The Power of Green
Adding Recycling Services While Saving Money at One Memphis Retirement Community
Words by Heidi Rupke
Photos by Aleks Antonio
When Jack and Cathy Richbourg moved into Trezevant Manor–a Memphis senior living facility with about 400 residents–in June 2018, Jack was unusually excited about one feature of the community: their advertised recycling services.
“I had been driving to Shelby Farms from my house to drop off my recycling and now it would be much more convenient,” Jack said.
Unfortunately, about the time Jack and Cathy moved, the Chinese market for recyclables collapsed and many local haulers stopped collecting items from businesses and nonprofits like Trezevant. Disappointed, Jack and Cathy started scheming about how to make their life at Trezevant more environmentally friendly. They had recently seen a presentation on composting given by Mike Larrivee of Compost Fairy and Atlas Organics at the Church of the River and agreed that his message about waste diversion (i.e. not sending items to a landfill) needed to reach others in their new community. They invited Mike to present at Trezevant. On the scheduled day, Mike and Jack went to the spacious Trezevant meeting room. No one else showed up.
Even then, Jack didn’t back down. He invited Mike to return on another date and Jack personally recruited his neighbors to attend. This time, Mike Larrivee presented to a full house. While he was there, Mike tipped off Jack and Cathy about one of his partners in sustainability, Nancy Chung.
Jack called Nancy, an environmental consultant whose business is Green365. She, in turn, shared Madeleine Edwards’s contact information. Madeleine Edwards runs Get Green Recycleworks, a hauling service for businesses and nonprofits. Madeleine and Nancy learned from Jack that residents wanted to start a recycling program and had the tentative support of administration to do so. At that juncture, recycling was deemed an easier first step than composting.
“I agreed to it, but only if it didn’t cost Trezevant extra money since I didn’t want to have to raise service fees,” says Trezevant CEO Kent Phillips.
Madeleine and Nancy prepared their presentation about recycling. They emphasized the importance of separating items properly, of knowing what actually belongs in recycling bins, of breaking down cardboard boxes, and of making sure that items are clean, empty and dry. (Food or other residue contaminates items in a load that would otherwise be suitable for recycling.) Jack and the newly formed Green Team agreed to reinforce these practices with residents with continuing education classes. After Nancy and Madeleine left, no one knew quite how this new recycling venture would turn out.
“We have an aging population that sometimes gets stuck in their ways. Sometimes they’re not as quick to pick it up as a younger population,” says Jack.
Over the following eighteen months, three blue recycling bins were set up in a centralized location on campus. Madeleine picked up and monitored the weight of recyclables diverted from the landfill. Kent kept track of expenses with their waste hauler and with Get Green Recycleworks. Jack held semi-regular Green Team meetings—“I’d rather do things than talk about doing them, which is what a lot of meetings are”—and recycling education for new and newly interested residents. During this time, Jack also pushed for replacing foam to-go meal containers with reusable plastic ones and hung signs describing the environmental impact of foam at the to-go meal table. Slowly and surely, Trezevant residents broke down their cardboard boxes, rinsed and dried their containers, and brought items to those blue bins.
In the summer of 2021, Madeleine, Nancy, Jack and Kent looked at the data they had been collecting since November 2019 and no one could quite believe what they found: Trezevant residents and staff had diverted more than 100,000 pounds of materials from the landfill over those eighteen months. Their contamination rate was the lowest of all of Madeleine’s customers. And even though Trezevant was now paying for two vendors instead of one, total costs had still decreased by about $800 per month.
“This was a bit of an epiphany for me,” says Kent. “Management was pretty skeptical about all of this recycling business; we saw this as just an added cost. Lo and behold, using Get Green Recycleworks is saving us roughly $800 a month over using the waste management services alone.”
Kent has studied the numbers and tried to figure out the reason for this drop.
“I’m still baffled, since it seems like we should be paying more if we use two vendors. My theory is that there’s a certain psychology at play here. If you’re intentionally recycling, you’re thinking about how you’re processing waste. Just that thought process causes people to be more efficient in creating and processing waste,” says Kent.
When asked why he started the Green Team and recycling efforts at Trezevant, Jack goes back to that presentation at the Church of the River.
“There’s a spiritual aspect to this. It’s an act of faith for me. Instead of despoiling God’s creation, we [can] treat it with respect. For me, throwing Styrofoam in a landfill is like throwing it on the altar of a chapel. If we take care of the earth, it takes care of us,” says Jack.
With more thoughtful waste habits and a great story under their belts, the folks at Trezevant Manor have their eye on another waste diversion tactic: composting. They don’t know exactly where this will lead, but their recycling success has buoyed them. And they love telling others what they have learned firsthand about waste diversion.
As Jack puts it, “It’s not just the right thing to do; it’s the smart, economic thing to do too.”