By Amanda Luniewicz
At the 18th Annual Recycling Awards ceremony on November 5, 2013, Bedford Public Work’s Gretchen Carey was named one of three Recycler of the Year Award finalists for her impressive work as Bedford’s part-time Recycling Coordinator. For the past year, Carey has worked tirelessly to increase the prevalence of recycling in the local community. Her many efforts to bring recycling programs into the schools, police and fire departments—as well as to educate the public through public service videos—are motivated in part by her belief that if people are asked to recycle, it is important to make it easy and accessible for them to do so.
A significant realm of Carey’s recycling success has been within the Bedford Public Schools. “Bedford’s been terrifically responsive,” Carey commented in a recent interview. One of her biggest concerns is that students be taught about the changes regarding recycling and the environment, and what they can do; adding that it is “terrible to foretell doom and not tell them how they can do something about it.”
To ensure that interested students have the means to further educate themselves in this field, Carey has arranged for a scholarship to be awarded annually to one “outstanding recycling student” each year, selected by Bedford High School teacher Michael Griffin, and funded by the refuse collection company, Allied Waste.
Additionally, this past October 5th, Carey helped organize a paper shredding and electronic waste event, hosted by the DPW. Residents watched as their outdated personal and confidential documents were shredded free of charge by a Doc Shredding Mobile; and also dropped off electronic waste for the DPW to dispose of properly. Ultimately 7,485 pounds of paper and 5,427 pounds of e-waste were disposed of.
A self-proclaimed “environmental junkie” ever since her daughter inspired her to become an activist for recycling seven years ago, it comes as no surprise that Carey continues to pour her energy into making recycling the norm. Lately, she has been reaching out to churches and to condominium units not previously included in the town’s recycling initiatives. While many churches already recycle, many would love to do more. Carey wants to get condos included in the loop, and helps them create systems for recycling waste.
Another piece of her works in progress is a so-called “welcome wagon” that would give a recycling bin and pertinent information to new Bedford residents. “Sometimes it’s just letting people know what’s okay [in order to get them involved in recycling].” says Carey.
Carey also says that she is working on an online “recyclopedia”—a useful resource for people to find ways to recycle items they no longer want or need. Carey also gave an example of how she donated some old office supplies to the local Kids’ Club, which used them for arts and crafts projects.
With a resume as expansive as Carey’s it is not surprising that the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has asked her to join the Board of Directors of Mass Recycle. Carey is especially interested in participating because Mass Recycle brings representatives from many different parts of the industry to the Board and provides a good opportunity for sharing strategies and points of view. She added that she is happy to bring a municipal perspective to the Board.
As a top finalist, Carey was in respectable company. The winner of this year’s Recycling Award, Fabienne Eliacin, has impressive accomplishments of her own, including implementing green programs such as biodegradable keycards and reusable garment bags at the Intercontinental Hotel in Boston. Although Carey’s bid for the Recycler of the Year Award did not prevail this time around, she genuinely praised Eliacin, saying, “If I didn’t win, I was glad to see her [work recognized].”