How the Library Recycles up to 69 Elephants A Year

Clarification: These elephants were never actually at Council Tree Library. Also, the Library has never recycled actual elephants.

Picture 69 African elephants surrounding Council Tree Library. What an image.  

Their weight together is equivalent to the amount of materials Poudre Libraries recycled in 2019 – a whopping 345 tons!  

Making up at least 1/69 of those elephants (a rough estimate granted) were 1,600 gallons of plastic film (plastic bags, bubble wrap, and shrink wrap) and 9,800 gallons of shredded paper sent to Timberline Recycling Center.  

Further dissecting the statistic, about 15.5 tons (or about three elephants) of books and DVDs were recycled in 2019 to be used by others.   

These statistics outline the Library’s robust recycling program. Though it’s been in place for many years, recycling efforts grew in size and scope after former Library Executive Director Holly Carol formed what is known as “The Green Team” in 2010. Consisting of various volunteer Library employees, the Green Team forwards the District’s sustainability efforts and tracks statistics of our recycling practices.  

Many of our green accomplishments in recycling were made possible through the ClimateWise program, a former City of Fort Collins effort that ended in 2019. The program lasted for 20 years, and over its lifetime included over 600 businesses, saved over $94 million, and reduced carbon emissions by 1.4 metric tons. 

Since the creation of the “Green Team,” Poudre Libraries were awarded many Platinum level ClimateWise awards (from 2013-2019 when the program ended) from the City of Fort Collins. Though the ClimateWise program no longer exists, the Library’s sustainability efforts continue. 

Staying Accountable with Statistics 

Our recycling statistics not only help us achieve award-winning sustainability practices but help us stay accountable and improve our recycling methods over time.  

Beyond the image of elephants uncomfortably huddled around a Colorado Library, the statistics are vital to the level of excellence we’ve been able to achieve in our recycling program.  

Here are a few more facts about our recycling:  

In 2020, 12,789 pounds of books, media items, CDs, and electronics, were recycled – in a pandemic year! This is equivalent to the weight of 639 road bikes! 

In 2021, 18,730 pounds of materials were recycled by the Library in yet another pandemic year. This is equivalent to the weight of 6.5 Honda Civics! 

Over the last three years, nearly 300 pounds of laminated paper packaging (used on our book labels and laminate protective coverings ) have been recycled with the company Terracycle who melt the materials into a harder industrial plastic which is used to make items like bracelets, compost bins, and trash cans. 

Materials made by Terracycle using recycled materials including our laminated protective coverings from books

Our Binge Watch Boxes are largely compromised from DVDs that have previously been stand-alone items in our collection. We now have over 200 Binge Watch Boxes with various themes. These joined the collection around 2019 and have been a popular choice among customers. 

The Queen of Recycling (and Spreadsheets) 

All of our recycling statistics are kept by Bibliographic Services Clerk, Louise Mosnik. As part of the Green Team since its inception, Louise is the unofficial Queen of Recycling and Spreadsheets, tracking each pound of recycled material from its beginning to end location.  

We had the opportunity to interview who, before being one of our Library staff champions, was a mental health therapist turned craft store owner turned Library employee. She joined Poudre Libraries in 1997 and has stayed for the last 24 years.  

During this time, she’s seen our District as an entity of the City of Fort Collins and then as an independent Library District. She’s seen the renovation of “Main Library” (now Old Town Library) and the expansion of our district from one location to three public locations.  

Beyond managing the recycling tracking and statistics, Louise’s job entails many different tasks; from managing magazines in the collection, to individual invoicing for items, to working in tandem with the City on recycling efforts, Louise certainly stays busy in her job. 

A fan of the Library for decades, she shared, “My daughters and I used to plan our summers around the Summer Reading Program. In fact, one of my daughters helped to form the library program “International Reading Series” in high school which has developed into what we know today as “Teen Council.”  

Prompted about the recycling program, Louise said, “I grew up in Boulder and have always been interested in recycling and reuse – it’s always been a part of my life. On that note, I’m incredibly proud of the recycling we have been able to do during a pandemic.” 

Creative Reuse 

As a former craft store owner, Louise has also brought creativity to our recycling. Through what Mosnik calls, “Creative Reuse,” items destined for the landfill or recycling have found new lives in art classes and programs coordinated by the Library.  

Previously, Louise was involved in facilitating some of these programs and spoke of these times with great reflection and excitement, “I used to teach classes for the teens on repurposing materials. We did so many over the years – in fact, right now I’m looking at my shelf of crafts from those exact programs.” 

Over the phone, Louise listed off many ways in which materials have been creatively reused. Reuse craft programs have included origami hearts, papier mâché gingerbread houses, duct tape baskets and containers, coasters made out of old DVDs, collages made from old books, and many more. Above are a few examples of teen creative reuse programs.

One of the more popular creative reuses involved more well-loved or damaged hardcover books; since the paper jackets of hardcover books pose a recycling challenge (they can be recycled though it is more difficult,) the covers are removed leaving the shells of stories. In an effort to reuse these covers, these paper book jackets were recycled in a create-your-own journal class for teens.  

During Picture Book Month, (November) paper jackets were also used for popular programs in Fall 2021 where children created their own books utilizing the recycled covers and new paper.  

The Mighty Green Team 

Because the Green Team’s accomplishments and contributions to Library District’s recycling are so numerous, we wanted to give a shout out to the other current team members who lead the effort: Gayle Brakefield (Homebound Services Assistant), Crystal Bollman (Interlibrary Loan Coordinator), Amy Lyons (Finance Manager), and Meg Schiel (Adult Services Librarian).  

Over the years, the Library Green Team has had to find new agencies to take our recycled items. The changes to recycling in the past 5 years have also posed different challenges that require unique solutions. However, the Green Team and Library staff is fully committed to keeping it green and try to keep as many items out of the landfill as possible.

Library staff with materials for local Food Banks

Here are a few other Green Team’s accomplishments: 

In 2018, a city-led campaign to “Pitch the Disposables” inspired the Green Team to get creative when thinking about reducing the Library District’s waste. Louise made each employee at Webster House Administration Center (WHAC) tiny fabric napkins and made sure to encourage the use of water bottles and metal silverware. 

Working with the City, the Green Team has facilitated important signage in our locations that help inform people about their recycling.  

In the past, the Library has also collected hundreds of pounds of food for local food drives and food banks.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Library District provided curbside pickup. Prior to the pandemic, magazines had previously been organized in binders though with pandemic changes, each magazine issue had to be an individual item so that people could pick them up curbside. As a result of the change of format, the Green Team recycled what was possible from the former binders, all the way down to the metal rings at Timberline Recycling Center. 

On a more personal note, since the beginning of the pandemic, Mosnik has made over 900 fabric masks for friends, coworkers, and family. 

The Green Team’s track record speaks to their monumental accomplishments with District – we’re so lucky to have them.  

At that, we are fortunate to have had the Queen of Recycling (and spreadsheets) with us for 24 years and hopefully many more. In the meantime, we hope to keep stacking up the number of elephants we recycle each year.