20 Mar
Boosting Recycling in Flint, Michigan Schools Brenda Pulley, Keep America Beautiful

We’ve seen countless stories across the news regarding the ongoing water crisis in Flint, Michigan. There are many efforts underway to remedy the situation. In the meantime, however, Flint residents must use bottled or filtered water for their daily water needs, such as drinking water and food preparation. Great strides have been made to make the frequent pickup of water for households and schools as convenient as possible. In addition to the challenge of developing the incredible network to distribute the necessary bottled water to residents, schools and workplaces, is the additional challenge of better capturing those water bottles for recycling. On behalf of Keep America Beautiful, I’m proud to have the opportunity to be a part of an effort to recover those bottles.  

Instrumental to this effort is Nestlé Waters North America, which began working with The Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo Foundation and the Walmart Foundation in January 2016 to support the Flint community. Specifically, the partners agreed to donate up to 6.5 million bottles of safe and clean drinking water to the Flint school students. As part of the donation, the partners have been providing for the delivery of the bottled water to the 27 Flint schools.   The contribution didn’t stop there. The partners have also provided recycling bins for each of the schools, as well as  transporting  the collected empty water bottles for recycling. 

Furthermore, in an effort to capture more of these water bottles for recycling and to take advantage of this opportunity to educate students, the partners turned to Keep America Beautiful and its local affiliate, Keep Genesee County Beautiful (KGCB).  On February 28, the partners met in Flint to announce support for an integrated recycling education and awareness initiative for the nearly 10,000 school students affected by the Flint water crisis.

Since the water crisis began, our local affiliate has been the “go-to” recycling resource for the Flint   residents. We are thrilled to have this opportunity to work with them to provide a comprehensive school recycling education program to engage and motivate the next generation to recycle. 

The program uses a multi-tiered approach to increase the number of plastic bottles that are collected for recycling at the schools. The lesson plans and interactive activities are based on how the recycling process works and what new products plastic bottles can be made into once recycled. By recycling, students will also know they are helping to prevent water bottles from making their way to local landfills or, when littered, on to roadways and into local waterways. Resources include several take-home materials that can be used in an effort to bring the education experience home, reaching families in their residences with an additional goal of encouraging curbside recycling participation.  

“We are grateful to the partners as we hope this community change will be sustained as we inspire, model and make visible the positive outcomes of this program,” stated Karen West, Executive Director of KGCB.

Nestle Waters North America’s Chief Sustainability Officer Nelson Switzer, who joined us in Flint, commented: “Access to clean, safe drinking water is the right of every man, woman and child. That is why helping our neighbors in Flint is something we've been proud to do. But our shared commitment doesn’t end there.  We now need to work together so the bottles the coalition used to deliver safe drinking water are recovered and recycled. Together with our coalition partners and the families of Flint, we are very pleased to kick-start a massive recycling opportunity.”

This public-private partnership is a great example of the positive impact we can have when we come together to address a challenge.

(From left) Jim Winkler, VP and Regional General Manager, Walmart; Bruce Karas, VP, Environment and Sustainability, The Coca-Cola Company; Scott Henzi, Regional VP, PepsiCo; Nelson Switzer, Chief Sustainability Officer, Nestle Waters North America; Karen West, Executive Director, Keep Genesee County Beautiful; Pamela Haldy, Superintendent, Ritchfield Public Academy; and Sharrece Farris, Deputy Superintendent, Flint Community Schools 

A hands-on training session on how to teach students about the inner workings of a Materials Recovery Facility took place following the press conference about the launch of the recycling program.

One of the school activities.   Plastic flake and pellets provide by NWNA

Photo credit: Chris Farina, Futura Photography


Brenda Pulley, SVP, Recycling, Keep America Beautiful
Brenda joined Keep America Beautiful (KAB) in Fall of 2010 to enhance the organization’s efforts to improve recycling – specifically how to engage and motivate individuals to recycle the right materials.   In her role to grow the reach and impact of KAB’s recycling initiatives, she is responsible for strategic planning, research, and program design and implementation building from KAB’s behavior change system.  Brenda also serves on the Board of Directors of SERI (Sustainable Electronics Recycling International) – whose mission it is to promote environmentally responsible reuse and recycling practices throughout the electronics sector. 

Prior to joining KAB, Brenda served as the Vice President of Corporate Affairs and Communications for Novelis - a global aluminum rolling and recycling company.  Brenda has worked on various environmental issues both in the public and private sectors, starting her career working for the U.S. House of Representatives, Energy and Environment Small Business Committee. 

By: Brenda Pulley, Keep America Beautiful