Connie Wiggins was raised with the philosophy that she should leave things better than she found them. For her, she has taken that to heart, and is now leading Gwinnett's fight to increase participation in recycling.
"Recycling is an easy, simple thing everyone can do," Wiggins said. "What with Earth Day right on us, now is also a good time to remind people that it is a small way everyone can make a big difference."
As executive director of Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful and the coordinator of recycling for the county, Wiggins knows just about everything there is to know about how to recycle.
She knows that there are nearly 300 recycling drop-off sites in the county, open 24 hours, seven days a week. She knows that all of Gwinnett's cities, except for one, Buford, offer curbside recycling pickup for homeowners. She also knows that approximately $75 million worth of recyclable materials from Gwinnett are tossed into landfills every year.
"These are materials like cardboard boxes, plastic bottles, aluminum cans, that can be recycled into products that area businesses and industries need," she said. "Instead, these materials are just thrown away. It could save them a lot of money."
One of the biggest challenges Wiggins faces is with Gwinnett businesses. Although many companies are interested in recycling, the cost of transporting loads and loads of materials from the pickup site to the recycling plant makes it less than feasible. However, in an effort to work out the kinks and make the process easier, Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful offers waste auditing for medium and large corporations.
"This is where we go in and look at the materials the company is using and help reduce waste. We also help them use materials that are more readily recycled and make suggestions on what they should buy," she said.
Though Wiggins is quick to note how simple it is to recycle, she also points out there are common mistakes people make. Recycling mounds of newspapers still in the plastic sleeves, for instance, can cause a problem in production later on.
"If you're on vacation and you're just too tired to read all your Gwinnett Daily Posts, don't just throw all the papers in the recycling bin," she said. "You should remove the plastic sleeve. It makes the recycled product more usable."
A list of common mistakes and ways to avoid them is listed on the Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful Web site, www.gwinnettcb.org.
As Gwinnett has experienced phenomenal growth in recent years, so, too, has the recycling industry. While many residents do participate in recycling, there are still those who just don't. Apartment dwellers, for example, are major waste offenders.
As an incentive to get more citizens involved, Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful offers payment for many recyclable materials. Paper pays back one cent per pound, while aluminum cans bring 50 cents per pound. Money collected from recycled materials can also be donated to accounts set up to aid area nonprofit organizations, such as Relay for Life, and specific area schools.
"It's not a get-rich-quick plan, but it helps," Wiggins said. "It might help you make a buck or two. And some organizations have raised a few hundred dollars with their recycle accounts."
The greatest motivator for recycling, though, should be the ways it benefits the planet, she said. From recycled materials, new products can be made. That means less energy has to be used to create materials, and it also helps reduce dependency on fossil fuels and the amount of waste in landfills, she said.
"In today's world, there are many reasons why people should recycle," she said. "The biggest factor is that it helps to conserve energy. For example, one recycled aluminum can will power a computer for four hours. Just think of all that recycled materials can do."
If you are a homeowner not currently receiving curbside recycling pick-up, the service can be activated by contacting your garbage service provider, according to the Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful Web site. Providers are required to offer recycling pick-up free of charge, but a one-time fee for the recycling bin of about $10, may be charged.
In Gwinnett County, all residential waste haulers are required to pick up the following recyclables with curbside garbage service: newspapers, plastics coded with a No. 1 or 2 (look for a number surrounded by a triangle of arrows), aluminum cans, steel cans and glass bottles.
The county's biggest recycling center is the Recycling Bank of Gwinnett, located at 4300 Satellite Blvd. in Duluth. The bank accepts aluminum cans, plastic bottles, newspaper, white computer paper, office paper, magazines, corrugated boxes, phone books, steel cans, glass bottles and junk mail.
But there are plenty of other places to recycle materials in Gwinnett. Here's a list of where to take a few popular items:
Where to recycle
•Aluminum cans can be recycled at fire stations in most cities, as well as at the Recycling Bank of Gwinnett, Snellville Recycling Center, American Paper Recycling in Lawrenceville, Tullis Metal in Buford, and Blaze Recycling and Newell Recycling in Norcross.
•Corrugated cardboard can be recycled at the Recycling Bank of Gwinnett, Snellville Recycling Center, SP Recycling in Lawrenceville and Caraustar/Paper Recycling in Doraville.
•Magazines can be recycled at the Recycling Bank of Gwinnett, Snellville Recycling Center, SP Recycling in Lawrenceville, Waste Management in Lawrenceville and Fire Station No. 4 in Norcross.
•Newspaper recycling bins are located at most local churches, schools, post offices and fire stations. You'll also find a bin at the Gwinnett Daily Post office in Lawrenceville.
•Phone books can be recycled at the Recycling Bank of Gwinnett, Snellville Recycling Center, SP Recycling in Lawrenceville, Sugar Hill Station shopping center, the McClure Bridge Road post office in Duluth, Peachtree Elementary School in Norcross and the Kroger at 3455 Pleasant Hill Road in Duluth.