Tracy Artley

Tracy Artley
Recycling Coordinator,
University of Michigan

Tottered on: 20 November 2006
Temperature: 39F
Ceiling: partly sunny
Ground: damp
Wind: NW at 6 mph


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TT with HD: Tracy Artley


[Ed. note: Mentioned below is the recycling effort at Michigan Stadium as well as a composting effort involving composting with worms at Matthei Gardens]

HD: I think we're ready to go.

TA: Okay! I have not done this in some time, I think that's what most people say?

HD: Yes, indeed.

TA: Alright. Oh, is this my picture?

HD: Yeah, first order of business is to get the picture done and typically I don't include this part in the transcript unless something really really interesting happens ... ... ...

TA: ... in my department we have a little newsletter and my intern chose the picture that went in for our latest story and it was the hamming-it-up picture ...

HD: Of you?

TA: Yeah, which ...

HD: ... so is it hard to get you to ...

TA: ... no, it was just very surprising to see that one in there. It was meant for our own office [laugh].

HD: So that's a circulation of 10 people or less, or more?

TA: No, a lot more. Most all of plant operations. We have probably a couple thousand employees. So it's pretty big.

HD: So when you said, just for your office ...

TA: ... it would have been five people. But it went out to everybody. Oh, I'm not doing my fair share of teetering!

HD: That's alright. Is Steve Kunselman a part of that whole deal, plant operations?

TA: Yeees. I believe he technically is.

HD: Ah, so you know who he is.

TA: Oh, yes, absolutely.

HD: He was here last Friday.

TA: Oh? Great! Yeah, he's on Council now!

HD: Now the reader of Teeter Talk who suggested that you might be an interesting guest said that I should ask you about the composting toilets in the Dana Building. So as a matter of preparation, I took a field trip to the Dana Building and checked out the composting toilet.

TA: Wow.

HD: But actually, doing a little more digging, it seems to me that's not really what you're all about?

TA: Not so much. Those were actually a 'go' before I came on board in this job at the University. I oversee all of the recycling programs at the U. Anything that isn't hazardous. So all of the chemicals--any mercury from old thermometers, batteries, electronics--that all goes through our OSHA department. I deal with all the fun stuff: paper, containers ...

HD: ... so human waste is considered hazardous, or is that just a whole separate category?

TA: That's just a whole separate category. I was not involved with that at all. Composting we do, just not of ...

HD: ... you're talking about the worms out at Mathei?

TA: We were involved with that, somewhat, the Cultivating Community project.

HD: Is that still ongoing?

TA: It is. It absolutely is. It's a very positive and well-received program.

HD: So you also know something about the stadium recycling effort?

TA: I know quite a bit about that. I was actually on a phone call for an hour this morning with somebody at Minnesota, because they're going to start a similar program.

HD: So there'll be a little competition maybe?

TA: There's always competition [laugh].

HD: Well, I mean, I notice on the website you guys have the stadium recycling broken down by game, by opponent, total tons recycled, percentage of the waste stream that represents, estimated water saved, etcetera. Do you do anything that's even more in depth than that? Say, like a factor analysis by conference versus non-conference opponents? [laugh]

TA: No, that's a good point. We haven't yet ...

HD: ... I would think that'd be a good homework exercise for some statistics student.

TA: Absolutely. Well a group out North Carolina State, they actually started this thing called the Aluminum Bowl, which is a recycling competition among schools that recycle at their stadium. This is the first year and I think only six schools are participating and submitting their numbers. Hopefully that will catch on, and then we can compare what we're doing with other schools. Again, that's not as much non-conference versus conference, but something new and exciting in the stadium-recycling realm.

HD: I think it'd be interesting to know if there's, say, a greater rate of recycling when U of M plays somebody not in the Big Ten Conference, or whether they won the game or not. Of course, this year that's a little hard to test, because they won all their home games.

