Green Nonprofit Organization
By Rita Cook
For the past 15 years a group called the Environmental Co-op has slowly been making a difference in the area opening its doors at a time when Marilyn May, Executive Director of the Environmental Co-op says “there was very little recycling [and] illegal dumping was becoming a big problem, composting wasn't being taught and we had no citizens hazardous waste disposal in a county with 98,000 [residence] at that time.”
The organization was actually founded because of the County Commissioners working with a group of like-minded Kaufman County, Texas residents who had the foresight to understand that in looking to the future the need for alternatives to landfill trash was going to become important. The Kaufman County 20-year solid waste management plan was then formed and Environmental Co-op was created to manage that plan. The Co-op is a 501c(3), member-owned non-profit environmental business that specializes in setting up waste disposal programs in Kaufman County
Fast forward to 2012 and these days the Environmental Co-op manages the only State-certified solid waste plan in existence.
“We are essentially the Kaufman County Environmental Department and many of the cities in the county use The Co-op as their environmental department,” May explains. “As far as we know there is no other entity like us in this area.”
The Co-op also manages or helps with the management of three recycling drop off sites,
three citizen's convenience stations, one household hazardous waste site, electronic recycling events, road cleanups, composting education, school environmental clubs, civic club education and the group also manages the Kaufman County Recycling Center were they recycled 150,000 pounds just last month alone.
While the co-op is certainly a success story, May says there are still challenges faced with the number one on the list being financial burdens.
“We receive small contract amounts from several, but not all, of the cities that we serve in Kaufman County. The County is our main customer and we have funding from two of the trash haulers that work in the county.”
May says the organization also has a wonderful school program for second graders and they receive a small amount of funds from the three schools that participate in Environmental Odyssey in March each year. The Annual Environmental Odyssey Program, after 13 years, is a Co-op award winning program, which offers two days filled with a variety of environmental education. The goal is to expose students to the concepts of conservation (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and RETHINK) and encourage them to become stewards for the environment by implementing the ideas they learn into their every day routines.
Students also have the opportunity to participate in an Environmental Recycling Art Project Contest. Students who participated in the past were asked to construct a project or poster out of recycled materials, or create something that promoted the theme of the Odyssey. This is an event that helps the students understand that what they do now to preserve the environment will determine what their environment becomes in the future.
Also part of the Odyssey, the Co-op presented a library chair made of recycled books this past year, which was created at the 2012 Odyssey event and made possible with funds donated to Environmental Odyssey by NUCOR.
“Aside from the financial challenges we also need volunteers and it is a challenge to have enough volunteer help for many of our programs,” May adds mentioning that there are definitely wins as well like the Co-ops establishing a solid recycling program with participation from small and large businesses, citizens at the drop-off stations and the household hazardous waste facility and Keep Kaufman County Beautiful an affiliate of Keep Texas Beautiful.
Moving into the new year, the Environmental Co-op has some big plans too.
“Our recycling program has grown beyond our forecast over the past three years since we have been in our 7,000 square-foot facility,” May says. “With that growth we are starting to see that it will not taper off and are starting to plan ahead for the next 20 years. My vision is that Keep Kaufman County Beautiful will become an organization aside from Environmental Co-op and will take the cleanups, illegal dumping and composting programs on as a separate organization.”
May says that will then allow for Environmental Co-op to grow the recycling aspect of the business.
“We are working with other cities and businesses on recycling outside of Kaufman County and I see that part of our outreach work growing in the future,” she concludes. “The need for recycling is everywhere and we have so many great recycling avenues that as we are known better I feel we will be contacted more and more for our services."
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Rita Cook is an award winning journalist who writes or has written for the Dallas Morning News, Focus Daily News, Waxahachie Daily Light, Dreamscapes Travel Magazine, Porthole, Core Media, Fort Worth Star Telegram and many other publications in Los Angeles, Dallas and Chicago. With five books published, her latest release is “A Brief History of Fort Worth” published by History Press. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org