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Empty, Clean, Loose. My Summer Mantra

My experience this summer with Waste Management was a polar opposite, in 21,000 wonderful ways. I say 21,000 because that’s roughly how many people the WM Recycle Corps interns educated about waste reduction, composting and recycling this summer. Our home base was the WM office right here in Auburn, where drivers meet for their morning safety briefing before they go into the community.

A Summer Educating on Waste Reduction and Recycling

WM Recycle Corps intern, colton Rasanen, waste management, waste management northwest, waste management auburn wa, auburn food bank, debbie christian
Colton Rasanen | Courtesy Photo

As a WM intern, my summer began with a crash course on “all things waste reduction and recycling.”

Our supervisors prepared us to help multi-family property managers and businesses set up smart recycling and compost systems. The instruction included how to do outreach work in the community – how to talk one-on-one with people of all ages who had recycling questions or needed a refresher on how to “recycle right.” With a week of intense training behind us, we were ready to make a difference.

Our first task was a bit of warm-up. We were to call 1000 WM customers – property managers and business leaders – to find out how recycling was going at their locations. We followed up the calls by delivering recycling posters and dropping by to meet with tenants and staff. Our mantra for these conversations was simple: empty, clean and loose!

Developing a Good Recycling System

These calls prepared us to answer the tough questions that came later, once we began to work events in the community. Our goal was to help people understand the “why” and the “how” – why it’s so important to put the right materials in the right containers, and how easy it is to recycle right when you have a good system in place.

You may find yourself asking what makes a good recycling system. At home or at work, it begins with containers placed conveniently and labeled so everyone can see what goes where. It’s also important to post your local recycling guide near the containers. Auburn’s guide is on the WM website in Amharic, Chinese, English, Hindi, Korean, Russian, Somali, Spanish and Vietnamese: wmnorthwest.com/auburn

Making an Impact Through Outreach
The outreach work felt brutal at times, as we walked through some huge multi-family properties and knocked on countless doors. The stairs didn’t help much either, but over time we definitely saw an impact. We saw behavior changes and cleaner recycling bins with far fewer contaminants like plastic bags. (Tip: Plastic bags are “tanglers” and don’t belong in your curbside recycling cart. Like rope, cords, and clothing, plastic bags wrap around machinery at recycling plants, forcing equipment shutdowns and unnecessarily increasing the cost of community recycling programs. The best practice is to take plastic bags back to the grocery store for recycling or invest in a reusable bag for your shopping needs.)

The WM interns were even able to help one multi-family property start their recycling efforts. A new property manager decided, after an in-depth site visit, to start a recycling program. Previous management had apparently curtailed recycling due to contamination and organizational problems. With WM’s support, tenants were especially receptive when they found out how much material could be diverted from the landfill. It was an amazing experience to help make recycling happen for the first time at this apartment complex!

All in, the Waste Management internship was a wonderful experience because the work was “hands-on” and because we helped the Auburn community reduce waste and improve recycling. As I head back to college, I take with me a sense of accomplishment – 21,000 interactions aimed at protecting the planet and a mantra that I will continue to share at school and throughout my journey: empty, clean and loose.


Colton Rasanen is a student at Western Washington University, majoring in journalism and public relations.   

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