TA: The winning the game thing is interesting--I hadn't thought about that. I would have to say that the non-conference games would have higher recycling, because those are earlier in the season. Earlier in the season we have more water bottles and people consume fewer hot beverages. Water bottles are all recyclable, make our numbers go up. Hot beverages are usually mugs or styrofoam, which we can't recycle unfortunately, so that makes our recycling rate go down.

HD: There must be a tension, I would think, between wanting to have really good recycling numbers and wanting to see those numbers increase, but wanting people to reduce. If people are reducing--in the case of stadium recycling, maybe there's external factors causing people to reduce, like they're not really reducing consumption, it's just that the things that people are consuming are different--I think it would be frustrating to see numbers go down when you know that in actual fact you're having a positive impact? So if people, say, use less paper, because they're going with a paperless solution to some problem in the office, their recycling numbers are going to go down.

TA: Absolutely.

HD: Do you try to address that in any specific way, like a statistic that you can draw out it?

TA: That's a really good point. Justifying our recycling numbers is always something that we have to do, especially if we see a decrease. The way you would get at that is to just look at total waste. We know how much refuse is coming out of the building, how much recycling. If the sum of those is going down year to year and the recycling rate is going down, we can look at those and say, Look, generally they're just reducing their impact. What we have continued to see, though, is an increase in the level of recycling, which is good. But we're actually going to make a big push this winter towards overall waste reduction. So there is a nation-wide collegiate recycling competition called RecycleMania. It's very exciting, I think this will be its 7th year. We participated last year. It was our first year out, we did it on a very small scale. We only focussed on recycling, and we only did it in the residence halls. We wanted to start small, find out what works, what doesn't work.

HD: So this'd be the year to really make a splash?

TA: This year we're going campus-wide and we're focussing not only on recycling, but on waste reduction. And this is the first time in a while, at least since I've been in this position, that we've really done a big outreach push on waste reduction. And it's going to be a shift for people. Our staff and faculty, I'd say they're really good at recycling. They're used to it. Our program has been fairly similar for a long time. You know, you put the paper in the paper bin, you ...

HD: ... yeah, I think people are used to seeing at the copier or at the laser printer, there's a recycle bin there.

TA: And they're doing it, and they feel good about it and it's great. Waste reduction is just going to be a huge paradigm shift for people. We're going to ask people to look at how they approach purchasing, we're going to ask them how they approach their meetings. I really want to focus, make it simple, start with three simple waste reducing steps. One of my biggest pet peeves are meeting agendas.

HD: Handouts? Yeah, but people love handouts, though, Tracy, because it's the tangible evidence that they were there at the meeting. [laugh]

TA: Um hmm. But how many people keep them? I think most of them go into the recycling bin. Especially agendas!

HD: But I think that if it's a meeting offsite, for example, and you have to go to this meeting, retrieving the handout is kind of like the proof you went to the meeting. You come back and you point at it and say, There's all this work I did, you know, Look at all these agenda points, that's the work I was involved in at this meeting, boy I'm tired from it.

TA: Interesting.

HD: So it's bound up psychologically in people's sense of what they do with their time. Yeah, it might end up in the recycling bin, but there's a brief period of time where it plays an important psychological role.

TA: Hmm. That's really interesting to hear, because I've never thought about it like that. I'm much too close to this, so it's good to hear that perspective.

HD: I mean that's just my own possibly unique perspective on it, I do like to have [laugh] ...

TA: ... the satisfaction of taking something away?

HD: Yeah, you say, Okay, this is what I did with that hour of my life ...

TA: And here's the proof.

HD: Yeah, even if it just sits on your desk for a day or two and then you know winds up in the recycling bin. I dunno. I found actually one of the things you were up to back in August was some kind of panel discussion on how to promote paperless meetings?

TA: Green events, yeah.

HD: So how to make them more green, so that would be part of it, let's just dispense with the agendas?

TA: You can usually get a projector, project it on a board, or write it on a white board, and right there you've save that paper. You save the money to buy the paper, so you use those kinds of economic carrots. We're going to promote the travel mug over the coffee cup ...

