As the National Recycling Coalition mulls its future, some longtime members are wondering whether the group should even have one.
Concern about NRC's future boiled over when it was reported that its board was expected to make a decision during a March 26 meeting possibly to join Keep America Beautiful or even file for bankruptcy, said Ed Skernolis, acting executive director of Washington-based NRC.
It obviously isn't true since the board meeting has come and gone and we're not making any announcement, nor are we holding an announcement, he said. We haven't made any decisions.
On Feb. 3, the coalition sent its leadership, primarily state recycling association leaders and major sponsors, a letter advising them that NRC would have to take a hard look at itself strategically due to the economy and the impact on recycling, he said.
Concern over the March 26 meeting created a tidal wave of e-mails and phone calls, Skernolis said.
On March 30, NRC sent out an updated letter to its entire membership, bringing them up to speed on the situation, he said.
NRC is considering partnering with other groups while it tries to determine whether it is still financially viable. Certain organizational agreements, such as a merger, would require membership approval, Skernolis said.
The board isn't acting in secrecy about things that are always subject to the members' approval at some point down the road, he said. Skernolis did not want to speculate on how long it would take the board to make a decision, but the board eventually would have to say something publicly.
We're going to take a hard look at our future, he said. The board doesn't want to come out with a partly baked set of ideas or options. We ask for the members' patience and understanding while we go through the due diligence and analysis of all the options.
Some think it would be best to disband the coalition and start fresh. Others think the NRC may be worth saving, even if it has to join forces with another organization.
Whatever recycling group carries the banner forward, I surely hope that they recognize the economic development of recycling, said Craig Coker of Coker Composting and Consulting in Vinton, Va.
And a lot of that development has been taking place locally, said Eric Lombardi, executive director of EcoCycle Inc., based in Boulder, Colo. I think the real action is at the state and local level right now. What we need is a national organization that brings together the state recycling organizations, Lombardi said.
States and local communities are making significant progress in the areas of recycling, zero waste and producer responsibility. That doesn't mean the NRC has become obsolete, though perhaps it has in its current form as a coalition, he said.
The NRC shouldn't die, Lombardi said. It should just step forward as the best corporate recycling association in America, because that's what it's become and that's what it is and it should be proud of that. But it shouldn't pretend that it's the voice for communities and municipalities.
The coalition has grown to include corporations, such as Coca-Cola Inc., Time Inc. and Waste Management Inc., along with grass-roots recycling advocates and state and local recycling professionals.
Over the years, there's been sort of a takeover by the people with the time and the money to be there, Lombardi said. The corporate people always have the time and the money to show up, so they have more voice at the NRC meetings.
One of the weaknesses of a coalition is keeping that balance to ensure all groups represented have an equal voice, he said. Dropping the coalition and making the NRC a corporate recycling association makes sense because such a group is valid and needed, and already exists, he said.
Recycling advocates need to redevelop their own national group, but don't need to be in a hurry, Lombardi said. He recommends a national meeting, or meetings, to discuss the issue and see what comes out of that.
There's no rush here. We're not in any rush, he said. And that's what I'm afraid of, is people will jump into the void and try to create something as if they know what's needed. And I don't think everybody knows what's needed unless we get together.
A new group, or reorganization of the old one, needs to advance and advocate recycling as an industrial business, which it is, Coker said. The economic development potential and economic impact of recycling is significant, but it's not being played up as much as it should, he said.
There really wasn't an attempt to professionalize the industry. And there never really has been a good attempt to professionalize it, Coker said. And that's what's needed. It's honest-to-god waste management in a very large, very industrial scale.
Coker, who is not an NRC member, has been active in several state recycling associations, including the Carolina Recycling Association, the Professional Recyclers of Pennsylvania and the Virginia Recycling Coalition. He currently is active in both the VRA and PROP and is on the board of the U.S. Composting Council.
As a former CRA director, Coker and the other board members voted to disassociate with the NRC because they didn't see the value of membership. I've been to a couple of NRC conferences and they tend to be, and I don't mean this in a disparaging way, but they tend to be parties, Coker said. To some extent, that is characteristic of the historical nature of recyclers. Quite honestly, recyclers are the 21st century hippies.
Recyclers need to do more than create a social network of like-minded individuals, said Coker, a 30-year environmental industry veteran.
One option the NRC is considering is joining Keep America Beautiful Inc., which could be a logical fit, he said. The nonprofit organization is based in Stamford, Conn.
NRC is all about, from my view as an outsider looking in, it's all about changing people's attitudes. Well, so is KAB, Coker said. There's a certain logical, social contract that makes some amount of sense.
But latching on to another national group, especially KAB, is moving in the wrong direction, Lombardi said.
Absolutely not. I don't support that, he said. I think it's OK to have a gap in having a national group and, if there's really a need and there's really some pain great. Then something real will emerge.
NRC was founded in 1978. It is dedicated to advancing and improving recycling, waste prevention, composting and reuse.