Start small and pick one thing such as newspapers or drink bottles. After you have done it a while you see that it is not as difficult as you thought and it grows on you.

To stay up-to-date about recycling in Oxford, click here.




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