When Heidi Koselke of Valparaiso and Deborah Smith of LaCrosse were sponsored by their employer to take the Porter County Master Recycler class, neither one of them anticipated such a colorful conclusion to their experience.
Koselke and Smith work for Ardagh, a global consumer packaging company which produces beverage can ends at its Valparaiso plant. After completing the classes last fall, the two put their heads together to come up with a plan to pay back the program’s requested 30 volunteer hours to achieve their Master Recycler certifications. Those hours could include educating others on recycling or creating recycling programs.
“While we provide many opportunities to volunteer at events, we also suggest to our students to look immediately around them for easy opportunities to pay back their volunteer hours,” said Donna Stuckert, coordinator of the Porter County Master Recycler Program. The program is sponsored by Porter County Recycling & Waste Reduction.
And that’s exactly what they did! According to Koselke, a quality control inspector, they knew they wanted to create a fun way to advertise Ardagh and provide recycling education, while creating a tool for community outreach.
“We wanted to make the project simple yet educational,” said Smith.
“We felt we have a responsibility to get people to recycle,” Koselke added. “Beverage cans are actually recycled more than any other beverage package and can be recycled infinitely.”
The Ardagh plant in Valparaiso produces approximately 30 million beverage can ends per day. The ends are the circular pieces of aluminum that include the tabs and the openings.
Koselke and Smith embarked on a draft of a coloring book as a way to share the spirit of the company’s environmental messages with the local community. Among many other sustainability objectives, such as material, energy and water use reduction, the company also targets zero waste.
The goal of the book would be to educate kids on recycling and shine a spotlight on the extraordinary recyclability of aluminum beverage cans.
The two recruited Ardagh Valparaiso coworker Ryan Schultz, who considers himself a hobby artist, to help with design. The book’s story included the creation of a mascot they named “Ardie” who comes from the planet “Ardagh” and, basically, is a beverage can come to life.
“The can end reminds me of a face, with the opening as the mouth and tab as the nose and eye,” Koselke said.
Schultz, who helps maintain Ardagh’s machines, created Ardie and the illustrations in the book, adding puzzles and other activities that would challenge kids. Their plans and new mascot remained under wraps for weeks, and the group used signs to tease their coworkers that a “new team member” was coming on board soon, building curiosity and interest.
Once the new coloring book mascot was introduced, Koselke and Smith, a forklift operator, embarked on a campaign of educational posters and presentations for their coworkers to learn more about recycling in their communities.
“Our coworkers told us they really appreciated our presentations, and they learned a lot,” said Smith.
A permanent “Ask Ardie” display allows employees to continue to ask recycling questions whenever they think of them, Smith said.
Their successful planning and creation of the coloring book and educational efforts took approximately four months and created a demand from some of the company’s more than 100 locations across the world to have their own coloring books.
“This is a very unique Master Recycler success story,” said Stuckert. “All of our volunteers continue to make a difference by sharing their knowledge, using their own unique talents and creativity, and inspiring others around them to reduce waste.”
The next Master Recycler class kicks off from 6 to 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 13 in Valparaiso. Anyone who lives or works in Porter County and is interested in learning more about reducing their impact on the environment can register online for the class, www.PorterCountyRecycling.org.
The program includes six classes and three field trips and addresses topics like curbside recycling, garbage and landfills, recycling outside the bin, composting, vermicomposting, household hazardous waste, water and more. For more information, call 219-465-3819.
Porter County Recycling & Waste Reduction is an agency dedicated to improving the environment and quality of life by providing services and educational programs which help residents reduce, reuse, and recycle.
Ardagh Group is a global leader in metal and glass packaging solutions, producing packaging for most of the world's leading food, beverage and consumer care brands. The company operates more than 100 facilities in 22 countries, employ more than 23,000 people and have global sales of approximately $8.6 billion. For more information, please visit www.ardaghgroup.com.