Supporting the region and manufacturers in a rural county, the West Tennessee Regional Recycling Hub’s goal aims for municipal governments, businesses, and other organizations to work together to increase the collection of post-consumer packaging materials for recycling and to divert waste from landfills.
The West Tennessee Regional Recycling Hub (Hub) is located in a rural town called Henderson and sits about 105 miles from Memphis, TN. Created in 2010 by now-retired Chester County Solid Waste Director, Danny Benard, Hardin County Solid Waste Director, Randy Etheridge, and the Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation (TDEC), the Hub’s goal aims for municipal governments, businesses, and other organizations to work together to increase the collection of post-consumer packaging materials for recycling and to divert waste from landfills. The Hub is a materials recovery facility (MRF), which means it processes single-stream recycling materials. The Hub received more than $6.5 million in grant funding from TDEC to help start the facility and now serves more than 350,000 residents and partners with 13 cities and counties, 25 schools/colleges, and over 300 businesses through those partnerships. “Chester County models how a true Hub and Spoke system can operate,” said TDEC Director for the Division of Solid Waste Management, Lisa Hughey. “The Hub has proven that an innovative TDEC grant, when used efficiently, can become a catalyst for big changes across an entire region.”
Increasing Education and Recycling
The Chester County Solid Waste Department and Keep Chester County Beautiful (KCCB), both located at the West Tennessee Regional Recycling Hub, partner with the Hub to increase recycling and educate residents, businesses, and schools on recycling, composting, landfills, and litter prevention. In 2018, the Hub launched the Volunteer to Recycle campaign. The campaign originated from the Hardin County Solid Waste Department, with a goal to increase recycling and decrease contamination in rural counties, cities, businesses, and residential recycling. Some of the Hub’s partnerships share the Volunteer to Recycle campaign and educational programs to educate the community. Education and outreach are the keys to lowering contamination in recycled goods coming to the MRF. Using the Volunteer to Recycle program helps each county or business decrease contamination.
Since 2010, the Hub has formed effective partnerships working toward the common goal of increasing recycling, environmental education and outreach, and waste diversion. “Partnerships are important to the goal of working together to help communities recycle and teach future generations about its importance,” said Amber Greene, Solid Waste Director. “Before 2014, all recycling operations for the Town of Collierville were collected by a contracted service and sorted curbside,” said Josh Russell, Collierville Public Works Director. The Town currently picks up curbside recycling and transports the materials to the Hub in a 53-foot walking trailer and sends the materials to Chester County. “We all know in the solid waste business that extra hands are rare, but when available, we like to send sanitation workers to neighborhoods to perform spot checks of each cart to keep costs down,” continued Russell.
“I remember the first time I heard about the West Tennessee Hub and Spoke system. I knew the City of Lexington wanted to increase recycling,” shared former City of Lexington Public Works Director, now Henderson County Mayor-Elect Robbie McCready. “Being a recycling spoke fired a vision in our city … recycling started happening and at a larger scale than expected.” The City of Lexington has been transporting materials to the Hub since 2018.
In 2018, the Hub partnered with the Tennessee Department of Transportation Highway Beautification Office and KCCB to build an education and observation classroom onto the Hub. The classroom has a six-foot observation window to view the operations of the MRF as well as six activity stations. The Hub classroom aligns with the state’s STEM curriculum standards to help teach about
recycling, composting, litter prevention, landfills, and operations of the Hub. “TDOT’s choice to fund an education and observation classroom was an easy one,” said Beautification Manager Mike McClanahan. “Chester County has long sought partnerships to upgrade its programming and expand its litter reduction and recycling education messaging. We knew the facility would be impactful, done well, and would receive constant high visitation.”
In 2020, the Hub received a grant from Southwest Electric to create a mobile educational classroom that replicates the classroom at the Hub and can be brought to any school, college, or business. KCCB and the Hub have more than 25 educational programs used in schools including an online educational toolkit. The Education Coordinator works with the Chester County High School welding students, the welding teacher Derrick Gibbs, and the Tennessee College of Applied Technology to help students create a recycled metal sculpture every year. Students use recycled metal materials donated by the Chester County Solid Waste Department, residents, and businesses in the community to create a sculpture for the community to enjoy. Businesses and members like United Auto Body, the Arts Commission, Freed Hardeman
University Department of Fine Arts, the Chester County Mayor’s Office, and the City of Henderson Mayor’s Office come together to help with the project every year. The Hub and KCCB have educated more than 65,000 students, businesses, organizations, and residents since 2018. The Hub and KCCB have received 10 awards for the education and outreach programs and three national awards for the Hub operations and partnerships since 2018.
