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Oregon Family Magazine

Master Recycler Program Pivots to Tackle Climate Change at Local Level

07/18/2023 ● By Daniel Hiestand
Kelly Bell has seen the Lane County Master Recycler Program evolve significantly during her 15 years as coordinator.

For example, the free, nine-week master recycler course—provided twice yearly to teach participants about waste management and recycling systems—was initially only offered in Eugene.

Since then, it’s been hosted in Cottage Grove, Creswell, Junction City, Florence, and online, as well as through Churchill High School (Eugene), where each year a group of seniors becomes master recyclers.

As a result, master recyclers have volunteered more than 53,000 hours and shared their waste prevention expertise with more than 153,000 community members in the past 23 years. The program has helped train more than 1,000 certified master recyclers, each helping to educate their communities.

Now the program is undergoing another transformation by introducing a new course to address the world’s most pressing issue: the climate crisis.

Sustainable Citizen Project

Bell is proud the program has remained active, even during the pandemic. For example, master recyclers have logged more than 4,300 volunteer hours since March 2020 on projects with various community partners, including BRING, the Materials Exchange Center for Community Arts, and NextStep Recycling. These efforts have had measurable impacts, including diverting thousands of pounds of plastic from landfills.

Bell hopes to harness the community’s energy around environmental sustainability as she embarks on the program’s latest offering: the “Sustainable Citizen Project.” This nine-week course is available to all residents interested in taking decisive action to address climate change locally.

The course will teach program participants the highest-impact categories and the ‘right-now’ solutions to address the climate crisis, including actions to transform personal consumption, workplace practices, and governmental policy. Topics covered will include reducing wasted food, transportation, sustainability at home, land management, electricity, materials management, and empowering women.

Class source material was adopted from Project Drawdown, a leading resource for science-based climate solutions.

The class—offered virtually and in-person—includes facilitated discussion on weekly topics, videos, small group collaboration, presenters, field trips, outside reading, and independent research.

“Optimism, collaboration, and action are the Project keystones,” said Bell. “Successful participants will demonstrate knowledge of harms associated with high-impact categories and corresponding actions they can take to make improvements. Perhaps most importantly, they will share findings with each other, public officials, and business leaders while implementing responses.” 

Kearstin Estrada is part of the Project’s first student cohort, which started in early June.

“I think everyone can benefit from the class,” she said. “It’s accessible to anyone, even those without prior sustainability knowledge. Kelly creates an environment where questions are encouraged, and we learn from one another. Gathering people to discuss sustainability and local activism is crucial because this talk spreads.”

That’s the hope, said Bell.

“I want folks to feel confident in their ability to critically evaluate effective actions to reduce harmful impacts of greenhouse emissions, make meaningful, lasting shifts that can reduce harm, and support and effect change, including good policy,” Bell said.

Learn more about future Sustainable Citizen Project courses at