HD: ... I guess I'm not following. Why is a travel mug better than a coffee cup?

TA: Solid waste is ...

HD: Oh, when you say 'coffee cup' you mean like a paper cup not a ceramic mug ...

TA: ... right, not like your mug.

HD: So you're not saying that a travel mug is better than a ceramic mug.

TA: Absolutely not. No. Ceramic mug, travel mug, sippy cup, whatever you want.

HD: So back to this competition, the RecycleMania, what's actually going to be measured? Total amount of waste campus-wide?

TA: Yeah, we're actually going to measure two different things. We're going to do a per capita recycling weight--amount of recyclables generated per person. Because that's one of their sub-competitions in this RecycleMania. And the other is waste-reduction per capita. So we're going to look at the total amount of waste generated per capita on campus. So, trash plus recycling.

HD: What do we win, if we win?

TA: A great trophy! And bragging rights.

HD: A trophy? Hopefully a traveling trophy, not something that they produce every year?

TA: It's a traveling trophy.

HD: So in the spirit of the whole deal. What's the trophy look like?

TA: There's a couple of different trophies for the different competitions. There's one that's made out of an old bowling pin. All recycled content stuff. There's one that looks like it was made out of an old muffler, maybe? It's made of old metal and stuff that recyclers think is neat, that other people are like, What is that?

HD: Well, you noticed the recycling station that I built in our kitchen, which is where the dishwasher used to be?

TA: Yeah!

HD: And it turns out that the whole dishwasher versus washing-dishes-by-hand thing is controversial as to which is more efficient, etcetera.

TA: Right.

HD: But just taking the recycling bins for what they are, and then taking--I described to you in an email this laundry spinner ...

TA: ... yeah [laugh] ...

HD: ... that I built out of an old broken top-loading washing machine ...

TA: ... Yes! ...

HD: ... that I got off of CraigsList. That was actually kind of cool, I put up a request on CraigsList and two hours later, I got an email saying, Yeah, we've got a top-loading washing machine that's broken, if want to come pick it up, it's free.

TA: That's neat.

HD: That is pretty cool. So I was feeling pretty good about myself having created this pedal-powered laundry spinner--it spins the clothes dry that's all it does ...

TA: ... perfect. You get a good workout.

HD: Right. And then I've got this recycling station, and I was feeling very virtuous, and then I picked up this book Cradle to Cradle [by William McDonough and Michael Braungart]. You're familiar with this?

TA: A little bit, yeah!

HD: So what I learned from this book is that being 'less bad' is not really all that good and these two things I'm doing apparently qualify as just 'less bad', that recycling is really 'downcycling' etcetera etceterta. So do you sometimes just feel like you want to punch William McDonough in the nose?

TA: [laugh] Do I?

HD: Yeah, because I kinda do, quite frankly!

TA: It's can be really [sigh] difficult. You're always going to get the people who tell you you're not doing enough, this doesn't matter, it's ...

HD: ... yeah, all you're doing is delaying the inevitable trip to the landfill.

TA: But you know what? You've got to start getting at the status quo mentality where people don't think of this. And even these small 'less bad' actions, they add up, they do make a difference, they're making people conscious. And the best you can hope for is that it's going to result in something positive. Even though with recycling, yes, you're downcycling--it's not as great as it could be, we should do more waste reduction--it's really hard to change what people are used to and comfortable in. So you have to take these baby steps. I'm a firm believer that there's worth in these baby steps. There's really something redeeming about getting into people's heads and making them think--that whole cheesy if-I-can-affect-one-person kind of mentality. I'm a strong believer in that. You know, we all can always do more. And in the environmental community, I think there is a certain keeping-up-with-the-Jones's. Because there's always somebody doing something more, they're just a little greener, they have one extra solar panel, they wear 110% organic hemp clothing all the time, they plant 900 trees ...

