A Green Business Network Member Spotlight
Get to know fellow Green Business Network member Cassandra Ford. We recently chatted with her to learn more about how she brings recycling to communities through her work at The Recycling Partnership and how tackling waste issues has always been her biggest environmental passion.
Green Business Network member Cassandra Ford is a community program coordinator for The Recycling Partnership (TRP), a national nonprofit with more than 50 employees working to transform recycling in towns, cities, and states across the US. Working out of her home in Overland Park, Kan., she helps communities in the Midwest and Southeast, primarily in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, launch new recycling programs or optimize existing ones.
“I’m typically helping a community establish a new curbside recycling program by providing grants to purchase carts and education, but we also do a lot of work with drop-off centers. We can help a community through the whole process, from developing the program to rolling out the carts to the follow-up evaluation.”
High contamination rates are a significant threat to the recycling industry’s viability, so Ford says TRP also focuses heavily on projects that improve the quality of the recycling stream.
“We support some communities with already established programs, but they might have low participation and high contamination. We’re trying to flip those numbers,” she says. “So we provide grants that go directly to the MRFs [MRF stands for material recovery facility, where collected recycling is sorted prior to being sold to end markets] to increase their infrastructure so they can accept and sort more materials.”
Ford says TRP’s work is funded primarily through major brands that have set goals for recycled content in their products and recognize the need to support national recycling efforts to achieve them. TRP uses the funding to assist and offer grants to communities and partners in the recycling industry to increase recycling rates, lower contamination rates, and build infrastructure.
Despite the pandemic, which has halted her ability to travel to the communities with which she works, Ford says The Recycling Partnership is scaling up projects dramatically over the next year. In its first six years, The Partnership worked with about 100 communities in total. In 2021 alone, they expect to work with 100 communities. TRP attributes this in large part to the increased attention recycling has received in recent years, especially with concerns about plastic.
“There’s been a big push and interest in recycling over the last few years from the general population, particularly with cleaning up plastic in the oceans and with a pushback against single-use plastic in general. Plastic is a big part of the recycling problem – how it can be recycled safely and properly, given the current infrastructure we have.”
For example, Ford says, a lot of emphasis right now is on the #5 plastic material called polypropylene.
“It’s a good quality plastic for recycling when it’s sorted out by itself, but right now, it’s often lumped in with other plastics labeled with #s 3 through 7 during the sorting process. We’re trying to leverage how it’s getting captured, making sure it’s getting processed in MRFs the right way, so that overall, we can help strengthen the circular economy.”
This year also has the TRP team anticipating an important milestone.
“One really exciting thing – we’re getting ready to roll out our one millionth cart in the beginning of 2nd quarter. That’s going to be a pretty big deal. We’re all guessing to see what community it will be,” Ford adds.
Recycling and waste diversion has always been Ford’s biggest environmental passion. Prior to coming to The Recycling Partnership in October 2019, she worked most recently as Bridging The Gap’s Business Recycling Program Manager for four years and before that as a waste reduction & recycling specialist for eight years for the City of Lawrence, Kan. In all, she’s been in the waste reduction and recycling industry for 20 years.
“It’s always been my passion and driving force ever since I was little. I didn’t realize until I went to college that you could major in it and turn it into a career. Once I figured that out, I knew it was my path.”
Finding ways to channel her passion into action has been Ford’s thing, even as a young child.
“I have one specific memory. I remember trying to run away from home to try and help clean up the Exxon Valdez oil spill,” she recalls. “My mom caught me packing a bag and asked where I was going. I told her I was going to clean ducks, and she said, “Ok, well you can’t do this, because you’re 10,” but I did end up doing a penny drive instead. I took a milk jug to school and collected pennies that I sent to Greenpeace to try and help. I ended up collecting about $200. It was a substantial number of pennies. That disaster made a huge impression on me in terms of environmental sustainability and what was going on.”
She also recalls starting cardboard collection programs in her community as a youth growing up in western Kansas.
“At the time, there weren’t a lot of sustainability options, so it was a lot to try and get that started, but the drive to recycle and make change has always been there.”
Outside of work, Ford currently serves as the chair of the City of Overland Park’s Environmental Advisory Council and is a member of the Green Business Network Steering Committee, both of which she says give her the opportunity to network and meet new people, which she enjoys.
“GBN gives you a platform to talk to other businesses and other people who might be having the same sustainability issues you’re having. We’re so isolated in our own little bubbles, even more so now, that it’s easy to think we’re out there fighting [for environmental progress] all by ourselves. People are struggling with the same things and engaging with others through GBN maybe gives you new ways to think about things.”
To learn more about The Recycling Partnership, click here.