Bowen educates Emory about the recycling `loop'

Digging through her co-workers' trash to rescue discarded white paper for recycling isn't Fiona Bowen's favorite activity, but she's willing to do it if it means reducing the amount of garbage Emory sends to landfills.

A general buyer in the Purchasing Department, Bowen takes recycling very seriously. "I'll sit there and just look at this huge thing of white paper in the garbage," said Bowen, who describes herself as pleasant and fun, but also direct and no-nonsense. "`Going through my trash again today, Fiona?' is a question I hear a lot, but I try not to be too compulsive about the issue. If I make them feel guilty, I've done my job."

In addition to serving as co-chair of Emory Recycles, the University's white paper recycling program, Bowen has spearheaded Emory's efforts to encourage campus departments and divisions to buy products made from recycled material.

Completing the loop

About two years ago, Bowen attended a recycling convention in New Hampshire. Even though she was already serving on the Emory Recycles Steering Committee, that event had a tremendous impact on her. "All of a sudden, I knew that that was what I really wanted to delve into," she said. "It was like I had a new aspect of my job. From that experience, I really got into recycling, what it's all about and why we are doing it. I had a better understanding of what needs to be done."

Helping people on campus understand that recycling is a circular process is one of the main things that Bowen feels must be done. Placing used white paper in a recycling container is a crucial step in the process because it gets the paper off campus without adding to the waste levels in already crowded landfills.

"After you recycle it, you need to buy it back," Bowen explained. "It's a full loop. You use it, you remanufacture it and you buy it back. That's where I come into play, because I consider myself a buy recycled buyer."

Bowen also considers herself a campus recycling educator of sorts. She keeps abreast of the latest news on products made from post-consumer material, which refers to paper that has been used and recycled, as opposed to paper that is labeled merely "recycled," which refers to excess paper from the printing process that is reused in the paper manufacturing process but has not actually been used by a consumer.

While she can't compel any department to buy products made from recycled material, which are often more expensive than so-called "virgin" products, Bowen does offer that alternative to departments. "Sometimes they approach me, and when they do, I have tons and tons of literature with information on buying recycled products," she said.

In an effort to further her efforts at Emory, Bowen has joined the National Recycling Coalition's Buy Recycled Business Alliance, a coalition of businesses and other institutions that encourages organizational commitments to buying products made of recycled materials. Some of the products on display in Bowen's office include a t-shirt and carpet sample made from recycled plastic bottles and binders made from recycled milk jugs.

Raising campus awareness

Since Bowen came to Emory in 1989, she has been heavily involved in two initiatives to raise awareness about pressing environmental concerns: the Emory Recycles Steering Committee and the annual Earth Day Vendor Fair.

Emory's sixth annual Earth Day Vendor Fair will be held Friday, April 21, at Coca-Cola Commons in Dobbs Center, and Bowen is once again organizing the event. She regards the event as crucial because it presents a rare opportunity for people on campus "to touch and feel the products that are made from recycled material and get free samples of them. Whether they buy is their decision later on."

As Emory Recycles co-chair, Bowen has undertaken the daunting task of monitoring a program that seeks to cover a campus that is highly decentralized, both administratively and geographically. Garnering support from scores of departments with vastly different interests and organizational cultures has been a challenge for Bowen and the other Emory Recycles Steering Committee members. Nevertheless, Bowen feels that Emory is doing a good job with its recycling program.

"As far as other colleges and universities are concerned, we do a good job in trying to increase our quantity [of material being recycled]," she said. "There are a lot of economic issues involved in recycling, and it usually isn't a moneymaker. If we've had any problems at Emory, it's because there's no way of showing how recycling can make money. It's probably not going to. But we have an environmental need to meet."

Educating the campus community about the importance of that environmental need stirs strong emotions in Bowen, who has taken courses in the Human and Natural Ecology Program to enhance her expertise on the subject. She received internship credit for coordinating and marketing a live PBS satellite conference on campus that addressed recycling markets and other related issues. She wants to continue her educational efforts by leading recycling seminars for Emory community members.

Tom Pruett, waste management supervisor in Facilities Management and coordinator of Emory Recycles, believes Bowen is the ideal person to lead such sessions. "Fiona is one of the most enthusiastic people about our recycling program that I've ever known," Pruett said. "She really cares about these issues. She's very determined and very dedicated to the cause."

Regardless of whether her dreams of formal recycling education programs become a reality, Bowen will undoubtedly continue to educate the campus, even if it means keeping up the not-so-pleasant tradition of digging through her co-workers' trash.

--Dan Treadaway