Ed Newman is a living legend in Athens, Ohio. Not only did he help initiate the City of Athens’ curbside recycling program — the state’s first — but he also transformed Ohio University’s waste management plan and inspired college sustainability programs across the U.S. and Canada.
While working on a bachelor’s degree in environmental biology from Ohio University, Newman left school his senior year to study sustainable agriculture with The Land Institute in Kansas. He later worked at an internship in Arkansas that focused on grass roots solid waste management before returning to Athens to complete his degree in 1981.
Newman grew increasingly interested in solid waste management and how to implement what he had learned out west here in Athens. In 1982, he worked to reopen a local recycling facility, jump-starting a new grassroots-based waste management plan in the city. With the help of the nonprofit litter control program Southeast Ohio Recycling Terminal (SORT), the recycling program in Athens eventually became a public utility and the first curbside recycling program in the state of Ohio.
In 1990, Newman accepted a position with Ohio University as its first-ever Recycling Coordinator — on the 20th anniversary of Earth Day. Under his leadership, the university developed into one of the nation’s greenest institutions of higher learning. Arguably Newman’s greatest legacy is RecycleMania, which started as a friendly recycling competition between rivals Ohio University and Miami. It has now spread to more than 600 universities across the United States and Canada. In 2011, more than 7.5 million students and faculty at participating schools collected 91 million pounds of recyclable and organic materials.
You would think Newman would know all he needed, but in 1995 he began working toward a master of science in environmental studies at the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, taking advantage of tuition discounts offered to university employees.
“I went to class and then used what I learned at work,” said Newman. “It made the job more interesting.”
After 22 years working for the university, Newman retired in 2012. He now enjoys his retirement working as a Litter Control Officer for the City of Athens.
“I didn’t plan my life. Situations presented themselves and I ran with it,” said Newman. “Seize the moment. Put in the energy and time.”