Recycle Utah celebrates 25 years of Faithfulness
From grass-roots origins, the nonprofit continues its sustainable mission
Recycle Utah, which has been on its mission to help people lead sustainable lives since 1990, is celebrating its 25th anniversary.The nonprofit, housed in a 5,000-square-foot facility at 1951 Woodbine Way, is open year round, except for Sundays and major holidays, and accepts 40 different recyclable materials such as plastics, papers, glass, and an array of hazardous wastes such as batteries, mobile phones and computers.
It also offers curbside pickups in designated areas in Summit County and prides itself for preventing an average of 200 tons of recyclable materials from being sent to the landfill every month, according to Executive Director Insa Riepen,
Riepen is proud the organization still serves the community after 2½ decades.
“Recycle Utah was founded in 1990 by Park City citizens concerned with the lack of recycling in the Park City area,” she said. “Today, we are fortunate our founders prioritized the need for a recycling center within our community, but our work is never finished. Our organization’s capabilities are limited by our ability to raise money.”
One of those fundraisers, the Aqua Affair, will be held on Sunday, Sept. 13, at Deer Valley Resort’s Silver Lake Lodge.
“Our operations depend on the success of this and other fundraising initiatives,” Riepen said.
Recycle Utah’s humble, grass-roots origins can be traced to 1988 when Oregon transplant Scott Becker was sitting on a porch swing enjoying a Wasatch Brewery beer.
“I lived on Swede Alley in a tiny Old Town house and I told myself I needed to get a job at the brewery that was bottling the beer in a building on Iron Horse Drive,” Becker said during a phone call from Portland, Oregon, where he heads the Black Dog Art Ensemble, a nonprofit that produces and sponsors place-based art experiments in ecology and culture. “I wrote a letter to Mellie Pullman who was one of the first female brewmasters. I was 25 at the time and got the coveted job on the bottle line for about a year.
“Part of the bottle-line workers’ job was to throw away all the broken and misfilled bottles. “We had dumpsters full of glass and we had to take it all to the dump,” Becker said. “I had grown up in Oregon and always recycled beer bottles. We got something like 5 cents a bottle, so I knew all of that stuff was worth money.”
Becker contacted some recycling companies in Salt Lake City and asked if they could come up and pick up the bottles.
“They all said, ‘No way,’ and said brown glass wasn’t worth anything,” he said, laughing. “They told us it was cheaper to throw away the bottles than recycle them.”
A few days later, one of the companies called back.
“I can’t remember the name of the place, but it’s out of business now,” Becker said.
“Anyway, he told me that he would come pick up the bottles as long as we gave him all of the community’s mixed office paper waste, because he needed to justify his trip.”Becker agreed.
“What can I say,” he laughed. “I was 25 and very optimistic.”
Becker and a group of people approached businesses, ski resorts and anyone they could think of who had waste paper. Along the way, they acquired some big cardboard boxes.
“We went to Hardees and asked if we could set up these boxes by their oil bins so people could drop off their paper,” Becker said. “The guy would come up and take all of the paper and all of the bottles, which soon became all of the community’s bottles.”
At that time, the Park City Beautification Board was already recycling newspapers.
So Becker, who became known as the Garbage Guru, added that into the mix.”We outgrew the dumpster space and behind it was the Gasparac Bulk Oil, which was owned by the railroad,” he said. “I asked them if we could lease part of that space and they said yes.”
So, the newly formed Park City Recycling Center had a new home, which former City Council member Sally Elliott remembered.
“The place is where Rite Aid is now,” Elliott said. “It smelled strongly of oil. It was awful, but it was a place for us to do what we wanted to do.”
Elliott said she and several others, including Wasatch Brewery owner Greg Schirf and Morning Ray Bakery’s Paula McGee, along with then owner of Park City Magazine Jan Wilking, developer Harry Reed and realtor Barbara Sweeney Hughes, had already talked about getting a recycling program going.
“We would meet upstairs in the Wasatch Brewery,” she said. “I don’t remember any free beer, but we decided that we needed to make the recycling center into a nonprofit organization.”
That proved to be a challenge, said former board member Karri Dell Hays.
“There were some people, including those who worked for the city, who weren’t on board with the idea,” Dell Hays said. “They didn’t think recycling would ever work. They told us it would never pay for itself and no one wanted to recycle. That was their attitude and it was really awful.”
Still, Dell Hays, who at one time organized two major Recycle Utah fundraisers with the syndicated E-Town radio show in Abravanel Hall in the mid 1990s, continued to rally with the group and raise awareness about its importance.
“Scott started up the annual Earth Day celebration in April that included a 5K and bike race,” she said. “It had a fair with organizations that had information regarding environmental causes.
“After Scott moved, I decided to take it over and did it for six years in a row in various places,” Dell Hays said. “We held it in City Park and there were a couple of years we did it in Park City High School.”
She organized other events and asked coffee shops to donate coffee and bagels.
“Paula McGee owned Morning Ray Bakery and Coffee Shop and donated stuff all the time,” Dell Hays said. “She was a huge contributor.”
“It chafed me to throw stuff out that I knew could be recycled, but I was also a little skeptical about recycling in Utah,” McGee said. “However, Scott Becker just started to make it happen. A bunch of folks rallied around that. The community was so important in the history of Recycle Utah and thank God for people like Sally Elliott and Tom Clyde.”
Clyde was the one who wrote the legal documents that would be used to make Recycle Utah a nonprofit organization.
“At that time, there was a real push for nonprofits that had been operating with good intentions off people’s kitchen tables to get more formally organized and structured,” Clyde said. “I took one through the corporation and the IRS nonprofit process, which was just an absurd sort of paper chase. And since I did it once, everyone figured I was the go-to guy, especially since I did it for free.”
Clyde, who is a columnist for The Park Record, wasn’t keen on recycling back then.
“I wasn’t a true believer of the cause,” he said, laughing. “Twenty-five years ago, recycling was an idea that needed explanation. It was still a new and wild-eyed tree-hugger concept.”
Today, Clyde is a dutiful recycler.
“I recycle as much as I reasonably can and get chewed out by Insa on a regular basis,” he said with another laugh.
A few years before Riepen became executive director, the job went to Mary Morrison, who served as executive director fro 1993 to 1999.
“I came in during a time when we had a little teeny center that had maybe 30 containers surrounded by a wooden fence,” said Morrison, who is now an acupuncturist in Maryland. “They had already created a foundation and I think they looked to me to help scale up and locate other potential drop-off centers.”
She also created the Good Wood Project with a grant from the U.S. Forest Service and did outreach programs in the schools throughout the county.
“I would usually take something that was made of recycled materials so the students could see the transformations,” Morrison said. “I would bring in glass tiles, and I would bring in two-liter bottles and some Patagonia fleece that was made out of recycled plastics to show that the empty bottle was still worth something. My goal was to make recycling visual.”
That’s when Morrison created a poster that showed how many trees one ton of recycled paper would save.
“Back then 2,000 pounds of recycled paper would save one tree,” Morrison said. “We had a poster up in the facility so people would see what they were doing when they recycled.
“I’m impressed with what Insa and the board have accomplished today,” Morrison said. “They’re still rocking and rolling and have been able to keep this alive. Running a small nonprofit and wearing all of these hats is never an easy job, but the time I was in Park City was the best time of my life and I want to wish everyone well.”
For more information about Recycle Utah, visit www.recycleutah.org.