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The Power of Bringing People Together

This August, many of us at The Recycling Partnership were able to do something that hasn’t been done since 2019 – attend the Resource Recycling Conference (RRC) in person.

RRC is the only national event that is dedicated to enhancing municipal recycling and The Partnership is proud to have worked with Resource Recycling over the years on this event. This year brought a new level of involvement with The Partnership being a ‘conference collaborator,’ which included three components. First, working with Resource Recycling to create and present content for sessions. Second is the well-known Steve Thompson Memorial Grant Program. And lastly, leading the first-ever 50 States Summit.

The latter two bring a strong emphasis on the power of bringing people together. People are at the center of every recycling improvement at the local level, every policy passed or not passed, every packaging design choice, and every waste diversion innovation. Local leaders drive change directly in communities. They bring teams together, advocate for and research the validity of big ideas, use their political capital, create new technologies, and take on professional risks. We need to support community recycling leads, give them the tools to make the right decisions, and, at a minimum, connect them with their peers to learn what has and has not worked in the past. Which is why The Partnership has hosted the Steve Thompson Memorial Grant program for each RRC since 2016, in honor of one of the industry’s most committed recycling champions. Through the program, municipal recycling leaders can attend the conference with registration and travel costs covered, eliminating one of the biggest barriers for local programs staff to attend industry events – budget. This year, 36 grantees attended the conference representing 26 states, plus the Virgin Islands.

And with people at the center of it all, The Partnership stepped it up this year by ensuring we were able to bring together not only local leaders, but also state recycling leaders through the inaugural 50 States Summit, with support from The Walmart Foundation. The Partnership invited state-level recycling leaders from across the country to participate in events taking place before RRC kicked off to connect with peers, discuss policy, and explore innovative approaches to resource their state recycling programs. The 50 States Summit allowed The Partnership to achieve greater impact than could be possible otherwise by bringing together these leaders to share learning and solve challenges facing their state level recycling programs and the community recycling programs they serve. In total, 31 state leaders were able to travel to Austin for this event, representing 183 million Americans.

This year’s Resource Recycling Conference was uplifting and energizing. There are many takeaways, but we wanted to share just a few for community recycling programs. 

  1. Continue to network and collaborate. In the U.S., there are 50 state environmental offices with varying focuses on recycling, tens of thousands of different local governments, and hundreds of material recovery facilities positioned to manage the material for end markets. These recycling facilities, states, and local programs are managed by people, all working independently, but extremely dependent on the success of one another. Let’s continue to check in and connect even though we’re all back home. 
  2. You are not alone in this work. We’re all in this together. Recycling is tough work, but you can really see its impact – and we mean really see it. The decisions people make within recycling programs are the foundation for getting bottles, cans, paper, and containers recycled for the 330 million people that call the U.S. home. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your peers with questions or just to brainstorm.
  3. We are all taking steps toward system change. The U.S. residential recycling system needs an overhaul, but through our collective actions we are on our way toward true transformation. Whether it’s increasing the types of materials that can be collected in a small community, reducing contamination in a metro area, or implementing change at the state level – your work makes a difference. It’s all part of our vision for a healthy, cleaner planet for generations to come.

Together, we can solve for people and planet. We’ll see you at next year’s conference.