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Dawn Ratcliffe wins recycling award

September 14, 2009

When Dawn Ratcliffe was initially notified that she would be accepting an award at the 2009 APWA/AzRC Conference Awards Luncheon, she thought it was for Arizona State University as a whole.

So when she got to the event at the Phoenix Convention Center and thumbed through the program, she was stunned to see her name as winner of the School Recycling Representative of the Year Award.

“Someone nominated me. I don’t know who,” she says. Her award was, appropriately, a plaque made of recycled glass.

Ratcliffe joined the ASU staff in April 2008 as recycling coordinator for the Tempe campus. She had been told that ASU was in transition with its recycling program, so “I knew how it would be – that the first five or six months would be chaotic,” she says.

Since she hit the ground running last year, Ratcliffe has barely stopped to enjoy the fruits of her labor. There’s always that big goal looming in front of her: Zero waste at ASU.

In the last year, Ratcliffe has overseen the implementation of co-mingled recycling, the addition of large compactors and the expansion of what can be recycled – the most comprehensive recycling program to date on the Tempe campus.

She also has been meeting with the ASU community to drum up support and challenge everyone to exceed expectations. “I have given more than 50 presentations since spring of 2008,” she said.

Ratcliffe also coordinated recycling at the 2009 Commencement, which, with President Obama as speaker, was deemed “one of the largest commencements in U.S. history.”

Student move-in and move-out also creates a lot of potential trash, and Ratcliffe has attacked both occasions with zeal.

“This past May, thanks to a group of dedicated staff, students and Swift Charities for Children," she says, "we had the most successful move-out to date, generating a record-setting seven-plus tons of items for children’s charities.”

Ratcliffe also has been busy looking for low- or no-cost recycling bins and has landed $7,200 worth of donated containers, while ASU students have secured another $7,000 worth of free bins.

Ratcliffe graduated with a degree in English and a minor in communications from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, but her heart has always been in environmental work.

Before coming to ASU, she worked for Arizonans for Humane Farms, Chesapeake Climate Action, Morning Glory Organic Farm, Clean Water Action, D.C., and the UNC Recycling Department.

Ratcliffe’s next big event will be the Homecoming block party and game, and she’s already started rounding up volunteers to collect recyclables at the tailgate parties.

Most of all, Ratcliffe hopes to change the attitudes about recycling at ASU. “Recycling has to be part of our everyday lives,” she says. “It’s not just trash.”