When Theresa Carter began in December 2019 as Housing Director at Echo Ridge, in Oakdale, MN, she couldn’t help but notice 50 lovely ceramic mugs with the Echo Ridge logo—all arranged neatly near the coffee station in the community dining room. Going deeper, she found a cabinet full of real plates and drawers full of metal flatware. Curiously, there was not a Styrofoam cup, paper plate nor plastic fork in sight.
Theresa soon learned about the community-wide, eco-friendly initiative of the 120+ residents and two staff of Echo Ridge to reduce, reuse and recycle, not only in the dining room but throughout the campus. Last summer, the residents and staff put their heads together to learn more and do more to make the community more earth friendly. Today, on Earth Day, they can show how their efforts are paying off.
Less trash, more recycling
It all started when residents noticed the volume of unsorted trash the community was producing and how little was being recycled. Deb Lawrence, the former Housing Director, reached out to Washington County to find out what they might do. Rob Murray, county senior environmental specialist, came to the community to assess the situation and help the community create a plan. He also brought instructive signs and led an educational presentation to inform residents about recycling practices. He gave every resident a special recycling bag for their apartment (pictured left).
Echo Ridge applied for a county grant that would support costs to implement change and was awarded $10,000 (pictured right). The grant enabled them to move forward with their plans, which included placing new outdoor recycling containers at the main entrance, upgrading the door to the trash room to make it accessible and replacing the trash chute so that it is much easier for residents to open. The trash room also has recycling bins and clear signage about what is recyclable and how to sort. Small recycling baskets were placed in the laundry room and additional large containers in the garage to provide a ready and convenient alternative to throwing recyclable bottles and packaging in the trash.
Although living at Echo Ridge doesn’t include dining services, residents have regularly gathered for a shared potluck or catered meals. So, grant funds were used to purchase those beautiful, washable mugs, as well as plates and flatware for use at community meals, special gatherings and daily coffee circles. “Of course, COVID-19 and social distancing has curtailed these gatherings for now but I know our residents are eager to get together again as soon as they can,” said Theresa. “What a celebration that will be!”
Residents step up
Echo Ridge residents Lois Plath, Sharon Robasse and Bonnie Perkins stepped up to the cause. They knew that it was not enough to install and upgrade equipment. They became advocates promoting changes in the Echo Ridge culture to help people understand and practice recycling. Lois said, “Everybody here to some degree, wants to do the right thing. It’s just about how we can make easy it for them to do that.”
Sharon recognizes that she has become more conscientious about recycling. When she sees recyclable items in the trash, she’ll remove, sort and place them in the proper recycling bins. "I want to make things good for the community and the earth. I think our kids and grandkids will benefit from us all doing this now," she said.
The benefits are obvious. Doug Wakefield, environmental services engineer at Echo Ridge, has reported a visible reduction in non-recyclable trash. He’s also found that the new recycling bins fill regularly. Another benefit is the cost savings to the residents at Echo Ridge and Presbyterian Homes & Services. Theresa reports, “On average, we are saving around $200 a month on paper products alone, since we no longer purchase Styrofoam cups, paper plates or disposable plasticware.”
It’s just what we do
Short-term goals and gains achieved, Bonnie, Sharon and Lois now aim for long-term sustainability. “We wanted to make changes that look like they’ve always been here and feel like it’s just what we do,” said Bonnie. “It’s all very functional and makes sense to us,” she added. Now, when new residents move in, they receive information about recycling and eco-friendly standards and practices at the community. They also get one of the special recycling bags as a welcome gift.
Theresa is pleased with how the residents hold themselves accountable to each other. “This is a standing topic at resident meetings to raise awareness, share success and give each other reminders,” she said. She’s also witnessed residents giving gentle, in-the-moment reminders to others to toss recyclables into the right bin and not the trash.
“This initiative helps to support and expand how we practice the PHS value of Stewardship at Echo Ridge,” Theresa explains. “Not only does God call us to be good financial stewards but good stewards of our environment as well. We are all called to play our part in recycling and reducing waste,” she said.
What eco-friendly actions are you taking on this Earth Day and every day?