In the runup to next week’s Resource Recycling Conference and Trade Show in New Orleans, we’re offering Q&As with a few of the industry leaders who will be taking the stage.

Keefe Harrison

Keefe Harrison

In our final installment, we chat with Keefe Harrison, the CEO of The Recycling Partnership. Her organization is backed by a variety of industry stakeholders and works toward growing curbside recycling in communities across the U.S.

Harrison is speaking on a conference plenary session called The Real Role of Recycling, which will explore why recycling, like trash, is an essential service all municipalities need to provide to their residents, regardless of market conditions. The session was organized by The Recycling Partnership.

How did your team settle on the premise behind its “Real Role of Recycling” plenary panel?

Because misunderstandings – and misleading information – about recycling service are being repeated again and again across the country. We’ve all seen the headlines and we know that it’s not true. Recycling is not dying. We wanted to show that recycling has its challenges, but that it’s not going anywhere. Thousands of communities are committed to providing this service to their residents across the country.

Why should recycling be viewed as an essential service? 

Because it is. Recycling should be just as easy to do for residents of the U.S. as it is to throw something away. There are costs to recycling, but there are costs to wasting, as well, but without the same positive environmental and economic impacts. 

“Any community with a robust recycling goal should be supporting that goal with access to recycling and regular communication with residents.”

What role, if any, have municipalities played in perpetuating the notion that recycling should make money for communities?

It was a mistake for many in the industry to perpetuate the myth that recycling should be free. It’s crazy to think that something with the level of service of recycling would be without a cost – they drive down your street and pick it up at your house. Think about that! No one else gives you that kind of service without you paying for it. If some of those costs are offset by commodity values when they are high, that’s terrific news. But the service brings value in other ways when markets are struggling, like today.

How do communities balance the drive for quality recyclables with the longstanding goal of increasing recycling rates nationwide? 

Recycling education is not something that you can do once and forget about it. And communities around the country know that there is a balance between expanding access and working to bring in those tons and making sure that you’re bringing in the right stuff. Any community with a robust recycling goal should be supporting that goal with access to recycling and regular communication with residents. 

What gives you hope that the future is still bright for our industry?

I have been in this industry for more than two decades and I can tell you that I have never seen the kind of attention that recycling is bringing like it is today. Now, not all of it positive, of course! But the attention and the investment that you’ve seen around recycling in recent years through The Recycling Partnership or our friends at Closed Loop Partners is impressive. And it gives me real hope that we’ll be able to grow and unlock the circular economy here in the U.S. We can’t wait to push up our sleeves and help make it happen.

Harrison is speaking on the Real Role of Recycling plenary session, set to take place from 10:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 27. Other session speakers will include Sharon Smith, assistant director of Public Works for Nashville, Tenn.; Allison Brockman, recycling coordinator for Greenville, S.C.; and Suzanna Caldwell, recycling coordinator for Anchorage, Alaska. The discussion will be moderated by Cody Marshall of The Recycling Partnership.

Head to for the full schedule of events and to register today!


2019 Resource Recycling Conference and Trade Show