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Ed Newman in 2009

Photographer: Patty Mitchell

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Self-described 'Trash Man' leaves legacy on OHIO’s reduce, reuse and recycle efforts

Recycling and Refuse Manager Ed Newman retires

When you talk to Ed Newman about his 22-year career in OHIO’s Office of Recycling and Refuse, you spend the first 10 minutes listening to him praise the work of other environmental advocates.

“You can’t discount the hard work of the staff and students here,” Newman says. “So you can’t take all the credit.”

Newman retired as recycling and refuse manager on June 30.

Newman, a 1980 graduate in environmental biology, was hired as OHIO’s first Recycling Coordinator in 1990, on the 20th anniversary of Earth Day. The Office of Recycling and Refuse manages OHIO’s efforts in recycling, reusing and reducing the University’s overall waste, an effort that is aligned with the University's Sustainability Plan. Throughout his career he played an influential role in making this unit what it is today: a pivotal player in reducing OHIO’s overall waste and operations costs by reducing the amount of its trash that enters landfills. It also educates students and the public about best practices in waste reduction and recycling.

“During my time at Ohio University, recycling, reducing and reusing what ends up in the trash went from a fringe idea to more like a mainstream norm, and some of that is due to the economic benefit to OHIO’s operating expenses,” Newman said.

Newman has a long history of activism in environmental conservation. Prior to taking the position at OHIO, he helped to sustain a recently closed recycling center and later worked for the Athens City-County Health Department as the Litter Control Enforcement Officer. He was well known for his passion for cleaning up waste and became somewhat of a "reduce and recycling evangelist." He admits that he was at times unpopular with some in the county because he enforced the laws against illegal dumping of trash and related violations.

“I went after a lot of people for trash violations,” Ed laughs. “There never was a strong program to do that before. But we also educated people and promoted awareness and helped create opportunities to reduce and recycle waste. We wanted to be inclusive with the entire community.”

This was also done with the grassroots organization that formed back then called Southeastern Ohio Recycling Terminal (SORT). SORT was instrumental in helping move recycling from a grassroots movement to being a public utility in our community, Newman said.

Over time, Newman has seen the city’s and University’s seemingly progressive stance about the benefits of reducing waste on recycling and waste reduction as not just about “being green” but also about saving money and creating economic development opportunities locally. 

“It’s also about economies of scale. Recycling and reducing the waste coming out of the city of Athens and Ohio University is a more economical alternative because less trash going into the landfill saves on disposal costs and recycled materials can be sold to a broker,” Newman says. “This approach also offers an economic opportunity for entrepreneurs, keeps money closer to home, and generates jobs.”

In 2012 and through the last 22 years, OHIO, with the help of the Athens County Recycling Center kept costs of disposal down while earning revenues from the sale of recyclable materials. The efforts of the Office of Recycling and Refuse helped to facilitate this. The eventual goal of this department is to minimize the output of materials as waste and treat them as recoverable resources, turning them into revenues streams. This approach is called Zero Waste, Newman explained.

One of Newman’s legacies as the office’s manager was as co-creator of RecycleMania in 2001 with his colleague at Miami University of Ohio. RecycleMania started out as a competition between the universities to see who could accumulate more pounds of recyclable material during a specific timeframe. The competition became so popular that in 2012, 600 universities and colleges participated nationwide and in Canada. This year OHIO was first in the Mid-American Conference in 5 out of 6 competitions and increased its recycling rate by 4 percent, according to the Office of Sustainability’s newsletter, Routes. OHIO recycled 537,247 pounds during the eight-week competition.

“RecycleMania became a way to make recycling a bit more fun on campus,” Newman said. “There is so much heavy news and issues that we are exposed to everyday and RecycleMania tries to lighten it up a little bit with inter-collegiate recycling competition. We’re exposed to competition and rivalries all the time and this plays off of that and has a positive outcome. By participating, everybody wins.”

Newman was awarded the Tim McClure Award for Outstanding Environmental and Community Leadership in September, 2008, by the National Recycling Coalition in recognition of his work with RecycleMania. He also received the Administrator of the Year Award in 1998.

His last major initiative prior to retiring, was taking “Move-Out” to a greater positive result. "Move-Out" aims to reduce the amount of waste generated in the spring at Ohio University and in the Athens residential community. This year “Move-Out” officially produced less trash overall, according to the waste district, Newman said with a smile and gleam in his eye. Not only did less trash go to the landfill but also more goods and food went to people in need in the region.

Newman says his work with students who have helped make initiatives like these a success is one of his best rewards while at OHIO.

“We did some pretty cool stuff together,” he said. “I was glad to be an informal mentor, provide them with a learning experience, and watch them become leaders and learn about teamwork and the methodologies of resource management. I also think working here gave them confidence in themselves and gave them some additional tools they could take with them in the field or wherever they landed after graduating.”

Newman made consistent donations to Ohio University’s NPR affiliate, WOUB Public Media, over the years as a way of giving back to the University. For information about Ohio University’s The Promise Lives Campaign or to make a donation, visit www.ohio.edu/campaign.