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Building a Green Culture with Choice

September 28, 2016 - 8:20am

Picture: Amber Weckworth (far left) is the manager of the Education and Environmental Performance Section within the Environmental and Corporate Initiatives Division. Weckworth and her team, (left to right) Shannon Dyck, Rebecca Anderson, Daniel Mireault, Katie Burns, as well as Melanie Laine and Matthew Regier (not pictured), are responsible for providing information, raising awareness, and enabling green choices in our community and at work. 

The City’s Education and Environmental Performance (EEP) Section manages a diverse portfolio of environmental programs, with a particular focus on waste diversion. Some of these programs include: curbside recycling for single-family homes and multi-unit complexes, home composting, public space recycling, household hazardous waste drop-off events, and Saskatoon Curbside Swap; as well as promoting other City waste diversion programs. To ensure efforts are a success, they focus on education, engagement, and strategic partnerships. “Each of the programs depends heavily on partnerships with internal and community partners including the City’s Communications and Water & Waste Stream Divisions, the Saskatchewan Waste Reduction Council, Loraas Recycle, Cosmopolitan Industries, and many others,” says Amber Weckworth, EEP Section Manager.

The team continuously improves the tactics, design and delivery of these programs through discussions with partners, citizen surveys, and best practice research.  Composting and Recycling Coaches and the Saskatoon Curbside Swap initiative are among the recent developments to come from these engagement and research efforts. Coaches are volunteers from the community trained by City staff in the “dos and don’ts” of their respective diversion program who take this knowledge to the community to help others troubleshoot and learn. “In the last few years, people have become very enthusiastic about waste diversion. For instance, our Compost and Recycling Coaches are volunteers who spend their free time educating others because they care about this community and environmental stewardship,” says Dyck.

An example of community enthusiasm is the Curbside Swap pilot project that launched in 2014 encouraging the reuse of gently used household items and community building through “swapping” at the curb. Last year, five neighbourhood-level swaps occurred in addition to the city-wide swap in September. Participation in the events was encouraging, with more than 800 people indicating their participation on Facebook and over 50 homes confirmed to have placed items on their curbs.

New in 2016 is a change to the public space recycling program. Mireault describes that, after moving away from Metro Bins, stakeholder consultations led to the creation of a new program that better fits the aesthetics of Saskatoon's Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), namely Downtown, Riversdale, and Broadway. The new brightly coloured bottle baskets attach directly to public waste containers, enabling waste diversion options. The new baskets have been so successful that creating “paper baskets” is next on the list. “To create a culture of recycling and waste diversion, we need to make sure people have choices at home, at work, and when out enjoying our city,” says Mireault.

“Everything we do is based on research into what citizens want, best practices, and collaboration with our partners,” states Weckworth. Major education and engagement efforts have been directed by program satisfaction survey data, as well as responses to open-ended questions regarding barriers to recycling. For instance, the “Blue Approved” and “Angry Banana” marketing campaigns worked to counter confusion related to what is and isn't accepted in Saskatoon's waste diversion programs.

However, facts and data don’t do all the talking with this team - creativity also plays a role in how they get information out to the community. The Let’s Roll Team and Rolling Education Unit (REU) are characteristic examples of this. The REU is a transportable education station that informs citizens about waste diversion options in Saskatoon through three interactive games, including sort-your-stuff basketball, a waste trivia wheel, and timed digital iPad game. The REU was created through a partnership with the Saskatchewan Waste Reduction Council, Loraas Recycle, and Cosmopolitan Industries. The Let’s Roll Team is made up of students and volunteers, and operates at festivals and community events. In 2015, the REU and Let’s Roll Recycling Team engaged more than 13,000 residents through face-to-face discussions.

Waste elimination and diversion is a key part of the City’s Environmental Leadership Strategic Goal. In 2015, a total of 29,623 tonnes of waste was diverted from the City’s landfill through civic programs, equalling a waste diversion rate of 21%. This is a slight decline from 2014’s waste diversion rate of 22.5% and far from the City’s overall target of 70% by 2023. However, year-after-year, interest is growing in diversion programming. The next steps to achieving the City’s ambitious ten-year target is continuous improvement of existing programs, and getting larger initiatives up and running, such as Recovery Park, a one-stop-shop for waste diversion at the landfill.

In the meantime, the team’s positive attitude and dedication to their work continues - recognized by external organizations with awards for the Student Action for Sustainable Future program and the Rolling Education Unit. The team enthusiastically agrees, “Come talk to us! We are here to help you get started and build sustainability and green-thinking into your work.”

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