How I Recycle: Katie Gwathmey, Manager, Smart City Partnerships

Welcome to “How I Recycle,” a new series from Rubicon® in which we sit down with a Rubicon employee from across our offices to dive into everything from their recycling best practices, interesting solutions that they have created to make recycling easier, and what they’re doing to live up to Rubicon’s mission to end waste, in all its forms, in their own communities.

Next up is Katie Gwathmey, Manager, Smart City Partnerships, based out of Rubicon’s New York City office—though due to the COVID-19 global health emergency, currently working from home with her stubborn Westie, Finnegan.

This is how she recycles.

What are your recycling routines at home? What do you tend to focus on?

My key focus at home is finding ways to reuse or simply avoid items.

I spent a lot of time researching plastic pollution, so I particularly try to reduce my use of plastic items. That being said, I have a rabid food delivery habit, and most of the items in our supermarkets, bathroom, and life are made of plastic, so I just try to reduce where I can. When recycling, I always focus on cleaning out the plastic and glass jars and containers I put in the bin as food contamination can lead to items being rejected. It’s also important to look up what can be recycled in your particular municipality, as certain cities can only accept particular types of plastic or other materials. I try to compost as much as possible, but this is definitely an area that I need to get better at in the future!

Have you discovered any cool solutions to make recycling easier?

GrowNYC is a great nonprofit with amazing information on where New Yorkers can drop off compost, old clothes, and electronics. Their website is the first I visit for any recycling-related questions.

For reuse or simply reducing materials, I think the most effective solutions I’ve encountered are the ones you’ve all heard before. However, once you make it a habit you would be surprised how hard it is to go back:

  • Reusable water bottles: Buy a reusable water bottle that you really like and never leave it at home. It’s a pain and can be heavy, but you’ll forever avoid using plastic water bottles, and save a ton of money.
  • Reusable bags: Use a reusable bag that folds into a tiny bunch and stick it in your bag so you have it at all times. Plastic bags cannot be recycled curbside, and can actually break down the machines that sort recycling materials at your local materials recovery facility (MRF).
  • Reusable silverware: This is a little bit more annoying, but carrying around reusable silverware, or keeping a set at your desk at work, can help you remove all the plastic cutlery that comes with take-out food. (Some food delivery apps give you the option to refuse plastic cutlery; or if you pick up, you can return the plastic cutlery placed in your to-go bag.)

There are so many cool new companies that are focusing on transitioning our packaging from single-use to circular across all facets of our life. For example, look into how much plastic you use in your bathroom! Although a lot of the products below are very cool, they are cost prohibitive. I’m looking forward to when these types of options are available for everyone:

  • By Humankind: Subscription-based/refillable deodorant and toothpaste.
  • Plaine Products: Refillable shampoo and conditioner.
  • CupClub: Company looking to transition from single-use coffee cups to reusable.

What are your most-recycled items or materials?

It’s a real mix… but mostly food-related containers, such as empty jars, salad containers, etc. An insight a colleague told me a while back that made me adjust my recycling is that black plastic cannot be “seen” or “read” by the machines sorting materials at the MRF. So, all of the black plastic containers from takeout most likely end up in the landfill. Now I try to reduce how many black plastic containers I purchase, as I know that they are more difficult to properly recycle than plastic containers of other colors.

How has working from home made you rethink your recycling or sustainability efforts?

As I mentioned above, I have a bad order-in habit. With working from home, I’ve been cooking a lot more which has certainly reduced the plastic produced from my weekly Thai order! That being said, I’ve also noticed how much food there is that I need to start composting. Getting into the habit of dropping off food waste for composting is going to be a focus moving forward.

If you could share one nugget of advice on how we can all better recycle, what would it be?

Do some research into your particular city’s recycling program. Like many other things, the better informed you are the better you’ll be at it. That being said, it’s important that recycling responsibility doesn’t all get pushed onto citizens. It’s on government to make rules and regulations clearer, as well as build up recycling infrastructure in this country. It’s on companies to start taking responsibility for the packaging they produce, and to ramp up the development of products that are easier to reuse and/or recycle.


David Rachelson is Vice President of Sustainability at Rubicon. To stay ahead of Rubicon’s announcements of new partnerships and collaborations around the world, be sure to follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, or contact us today.

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