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Catch Up With Utah Recycling Alliance

Welcome to SLCgreen Connections, an occasional series highlighting SLCgreen’s fantastic local partners—the people and organizations with whom we work closely to make Salt Lake City a greener, more vibrant, and sustainable city!

Is going zero waste one of your New Year’s resolutions for 2021? Utah Recycling Alliance is here to help!  Utah Recycling Alliance (URA) has been encouraging Utahns to recycle more and reduce waste since 2011. The non-profit promotes reuse, recycling, and resource conservation through programs developed to engage and educate residents statewide.

This year, like many organizations, URA has moved much of their programming online due to the pandemic. However, they have stayed busy, and the organization is gearing up for exciting new projects in 2021. 

SLCgreen chatted with URA co-presidents David Johnston and Sarah Bateman to find out more about what URA has been up to in 2020. David and Sarah also filled us in on how you can get involved in building a zero waste future in the New Year!

The 3 R’s and Beyond

David, who is also the Permits Coordinator for SLCgreen’s Waste and Recycling Division, told us that URA started with a mission that went beyond recycling. “Although we’ve always been there to help Utahns around the state recycle in the right ways, many of what we now consider core programs are all about the other Rs” – including reduce, reuse, repair, and rot.  

Sarah, who is the founder of the City of Orem’s Natural Resources Stewardship Committee and a full-time mom, joined URA because of her passion for encouraging zero waste in Utah County. Prior to joining URA, she “felt somewhat alone in advocating a low-waste lifestyle.” However, URA connected Sarah to other zero waste organizers who were just as passionate about waste reduction and conservation. Sarah says that she is “honored to work alongside this well-educated and skilled team of volunteers, dedicated to reducing waste in Utah.”

The organization relies on volunteer support to operate their diverse projects, which connect businesses, individuals, and local governments that are committed to zero waste efforts.

CHaRMs and Fix-It Clinics

In the past few years, URA has helped Salt Lake City residents divert unusual waste (including toothpaste tubes, old electronics, shredded paper, and other things that aren’t accepted in the City’s curbside recycling program) in the CHaRM events.

The acronym stands for Collection of Hard to Recycle Materials, and the events help divert a considerable amount of waste each year. David notes that “in 2019 alone, with the help of more than 40 additional volunteers, URA was able to divert almost 5,000 lbs. from the landfill, accepting material for recycling from more than 1,100 attendees.”

Utah Recycling Alliance volunteer at previous CHaRM Pop-Up.

Similarly, URA’s Fix-It Clinics help keep materials out of the landfill. But rather than diverting materials through specialty recycling programs, Fix-It Clinics focus on repairing useable tools, gadgets, and appliances. Sarah helped launch the Fix-It Clinics in 2017 with URA board member Morgan Bowerman who brought the idea back to Utah after living overseas. The first Fix-It Clinics amounted to “nearly a dozen partner organizations, over 30 volunteer repair coaches, hundreds of items repaired and diverted from the landfill, and a total savings of over $20,000.”

Fix-It Clinics have a big environmental impact, but it goes beyond that. As Sarah remarks: “One of my favorite things is seeing the sense of empowerment patrons feel when they learn how to take something apart, get a closer look at how things work, diagnose the problem, and, more often than not, walk away with a beloved item that now has renewed life. There’s something magical about it.” 

If you have a stack of items waiting for a CHaRM event or Fix-It Clinic, don’t panic! Although these programs have been put on hold due to the pandemic, URA is finding creative ways to help you get the necessary information about how to manage hard to recycle materials and repairs. It is URA’s goal to expand Fix-It Clinics in the future, going beyond the Wasatch region to help individuals statewide reach their zero waste goals.

Looking Ahead: Trash Talks & Zero Waste Documentary

While URA’s in-person events are paused, they’re still busy helping educate residents about zero waste opportunities. The organization recently launched a virtual Trash Talk Series that addresses waste and recycling topics including sustainable fashion, food waste, and hard to recycle materials.

Sarah loves the variety of subjects covered in the Trash Talk Series. Moreover, “it’s not just about one person disseminating all knowledge; it’s a platform for learning from each other, the successes and pitfalls we have all experienced. No one person has it all figured out – but as we work and talk together, we become stronger.”

URA has even bigger plans starting next month. URA will launch a new project that has never been done in Utah: a community sourced documentary all about what Utahns around the state are doing to reduce waste, creatively reuse, or otherwise work towards a zero waste lifestyle.

David says URA is looking for contributions from everyone. “Whether you are tackling food waste at home, volunteering for river cleanups, or working in sustainability, wherever and whatever you’re up to, URA wants to know about it!”

If you’re already brimming with ideas about the best thrift stores, your zero waste kitchen techniques, or repair tricks, URA is requesting 1-3-minute entries in the form of selfies, interview-style, or in-action videos. URA wants to know more about your zero-waste community! Check out the entry form for more information.

This unique documentary project is scheduled to debut at the 2021 Zero Waste Awards.

Take steps to reduce waste everywhere – and make sure disposables don’t end up as litter!

Support a Zero Waste Future

David and Sarah offered a few tips to get you started on your path to zero waste:

  • Do a Mini Waste Audit – examine your household’s practices and identify ways you can reduce waste or opt for zero waste whenever possible.
  • Reduce Food Waste – even during the pandemic, when there’s been a surge of single-use disposables, food waste is in our control
  • Make Thoughtful Consumer Choices – be mindful about your consumption. Because many of the materials entering our homes are not easily recycled, try to find alternatives before you buy.
  • Enjoy the Great Outdoors – Sarah says this will help our overall well-being and remind us why we remain committed to protecting the planet.
  • Find Specialty Recycler Programs for hard to recycle materials.

Join the next Trash Talk on January 12th at 12:00pm for tips on how to go zero waste at home. You can stay up to date with URA on Facebook and Instagram and through the URA newsletter.

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