Started in 2009 by former Mayor Lois Shelton, the Wayne Green Team just celebrated 10 years of service last month. Over the last decade, the community green team has had a huge impact! They have recycled over 100,000 pounds of electronics, 79 tons of glass, 1,000 pounds of string lights, and 526 pounds of batteries. They’ve hosted: 5 Earth Day movies, 4 Green Expos, 3 Household Hazardous Waste events and 2 Green Move Outs at WSC. And, they’ve have raised $42,000 in grant funds.

We spoke with Sandy Brown of the Wayne Green Team for our fourth installment of interviews with NRC members who are making a difference in materials management.

NRC: The Wayne Green Team has made significant achievements over the last 10 years. What are some of your proudest, most impactful moments?

SB: Our electronics recycling events have diverted over 100,000 pounds of electronics from the landfill in 7 years. These events are something our community has come to rely on each year, saving up their electronics until they can be recycled instead of thrown out.

Also, receiving the NRC’s Green Team of the Year Award in 2015. Wow, what an honor. And installing recycling bins up and down our Main Street, in our city parks, and in our community activity center in 2016-17. We also mobilized to prevent a fee being charged on the drop off of recycling materials and our transfer station last year. And hosted two Green Move Outs at Wayne State College, making significant impact in reducing waste and recirculating good furniture and household items back into the local market.

We’ve become the go-to resource in town for questions about how to recycle, how to live greener and make greater impacts for our community.

NRC: What have been the most difficult aspects of implementing a new program and how did you handle them?

SB: Coordinating the logistics for an event is challenging at first, but after doing it once, you can figure out ways to improve and create a road map that only gets easier after the first time. The electronics recycling events have been smooth to operate each year. Unfortunately, the Green Move Outs were too time-intensive for the GT to handle. We transitioned the program to the college, but it did not continue as we had hoped with the same degree of our past success. Often a struggle is finding money via grants to fund programs. It took us 3 tries to receive the Keep America Beautiful grant and fund our 32 park recycling bins. Worth the effort for the $14,000 in great outdoor bins, though!

NRC: Were there any unexpected barriers?

SB: Now that we have these great park recycling bins, an unexpected barrier is the contamination that occurs. We need to work on improving labeling on the bins, and continue to educate our community on how to recycle right. It can get discouraging at times. Also, the battery recycling program has become so successful that it’s become too expensive. We were not prepared to handle the volume and the costs so we have had to modify it to reduce what we will accept, and are looking for ways to fundraise now.

NRC: Were there any unanticipated benefits?

SB: Becoming a resource and inspiration for other small towns in Nebraska, making connections across the state, and providing a road map for how to implement similar zero waste programs. It was a huge success when Kim Burge got glass recycling in Bristow and Valentine after we were able to share with her details on our program.

NRC: What are some of the ways the GT educates and motivates Wayne residents to act more sustainably?

SB: We always say yes when asked to speak at a community meeting, school, or a public event. Getting the word out about our efforts and how citizens can help is a great way to educate and motivate. We provide a clear website with good, updated content, and have created visually appealing graphics and flyers to tell our story.

Our intent is to make it easy to reduce waste by providing access to recycling and promoting other ways to reuse. Our town has a thriving resale economy.

NRC: How does the City of Wayne support the Green Team and what’s been most helpful?

SB: The City provides clout. We are not just a volunteer group, but we are a branch of the City, formally started by our mayor, and given support through some funding and lots of staff help. The City provides a page on the city’s website for the Green Team and its efforts. They provide space for a regular Green Note in the city’s monthly utility newsletter, and printing and lamination of copies and posters when needed. They also help implement recycling programs in city buildings, facilities, and parks. And most of all, they provide support as partners.

NRC: Do you have any advice for other communities trying to improve their recycling and sustainability initiatives?

SB: Start with who the stakeholders are/should be. Get them on board. Having the City behind us has been so valuable. Then reach out to schools, businesses, the Chambers and others to create a team of volunteers. Make sure you always thank your team and the community for their efforts. Use social media and local press to promote your efforts, change behavior, and share results.

NRC: If you had the power to change anything in the overall system of materials management, what would you do?

SB: We need more transparency with the system. People want to know what happens to the materials, where it goes, how much it’s worth, then they’re more motivated to do a better job of sorting, minimizing contamination, and increasing their recycling.  

NRC: Why did Wayne join NRC?

SB: They are a fantastic resource, with so much knowledge and information, not to mention encouragement and motivation. Call and you’ll get your questions answered.  It’s nice to know NRC can be such a resource so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time, and so we can be more efficient in the work we do as community volunteers, with very limited time. NRC has also given us opportunities to think outside of the box, beyond our community. This organization makes a difference in impacting behavior for the better so we can lead sustainable lives and help protect our resources. Thank you!

NRC: Thank YOU for sharing information about and insights into Wayne’s Green Team, Sandy! We’re proud to have you as members and you all serve as a great model for other Nebraska communities.