Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

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Choctaw Nation’s Recycling Center staff shows off the awards won for the tribe’s environmental preservation efforts. The staff includes, back row from left, Lance Clinton, Justin Tillery, Terry Garner, Chris Stover, and kneeling, Cyndi Houser, Tamera Couch and Tracy Horst.

Choctaw Nation wins multiple awards for environmental preservation efforts

By BRET MOSS Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

In an effort to protect the land and environment dear to its heart, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma (CNO) has taken tremendous strides to increase the amount of recycling occurring in Southeastern Oklahoma.

As a result of these actions, the staff of the recycling center has recently been awarded three notable awards, two by Keep Oklahoma Beautiful, a statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to environmental improvement.

At the 21st annual Environmental Excellence Awards Celebration held on Nov. 10, in Oklahoma City, CNO won in the state/tribal category of environmental excellence, which granted consideration for the “Best of the Environmentally Best” award, which CNO also took home.

On a separate occasion, CNO also was awarded the Recycling Government of the Year at the America Recycles Day event held in Tulsa on Nov. 15, 2011.

These awards are the first awards that CNO recycling has won. According to Director of Project Management, Tracy Horst, the credit for winning these awards can be attributed to the new recycling facility located near the Choctaw Casino and Resort in Durant.

December 2011 marks the first full year of operation for the new recycling facility. The facility and the functions within are the only one of its kind in the Southeastern Oklahoma area.

The large facility boasts the ability to recycle large amounts of paper, plastics, cardboard, and even electronics. It will soon be able to process styrofoam, making it one of only two known facilities in the state that has that capability.

The recycling facility came about by efforts from the Going Green Team, who was inspired to help the environment on a larger scale. They teamed up with the Grants Department, and in 2009 were awarded an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG), which pays for the facility as well as many other recycling activities and events.

This recycling initiative employs five personnel; three driver/collectors, Terry Garner, Chris Stover and Justin Tillery; one administrative assistant, Tamera Couch, who also does occasional driving and collecting; and coordinator, Cyndi Houser.

The drivers/collectors duties are to travel across the 10.5 counties of the Choctaw Nation to replace the receptacles, called “roll offs.” When one gets full, they will be called and take an empty one to replace it, and in turn, take the full roll off back to the facility where the contents are emptied and sorted. The facility sees about 1.5 full roll offs each day on average.

Once the material is sorted, it is placed in one of two bailers and compacted into squares, each weighing anywhere from 700 pounds to just a little over a half ton, stacked on pallets and made ready to be transported to other facilities that purchase them and use the material to make other usable products.

Horst explains that much of the paper products will be shipped to paper mills and reformed into a downgraded version of its original state. She went on to say that once a paper product goes through this process, it loses some of its durability, and thus cannot be reformed back into the same object, but is still valuable in other forms.

Getting the most out of a resource is a top priority because what is reused not only subtracts from waste, but also offsets the usage of new resources, therefore postponing the need to gather fresh supply.

The environment is not the only beneficiary of these actions; the bottom line is also reaping the benefits as well. Horst makes mention that businesses, namely the Casino and Resort in Durant, save money on their trash bill by recycling a large portion of their waste. Since the volume of disposed matter is subtracted from the dumpsters at no cost, it leaves more room for non-recyclable materials.

Horst, who is responsible for communicating with city governments and other entities, as well as grant regulation and personnel, is making a strong effort to encourage this type of relationship with businesses and recycling.

She has used her knowledge to help the cities of Wilburton and McAlester begin a similar program, and also has teamed up with the City of Durant to maximize the amount of recycling in the area.

Over time, she hopes to have many more roll offs at various Choctaw locations and she is also pushing for other businesses to join the effort as well. “If they have a place where they can keep it [recyclables] separate from the trash dumpster, we can go around once or twice a week and pick up their cardboard or shredded paper,” said Horst as she spoke of the mutually beneficial relationship between business and recycling.

The practices and facility that won the recent awards are fairly new and only in the first stages. At the current time, Durant is the only hub of the operation and where most of the action takes place, but it is the hope of the staff that this initiative spreads to other locations across Choctaw Nation.

In the short time between March and June, the number of roll offs have increased from three to 26, and numerous new and creative ways have been employed to help recycle since 2009.

Crayon recycling is a prime example of the innovation to this endeavor. At Choctaw head starts, large cylinders have been decorated like giant crayons and used as receptacles for which children dispose used crayons. These small pieces are then used to create new crayons without using fresh resources.

The recycling crew has also teamed up with the Choctaw Nation Outreach Program to help with annual toy and coat drives, which help usable items stay in homes and out of landfills.

The recognition for the many efforts CNO is making, along with the recent awards is just a sidebar to the real results of the actions. The environment that the people of the Choctaw Nation care so deeply for is being preserved and protected through this initiative. The Choctaw Nation is, and plans to continue “Making Southeastern Oklahoma cleaner and greener,” the motto of the recycling effort.