Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

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Connie Zalenski drops off bags of recyclable material from her home in the recycling bin at the tribal complex in Durant.

Doing her part to better the community

Purchasing employee Connie Zalenski recycles at her home, no longer pays trash bill

By CHRISSY SHEPARD Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma continually promotes its “going green” efforts, and one tribal employee is not only bettering her community through her recycling habit at home, but is saving money in the process.

For the past two years, purchasing department employee Connie Zalenski has recycled all of her household trash using the recycling bin located at the Tribal Headquarters building where she works, which has saved her an average of over $200 a year. She brings a load of materials (2-4 bags) weekly, or every other week at times.

“I save an average of $20 a month,” she said, because she no longer has to pay her trash bill.

Connie said she initially became aware of the importance of recycling when the tribe made the big push to go green. “I’ll try this,” she recalled.

Choctaw Nation Director of Project Management Tracy Horst complimented Connie on her efforts. “I have gotten to know Connie over that last couple of years, and I think what she is doing is great,” she said.

Not only does recycling save Connie money each month, it saves her time and work. “I live out in the country, so naturally, sometimes when you leave your trash out, animals get into it,” she explained. “I no longer have to clean up a big mess outside when that happens, and I no longer have to worry about putting the trash out.”

Recycling has made her home and yard look cleaner and neater without the trash in the driveway, she added.

Connie is happy she no longer has to deal with the occasional problem of the town’s trash pickup. “You know when they don’t come pick up your trash and you have to call them to come get it? I no longer have that inconvenience,” she said.

Tracy provided some advice for recycling at home. “The best way to start at home is to designate an area of your home for recyclable material collection, much like you have a location for trash collection,” she explained. “You can purchase inexpensive trash cans and label them with names of the items you are planning to collect, so it makes it easy for everyone in the home, or visitors, to use.”

Connie’s three children and nephew visit her home often, all being out of high school, except for her nephew, who is 16. She has most company in the summertime.

“At first, my whole family went into shock,” Connie said, laughing, recalling how she gathers up materials after family meals she knows are recyclable. “But now, it’s funny after two years to see family automatically go rinse their stuff off and put it into the recycling bins in the laundry room.”

Connie said her daughter, who is currently working on getting her master’s degree, will bring her items to recycle from her apartment. “My son will come home from college, and anything he’s bought along the drive that he might throw away, he’ll now bring into the house to recycle it,” she said. “He’ll bring his stuff in and pat me on the back.”

Connie’s oldest son, Waddell Hearn, is also an employee of the Choctaw Nation and thinks highly of his mother. “I think it’s just awesome what she is doing,” he said. “My mom has always been an inspiration in my life in that she works hard and does her very best as what she puts her mind to, and we are seeing that in her effort towards recycling.”

Not only is Connie serving as an example for her family, her recycling efforts have been noticed by her fellow community members. “When I first started, people at my church would bring me their materials to be recycled,” she said.

Now, Connie is proud to say her church members take their materials to the Travel Plaza recycling bin location. “I thought that was pretty cool,” she said.

Waddell said there is no doubt in his mind that his mother is inspiring others around her to recycle as well. “I think that she most certainly inspires others to recycle; she’s so passionate about recycling,” he said. “It just takes one person to lead, and actions speak louder than words, and her actions are definitely being seen.”

Connie is well organized in her recycling process at her home. She said she keeps three separate containers in her laundry room, for plastic, cans and paper, which store her items she’s collected and separated. “I have really enjoyed doing it,” she said.

Along with recycling the materials she can at her home, Connie said she no longer uses paper plates and doesn’t see a problem with washing all her dishes.

“She has made a lot of progress over the past two years,” said Waddell. “And with the mindset she has, she will just keep progressing with recycling.”

The most common material Connie recycles, she said, is plastic bottles from juice, milk, Gatorade, etc., as well as egg cartons and toilet paper rolls.

“We can recycle all junk mail, catalogs, magazines, envelopes and all,” said Tracy. “Just about anything you have that is not food waste can be recycled.”

An important step one must keep in mind when recycling is to rinse off and out your materials, Connie said. “Some people don’t clean their stuff up as they recycle it, and those people at the recycling center work hard,” she explained. “You need to be courteous and clean your items.”

From having an influence on her children and her surrounding community, Connie has brought her positive attitude towards recycling to the workplace.

“We recycle as much as we can in the office,” she said. “We recycle old folders and paper, especially when we’re cleaning out our areas. There’s so much stuff you can recycle, it’s unreal.”

Connie respects the Choctaw Nation’s ongoing efforts in going green and preserving the environment. “I look at it this way,” she explained, “if it’s important to Chief Pyle and he asks us to do it, then we should do it.”

Tracy encourages everyone to begin recycling. “Recycling is really pretty easy, it just takes some practice,” she said. “If you have any questions, call us at the recycling center and we will be happy to try and help you out.”

Connie plans to continue her hobby and habit of recycling at home and encourages others to do the same. “When you see all the trash on the highway, it’s just sad,” she said. “We only have one Earth. We’re supposed to make it a better place.

“We all have grandkids, and sooner or later, they will have to live in the mess we leave them,” she added.

“My mom genuinely enjoys bettering our environment so that we can continue to enjoy what God has created,” said Waddell.

If you have a question about recycling and would like to talk to a recycling center employee, please call 580-920-0488. The Choctaw Nation Recycling Center is located at 3408 Wes Watkins Blvd. in Durant.