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Released On: November 30, 2012

Reclamation's Green Dream Team
Kerry Whitford and Rachel Zilkowski pose with one of the recycling stations DENVER - The Bureau of Reclamation's Recycling Pilot Program in Denver, Colo. has been awarded a 2012 Department of the Interior Environmental Achievement Award. Kerry Whitford and her dedicated team were the winners in the "Green Dream Team" category for inspiring sustainable practices and establishing the framework for a successful recycling program.

"Focusing on sustainable practices, energy efficiency and conservation is crucial," said Reclamation Commissioner Michael L. Connor. "I am proud of Reclamation’s latest step toward creating a clean, healthy environment."

The Department of the Interior Environmental Achievement Awards are given to recognize those who have attained exceptional achievements under President Barack Obama’s executive order, "Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy and Economic Performance," which recognizes those with a commitment to reaching sustainability goals. They serve to recognize exceptional achievements at every organizational level.

When Kerry Whitford was approached, then approached again – and then yet again – by her coworkers about recycling on the 14th floor, she knew Reclamation had a green problem. Now, dozens of posters, hundreds of recycling tips and a full pilot recycling program later, Reclamation's "green dream team" is proud of the effort's recognition.

"Bringing everyone together to encourage recycling was crucial," says Whitford. "It demonstrated that we could all come from different groups and backgrounds and coordinate a strong program."

"There was such a need and desire for it," says Whitford.

After being approached by so many of her coworkers, Whitford sought out Miriam Buntyn, the General Services Administration lead for recycling at the Denver Federal Center. Whitford proposed a pilot recycling program for the 14th floor of Building 67 to not only meet employee demand and increase waste diversion, but to also test best management practices and discover issues prior to implementing a recycling program DFC-wide.

Before the pilot began, Whitford worked with Rachel Zilkowski, a program analyst student trainee at the time, and Loretta Montez, the GSA and custodial staff manager, to conduct a waste audit on the 14th floor. Their discoveries, done in a two week period, were shocking: almost all of the mixed waste, short of paper recycled by the GSA and some aluminum cans collected by staff, were going into the trash. Many recyclable items, like plastics, cans, cardboard and paper, were being discarded.

"Once we got it together, they used it," explains Whitford. "I think the pilot went well because there was a need."

The pilot program, which was conducted from Oct. 1, 2011 to Dec. 31, 2011, came after a December 2010 audit that found only 30 percent of waste was being recycled in all of Building 67 – falling far short of the 50 percent requirements. On top of that stunning statistic, there were few items being recycled beyond office paper.

Coordinating with Roseanne Gonzales, Reclamation's Senior Sustainability Officer, the pilot program ensured there were large, desk-side paper recycling bins for all 14th floor employees, three recycling stations in the break rooms and hallways and recycling stations for paper and mixed-waste were in every conference room. The pilot also included a voluntary challenge to employees: trade in your trash can for a mini-bin – which you are responsible for emptying – and become more aware of your waste habits.

The results of the pilot program were staggering. In only two weeks, the number of respondents who "recycle everything they can at work" increased from 37 percent to 73 percent. Of those who signed up for the mini-bin challenge, 86 percent were made more aware of the trash they had, and 38 percent agreed that the program made them reduce their waste generation. The most important finding, according to post-pilot surveys, was respondents' awareness of recycling increased not only in the pilot area, but in the entire DFC.

"Personally delivering the recycling and mini trash bins meant everyone was responsible for seeing the waste they generated," concludes Whitford, sitting across from her own miniature trash can. "The coolest thing was getting it done together."

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Reclamation is the largest wholesale water supplier and the second largest producer of hydroelectric power in the United States, with operations and facilities in the 17 Western States. Its facilities also provide substantial flood control, recreation, and fish and wildlife benefits. Visit our website at www.usbr.gov.