It's hard to get excited about keeping recyclables out of the landfill when your recycling center looks like it belongs in a landfill.
Margot McNeeley, executive director of Project Green Fork, a nonprofit dedicated to reducing the environmental impact of locally owned restaurants, found herself pondering this very irony at the Cooper-Young recycling center, located at the corner of Cooper and Walker next to First Congregational Church.
"We frequently use the recycling bins at First Congo and have since Project Green Fork began," McNeeley said. "We started noticing what a mess it was. It wasn't being emptied enough. It wasn't being managed and maintained."
Not only was the space littered with trash, it was tucked away in a poorly lit area and the two large recycling containers — repurposed department store dumpsters — were covered in graffiti.
So McNeeley teamed up with Madeleine Edwards of Get Green Recycleworks to turn these recycling eyesores into a public art project. First they went to Andy Ashford, administrator of recycling and composting for the city, to ask to take over the management of the recycling center, which was only being emptied twice a week. McNeeley and Edwards partnered with ReCommunity Memphis Recycling to get the bins emptied more often, and then they moved on to the bigger issue: the containers themselves.
"We knew we needed new containers, and Paul Young of the Shelby County Office of Sustainability found a grant for us to get the two containers," McNeeley said. "So we had these two new containers, and they looked great, but we thought, What can we do to make it look even better over here?"
They moved the containers to the corner, closer to street lamps, and then reached out to the UrbanArt Commission for help sprucing up the exteriors.
"We wanted it to fit with the vibe of Midtown, with the vibe of Cooper-Young," McNeeley said. "These containers are for everybody, not just Project Green Fork restaurants, and we don't make any money off of this. It is all being done for a community project."
Project Green Fork and the UrbanArt Commission teamed up to launch a campaign on Kickstarter to raise $3,320 to pay for an artist and supplies to decorate the containers. The call for artists is underway — deadline for submissions is April 30th — and though they've raised the goal already, McNeeley said they're still looking for funding to cover Kickstarter fees and shipping fees for sending gifts to donors.
Once the container design is selected, the UrbanArt Commission and volunteers will execute the artist's vision.
"We really want the community to embrace it as theirs," McNeeley said, "to take care of it like it's theirs, because it is. It's a community recycling center. And because it looks better and there's better lighting, it encourages people to use the containers more, and therefore, recycle more and keep more out of the landfill."