The National Recycling Coalition Inc. has decided to file for bankruptcy in the aftermath of a membership vote in late August that rejected the proposed merger with Keep America Beautiful Inc. The move opens the door for a new group, Recycling Organizations of North America, to become the voice for recycling organizations.
Washington-based NRC announced it would file Chapter 7 bankruptcy Sept. 2, just hours after NRC board member Bob Gedert, who is executive director of the California Resource Recovery Association, presented an alternative plan.
The board said it had $619 in cash, causing some to wonder how it would pay bankruptcy filing fees. Some former NRC members have suggested that between the end of 2008 and June of this year, NRC expenses outstripped revenues by $410,000 and that its liabilities now exceed $1.5 million.
It was not immediately known what will happen to the three major programs NRC sponsored with others to boost recycling: CollegeMania, America Recycles Day and the Bin Grant program.
After 31 years as the advocacy voice for recycling, NRC experienced a quick decline that was triggered, sources said, by the board's lack of oversight of spending, efforts to be too many things to too many people, and a lack of leadership.
It worked great for 31 years, but the mismanagement at the end and the lack of board oversight was too much to overcome, said one past NRC board president.
Several board members and current and past officials of NRC did not respond to requests for comments.
The dozens of former leaders and NRC board members who spoke out against the KAB succeeded in killing the [merger] proposal, but they cannot be held responsible for the death of the NRC, said Pat Farrell Franklin, a former NRC board member and retired executive director and founder of the Container Recycling Institute.
There has been more interest, dialogue, discussion and excitement about recycling in the past six months than I've witnessed at any time during the past six years. Apathy was rampant among the NRC membership and had been for most of this decade, she said.
Franklin had some advice for NRC's potential replacement group.
I think a new organization must make it clear to corporate donors that their funding cannot influence policy. There has to be a no-strings-attached agreement. I think a new organization should attempt to represent all 50 states and all the Canadian provinces and have greater contact with the membership.
The new organization should attempt to align itself with other [non-governmental organizations] involved in climate change, waste reduction, energy conservation, green building and other issues directly related to reuse and recycling, Franklin said.
John Frederick, one of two people spearheading RONA, said NRC found itself in difficult straights because of a lack of a transparency and consensus-building as to what needs to be done. RONA said Aug. 3 it had filed papers for incorporation in Colorado.
Frederick stepped down in June as executive director of Professional Recyclers of Pennsylvania and as vice chair for the Recycling Organization Council of NRC. He currently is executive director of the Intermunicipal Relations Committee in Altoona, Pa., charged with boosting recycling and composting programs in four communities in the area.
Frederick and others close to RONA hope it can develop a framework and build a membership base in four to six months.
RONA hopes to attract recycling professionals and companies, sustainability groups, and state and regional recycling organizations.
Given the circumstances, we have to take it one step at a time, Frederick said. We want to broaden the constituency, raise the visibility of recycling and bring recycling back to the forefront. One of the bright lights to the dark cloud of NRC falling apart is that it should help us identify some of the needs we need to address and help us set priorities.
Gary Liss, president and managing director of environmental consulting firm Gary Liss & Associates in Loomis, Calif., and one of more than 50 influential NRC board members who opposed the NRC-KAB merger, agreed with Frederick.
The next step we have to take is to determine a dues structure, what services to provide and what type of information-sharing we need to develop, said Liss, a RONA board member who represents the Grassroots Recycling Network. We have to find out what services members will want and what fees they are willing to pay.
Liss also argued that RONA needs to take an organization-based approach to membership rather than the approach of NRC, which was to have both individual and organizations as members.
NRC tried to be too many things to too many people near the end, Liss said.
We need to attract as members people who believe in the concept of reduce, reuse and recycle and to include other environmental groups, not just state recycling organizations, Liss said. We need to be an organization of organizations, not individuals.
Liss said the opportunity exists for RONA to be a leaner organization than NRC by possibly contracting out some services, and RONA needs to determine its role in advocacy and how to structure that, given the variety of recycling concerns between potential members.
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