Reader Profile: Ramona Simpson

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RAMONA SIMPSON IS proud of Queen Creek, AZ’s 8% recycling contamination rate. “We try to keep contamination rates down before the materials go to the MRF,” she says. Education is key to success, something of which Simpson is keenly aware as the director of SWANA’s Communication, Education & Marketing Technical Division. She also serves as Queen Creek’s Environmental Programs Manager. Her duties not only include directing solid waste, recycling, and hazardous waste programs, but she also oversees stormwater management, reclaimed water, and air quality—tasks which are essentially interconnected. A successful solid waste and recycling program entails clear communication that involves not only what to put into a cart, but what not to put into a cart—and options of disposal for those materials, Simpson notes. Even how to put materials in a cart is important, notes Simpson, adding that overfilling it creates the “snow cone” effect, enabling birds to peck open the plastic bags, creating litter on the street. Queen Creek’s bulk collection centers around the 3 Bs: bundled, boxed, or bagged. Auditing, education outreach, inspection, and enforcement are the program’s foundation. Inspection programs offer opportunities to place educational materials on a cart regarding overfilling and proper material disposal. Contamination can be dangerous, Simpson points out. “We had someone put the plastic bucket for their chlorine tablets in the recycling cart with aluminum cans. We had a hot load—a fire that happens within the confines of the recycling truck,” says Simpson. “I don’t think people are trying to contaminate. They want to do the right thing. They’re doing ‘wishful recycling.’” Queen Creek has take-back events throughout the year for harder-to-recycle materials. “Our community is only 50,000 residents and 13,000 homes with trash recycling services,” says Simpson. “We’re pretty small, but all of our events are highly attended.” The city also has an intergovernmental agreement with a bordering community to use its household hazardous waste facility. While some communities are closing neighborhood recycling centers, Queen Creek is “doubling down,” Simpson says.

In addition to her duties as the environmental programs manager executing the job’s various tasks, Simpson helps out with the entire public works budget. She also assists with software implementation programs.

Simpson earned a B.S. degree in business administration and management and an M.P.A. in public administration from the University of Phoenix. She worked for a privately-held water utility before joining Queen Creek’s staff. After starting with the city, she gave a presentation to the city council on the state of recycling in the region, state, and nation. “At that point we had eight providers coming into our small town six days a week. It was subscription service only for trash,” she says. Simpson developed a solid waste study, creating an RFP for a collection contractor. She increased her knowledge base through SWANA, obtaining certifications in several areas to help build a better program and incorporated the neighboring community’s best practices.

“I live and work within my community, so I can see the tangible changes I’ve been able to put in place,” says Simpson.“I come to work excited to get to a new project. Sometimes it's overwhelming, but I like finding solutions to challenges that are creative, innovative, and cost-effective because we don’t have the same level of funding of a big community to do outreach and education.” Her department conducts a middle school education program. “They’re going to be the next generation that holds the torch and understands the importance of and knows what goes into a recycling ­program,” says Simpson.

Resources and time are her greatest challenge, notes Simpson. “I have so many exciting projects to work on sometimes it’s overwhelming to find staffing, resources, and cost-effective ways to get out the message,” she says. “I think of it not as a barrier but how can I make this challenge work for us.” One solution: partnering with neighboring recycling and solid waste managers for education, outreach, and purchasing power. “It helped smaller communities get the materials they needed,” she says. “Having one strong voice on recycling helps us.”

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