HD: ... but I guess that kind of competition in the end is good though, huh?

TA: Absolutely. It brings more visibility to recycling. Especially on a college campus and especially with students, you're competing with school, you're competing with friends, you're competing with being away from home for the first time. You're competing with all of that. So having some sort of a competition mentality, especially at a Big Ten school like Michigan, where in football we're so competitive, you can kind of get at them a little bit better.

HD: Well, back to football and the stadium in particular, the stadium redesign, do you have anything to do with the planning of things like--I don't know, I would think there could be some sort of permanent infrastructure or fixtures in the stadium that would facilitate recycling, like if there were a special little cutout for rolling bins or something, or signage or something?

TA: I work for waste management services, which is a part of grounds and waste management, which is a part of plant. That's kind of our hierarchy. And within waste management services, there's me and there's our operations foreman, a gentleman named Sam Moran and he oversees our drivers our refuse and recycling drivers and things like that. He and I were actually invited to some of the architectural meetings with the architect for the stadium.

HD: Oh, cool.

TA: Which is wonderful. What a great acknowledgement of recycling and solid waste impact on the stadium! So they're actually designing in cubbies so that we actually have places to empty some of our carts that we collect cardboard in during the game. You know, keep it out of sight but still have room for it. They're designing it into the stadium. It'll be interesting to see how the renovation changes how we do recycling at the stadium. Even though I've been in on these architectural meetings I'd still have to see it and say, Let's put bins here, we need more bins there, we need fewer bins there, more here. It's never boring.

HD: Is there anything else on your mind today?

TA: I'm very excited for Thanksgiving!

HD: Are you really?

TA: I really am.

HD: Are you having a lot of people over?

TA: No, very small. Just my husband and I and his parents, but ...

HD: You making a turkey?

TA: I'm re-heating a turkey that Whole Foods is making and that I'm picking up [laugh].

HD: So does Whole Foods have one of those package deals where you get all the sides?

TA: Yeah.

HD: Those are way underrated, I think. I mean, not Whole Foods in particular, I'm not endorsing them especially ...

TA: ... I understand, just the idea ...

HD: ... yeah, they're tremendous, they allow you to focus on the people as opposed to just the food.

TA: Absolutely. My mother, a couple of years ago, started doing this and the food was great and she was able to be relaxed and interact with us and ...

HD: ... it puts people in a better mood, I think.

TA: I like getting up on Thanksgiving morning, and having my hot cocoa, and watching the parade, and not stressing about food the whole time.

HD: But it does remove one very significant topic of conversation, though. In any mid-western household at least. Just you know, The mashed potatoes are really delicious, how did you make them? And everybody knows how to make mashed potatoes, but that is taken away. So you have to think of something knew to talk about.

TA: Football. The Lions will be on.

HD: Hmm, yeah, who are they playing, do you know?

TA: Yes, I do know I just heard it ... and it's gone. I can't remember. Dolphins. Miami.

HD: Okay, so we'll get beat by the Dolphins, fine.

TA: The return of Joey Harrington to Detroit.

HD: One final question that I have, I'm taking kind of an informal poll of everybody I run into. And the reason I'm doing this is you know Steve Kunselman, he's a big box hockey fan. Do you know what box hockey is?

TA: Umm, no!

HD: Okay, so I'll put you in the have-no-idea column.

TA: Oh no, am I in the minority or the majority?

HD: Well, he seems to think that everybody should know what it is, everybody who grew up around here in Ann Arbor, at least. It was something they used to provide through the recreation programs in the parks. If you run into him, you have to ask him about box hockey.

TA: I'll pop him an email when I get back to the office.

HD: He might well invite you to play.

TA: Oh no, he hasn't seen my athletic ability.

HD: If he does, I would advice training up a little bit. It requires a lot of upper-body strength.

TA: I'll go start lifting. We have plenty of stuff to lift.

HD: Alright, thanks for coming over to teeter totter.

TA: Thank you for having me!