Working Through COVID
During COVID, the Hub faced challenges with labor issues and higher contamination rates in single-stream recycling. The Hub and its employees worked through those challenges with each city and county, and never closed during COVID. “COVID was a challenge to everyone. Some days we would come into the office, and we would all stop our main jobs during the morning, run the sort line for four hours and in the afternoons swap back and finish our main jobs for the day. We made it work short-staffed despite the ripples of the virus,” said WTRRH Foreman Duane Edgin.
During COVID, the Hub could not continue some of the education and outreach programs in schools. The Recycling Coordinator and Education Coordinator created an online educational toolkit to print online, started live streaming on Facebook from the classroom with educational talks about recycling and litter prevention, and started an online litter prevention campaign for PPE (masks and gloves) to keep items off the ground and out of recycling bins. The Hub also handed out educational activity paper packets to students during this time. “We had to think outside the box to educate residents and students at home and get creative during COVID. Especially with PPE contamination in recycling,” said Amber Greene, who worked as the Recycling Coordinator at that time. Shelly Fesmire is the newly hired Recycling Coordinator for the Hub. She is excited to be a part of a team of people that care for the environment and looks forward to working with the community, businesses, and municipalities.
A Vital Part of the Community
“The employees at Chester County Solid Waste, West Tennessee Regional Recycling Hub, and Keep Chester County Beautiful are passionate, care for their environment, and work as a team to help Chester and surrounding communities. We would not have a successful education program or be able to operate the Hub without the team of outstanding employees that work here, that are passionate about their environment, and want to make our community and West Tennessee a better place to live,” said Greene, who is now serving as Solid Waste Director.
“The most outstanding achievement so far is being a part of a team that works together every day to make their environment and community a better place every day,” said Chester County Mayor Barry Hutcherson. He added, “The Recycling Hub, Keep Chester County Beautiful, and Chester County Solid Waste are all vital parts of the community and region here in West Tennessee and I am proud that Chester County has an outstanding recycling program and facility.”
In Focus: Chester County’s Solid Waste Director
In 2021, Solid Waste Director Danny Benard retired, and County Mayor Barry Hutcherson appointed Amber Greene as Solid Waste Director of Chester County Solid Waste and West Tennessee Regional Recycling Hub. Greene is the first female Solid Waste Director Chester County has ever appointed, the youngest female County Solid Waste Director in the State of Tennessee currently, and has been the Executive Director of Keep Chester County Beautiful since 2015. “I am very humbled and excited to serve the County as Solid Waste Director. I am here to continue to serve the citizens of Chester County, work with businesses, cities, and counties to recycle, continue to Keep Chester County Beautiful, and move the Hub forward to grow with exciting changes coming to West Tennessee in the future,” said Greene. “I want to be a role model and inspiration to the next generation of young ladies coming into the solid waste and recycling industry.”
Andrea Holland, Chair of the Solid Waste Committee and County Commissioner, said, “I am proud of our very own, Amber Greene. She is so ambitious and gets the job done while helping others to achieve the goals they are pursuing. Amber doesn’t take any short cuts, and her persistence and loyalty are beyond expectations. She is always positive and smiles even when put in difficult situations. We all know that success is very hard work and along with success comes sacrifice and learning the field we work in on a continual basis. The success that she has helped to bring to the Chester County, TN Solid Waste Department does not go unnoticed … Thank you Amber for your positive outlook and the inspiration to all of us and as always. I am honored to serve as your Solid Waste Committee Chairman.”
In the future, the West TN Regional Recycling Hub plans to expand to add a new addition onto the MRF with another loading dock. This will help process more materials on the tipping floor from municipalities, businesses, schools, and other organizations. The Hub’s goal is to work on processing more materials and decreasing contamination by using the Volunteer to Recycle program. When educating residents and future generations, it is very important to have a successful recycling program. “This project started, with two counties working together back in 2011.” Hutcherson reflected. “Today, we have governments from all over West Tennessee and into Mississippi wanting to participate. The Hub is a critical piece of recycling infrastructure that supports the region and our manufacturers located here in this rural county.” | WA
West Tennessee Regional Recycling Hub Receives Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Award
Tennessee Governor Bill Lee and Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) Commissioner David Salyers announced the winners of the 2022 Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Awards. The winners were formally recognized at an awards ceremony July 25 in Franklin for their achievements and positive impact on the state’s natural resources and communities.
“We are proud to recognize those who work diligently to protect Tennessee’s unmatched beauty and natural resources,” Lee said. “They exemplify a commitment to conservation and responsible stewardship, and we commend them for their excellent work.”
“This is an impressive list of winners, and we are glad TDEC once again presented these awards,” Salyers said. “The winners go above and beyond expectations, and we congratulate them for their achievements.”
“I am truly honored to accept this award for the West TN Regional Recycling Hub,” said Greene. “Education and Outreach is vital to our community and future generations to teach the importance of our environment, recycling, litter prevention, and landfills.”