Indy's recycling queen reigns supreme


City of Indianapolis Recycling Coordinator Lisa Laflin wants to put to rest two urban legends about recycling in Indy.

URBAN LEGEND 1: There’s no incentive to recycle because the City of Indianapolis is contractually obligated to provide a certain level of material to Covanta Energy’s Harding Street waste-to-energy incinerator. If recycling increased, the city wouldn’t reach its quota, so taxpayers would have to pay Covanta.

“If we pulled every single piece of recyclable material from the residential waste stream, we would still have enough material to meet our minimum obligations,” Laflin says.

URBAN LEGEND 2: If you drop off recyclables at one of the City of Indianapolis bins located throughout the metropolitan area, they wind up in the incinerator.

“It’s not true,” Laflin says. “We have a perfectly good recycling facility at 28th and Montcalm, owned by Republic.” She adds, ”The commodities have become valuable enough that last summer the city started making money on its recycled materials.”

According to Laflin, the city’s recycling program achieved a 20 percent diversion rate in 2007. “It’s not huge, but it’s bigger than the 11 percent from the year before,” she says.

“Last year, we made enough money in five months to cover costs for one truck and driver,” she notes. “If volume stays equal and markets stay equal we should make enough this year to cover two drivers and associated costs.”

In order to generate enough revenue to cover the four drivers on staff, Laflin says the city has an aggressive goal of increasing participation in curbside recycling by 15 percent per year for the next four years.

She doesn’t dispute public perceptions about the difficulties of recycling in Indianapolis. “I think a lot of people don’t even know we have a recycling program,” she says.

“Our biggest challenge is getting the word out — letting folks know how to do it, why it’s important to do it and show them how easy it is to do it,” she adds.

Her job involves outreach and education, which take many forms. When visiting schools, Laflin wears a sequined gown and tiara as befits Indy’s “Recycling Queen.” She’s working on a scepter made of recycled materials and wants a proper crown with three R’s (for Reduce, Reuse, Recycle).

She also reaches out to the business community, working to place recycling bins along Massachusetts Avenue and in Broad Ripple, and helping bars, restaurants and other facilities set up recycling programs.

Additionally, Laflin established the city’s event recycling team, which partners with local businesses who want public service projects for their employees. “This is something we created last year to provide public education and recycling at outdoor events,” she says.

Look for the team at Orchard in Bloom (May 2-4), the 500 Festival Mini-Marathon (May 3) and at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the month of May. In addition, the team will be working the Earth Day Festival downtown (April 26). Laflin is part of a group promoting the use of biodegradable food service items that will be collected afterward for composting at GreenCycle, an organics recycling company.

Everybody wins, she says. “We get a lot of work done, and this large group of people learns that recycling is alive and well in Indy and that it’s not just something you can do at home, you can do it when you’re out.”


All you need to know about recycling in Indy


Four Laws of Ecology

Not long after the first Earth Day in 1970, zoologist Barry Commoner articulated Four Laws of Ecology. They are worth remembering as we strive to infuse public policy with green values.

•Everything Is Connected to Everything Else. Our planet sustains all life, which means we are interdependent. Our actions affect all.

•Everything Must Go Somewhere. There is no “away” to which things can be thrown.

•Nature Knows Best. Natural systems should be the model for designs and technology.

•There Is No Such Thing as a Free Lunch. In nature, both sides of the equation must balance. For every gain there is a cost, and all debts are eventually paid.

Join the Recycling Team

The Event Recycling Team, created through a partnership between the City of Indianapolis and Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, Inc., consists of over 100 volunteers who promote and manage recycling at major public events in Marion County. Volunteers help to set up recycle collection bins before the event, and man the bins during the event. The premise behind the effort is that the best way to influence people is by example. Thousands of people are introduced to the concept of recycling at their favorite public festivals and events, and tons of recyclable materials are diverted from the waste stream! The Event Recycling Team (ERT) brought recycling in 2007 to events like the Indy Jazz Fest, Penrod and the Brickyard 400. The schedule for 2008 includes these as well as other Marion County events such as the Indianapolis 500, Irish Fest, Orchards in Bloom and many more!

If you would like to help raise awareness about recycling in Indy and meet other recycling enthusiasts, please consider joining the ERT at


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