Author Keefe Harrison, Senior Consultant

Author Keefe Harrison, Senior Consultant

I have a secret.  When I attend meetings, I listen for buzz phrases and then I count how many times I hear that phrase during the meeting.  For a while, “Move the needle” was the winner.  Before that, “At the end of the day.”  But if I think back over the past eight years or so, I think a pretty steady winner is, “A rising tide floats all boats.”

It’s a good concept, right?  I work on my interest, you work on your interest, and without really having to change the way we work, we’ll still save the world.  Or in recycling’s vernacular, I’ll pay attention to my material, you pay attention to yours, the plateaued recycling rates will be overcome, and we’ll all be better off for it.  That rising tide will take care of it.  If we stop and assess, we just might find we’ve all been busy tinkering on our boats, instead of affecting the tide.

Calling all Boat Tinkerers 

I’ve talked about this concept with Elizabeth Schussler, RRS’s in house design guru.  She’s a wonderful recent addition to the RRS staff – very able at conveying technical information with visual finesse.  She worried that my analogy might be intimidating – affecting the tide sounds pretty tricky.  She’s right.  It is tricky.  And it’s not always quick.  But it is very doable.

For the past two plus years I’ve been part of the RRS team assisting the Foodservice Packaging Institute’s (FPI) Paper Recovery Alliance and Plastics Recovery Group in their pursuit to increase recovery of foodservice packaging.  No green washing, silver bullets, or wishful thinking allowed.  Instead, the groups asked, “How do we review the current barriers to recovery, and then stack up our to-do list with resolving those barriers so that market place pull can do its job?”  We’re getting very close – this year we’ll begin to see some big changes to how MRFs can consider marketing many of those cups and containers.  What’s been a big part of a successful work plan?  Making sure that we’ve engaged the full ocean of recycling opportunities.   The project members understand they can’t do it alone.  FPI understands packaging, RRS understands recovery – by connecting the dots we have a solid strategy.

The Horizon Looks Bright for Coordinated Recovery

FPI isn’t alone in its collaborative approach.  I’m encouraged by recent indicators that each of the many sectors of our material supply and recovery chains are more interested in stronger coordination from one part of the chain to the next.  Last December, RRS partnered with the Southeast Recycling Council and EPA Region 4 to convene a meeting of recyclers, converters, brands, and retail to approach this need for collaboration.   What really stood out to the 100+ attendees was that recycling is about engineering a reverse supply chain.  Brands know how to get their goods out into the marketplace.  Shouldn’t the recovery of those recyclable goods enjoy the same coordination if we’re going to expect strong recovery rates?  As one of the speakers pointed out in that meeting, it’s a systems challenge that demands a systems solution.   That folks, is affecting the tide.

Jumping Ship?  No way.

This is my final week as an RRS staffer. I came here to be part of a smart, hardworking team and the experience surely lived up to expectations.  Next week I begin my role as the incoming Executive Director of Curbside Value Partnership, a nonprofit whose decade of influence has been part of this national network of efforts to boost recycling rates.   I’m eager to help continue to the organization’s tenure of being part of a solution, because I know that CVP is not alone in its pursuit.  RRS agrees.  Affecting the tide is a big undertaking, the more strategic players the better.  RRS’s leadership has been very supportive of this transition and looks forward to seeing a good friend steering the path of a fellow recycling institution. Personally, I know it will be a new approach for a familiar undertaking.  Thankfully I know I won’t be at it alone.

Editor’s Note: The RRS leadership and crew congratulates Keefe in her move to CVP. She has the skill set and experience to successfully captain their ship. We thank Keefe for all of her work and influence, and wish her the best as Executive Director. RRS has been powering collaborations for years and looks forward to working side-by-side with Keefe on future projects. And maybe, just maybe, someday our Keefe will be back aboard the RRS ship once again.