This article was originally posted in the Teton Valley News on February 5th, 2015. It is reposted with permission.
Many people have heard the story about the professor who stood before his class with a glass jar and filled it with rocks. He asked his class if it was full, and they agreed that it was. He then poured pebbles into the jar, filling the spaces the larger rocks could not, and asked his students again if the jar was full. They agreed that NOW it was full. He then added sand to the jar, filling the spaces between the pebbles. Finally, a student poured water into the jar.
The moral of the story is that you need to get your large rocks in place first, as they will not fit if you start with sand and water. It also shows that there is always room to fill your life with more – you just need to be able to see the potential.
I think of this story when people ask me what Teton Valley Community Recycling (TVCR) does. There are several organizations focusing on recycling in Teton Valley, and our different roles can confuse people. If TVCR doesn’t provide the “big rocks” of running the recycling center or providing curbside recycling collection, then what do we do? The answer is that we fill the recycling jar with pebbles, sand, and water.
Fifteen years ago, TVCR was the only recycling organization in the valley, and our role was much different. We spent our time running pilot recycling programs and advocating for a county-run recycling center.
Having a facility that can process recyclables is a big rock, and it needed to go in the jar first. In 2010, a private business, RAD, began a curbside recycling pickup service. This added another large rock to the recycling jar, but it is still not full.
TVCR works to add the pebbles of smart policy and economic incentives to the jar. Getting options for smaller, less expensive trash bins into the waste hauler contract, as well as a stronger connection between trash and recycling pickup, are two policy changes that could dramatically increase participation in recycling in our valley.
We add sand to the jar by working directly with large waste producers, such as schools and businesses. For example, our Close the Loop program connects food waste producers with farmers who can feed livestock or compost organic waste.
Finally, we provide education and outreach to local schools, citizen groups, and individuals. This can be seen as the water added to the jar after the other pieces are in place. It doesn’t matter how much infrastructure you have if people don’t use it; TVCR’s education programs have boosted participation in recycling, providing revenue for continued program expansion.
If it takes big rocks, pebbles, sand, and water to fill a jar, it takes infrastructure, convenience, policy, and outreach to both large and small waste producers to create a successful recycling program. With the local trifecta of Teton County Solid Waste and Recycling, the private business RAD Recycling, and the nonprofit Teton Valley Community Recycling, we are well on our way to filling the jar!
Tanya Anderson was the executive director of Teton Valley Community Recycling from 2012-2014. She remains active as a volunteer recycling advocate.