What an 11-Year-Old Taught Her Neighborhood
When Jennifer Steiner’s family moved to a new neighborhood, she was surprised to see no recycling bins in front of houses. Eleven years old at the time, she learned about recycling in elementary school and knew its importance to the environment.
It turned out that recycling service and bins were available through the local garbage disposal company, but residents of the Parker, Colo., community had not been informed. After her own family received a bin, Steiner felt inspired to educate the community and launched her own door-to-door campaign, One Small Step, to encourage people to start recycling.
Steiner offered to order and pick up bins for neighbors. The local garbage company, Waste Management, charged a fee for the bins – $15 for two if the homeowner picked up the bins or an extra $15 to have them delivered. Steiner even got Waste Management’s permission to collect the fees herself and deliver checks to the company. Some neighbors couldn’t afford bins. Steiner told them they could recycle nonetheless and provided them with recycling stickers to affix to other types of containers.
“I tell people that any effort helps,” says Steiner. “Anyone who puts out a bin or even a cardboard box can make a real difference by recycling.”
Steiner, now 18, has personally persuaded hundreds of families to recycle – and she and her mother have delivered more than 100 recycling bins to community members – but her efforts have had a far broader reach. Soon after she began One Small Step, her school principal allowed her to speak to students about the need for recycling. Steiner personally trained 30 students in how to start recycling programs in their own neighborhoods.
In 2009, the county asked Steiner if she’d appear in a public service announcement to promote recycling. The PSA, which ran on Douglas County Television for two years, reached a potential audience of 300,000. (Watch it here.)
“It’s a lot of work,” says Steiner. “Between soccer practice and school, and having family and personal time, it’s been a challenge to also work on One Small Step. But it’s worth it to me because I’m passionate about it.”
Steiner has received several awards for her community service. She has been honored by the mayor and county council. This year, in the state-by-state Prudential Spirit of the Community Awards for volunteerism, Steiner received Colorado’s Bronze Medal.
“Colorado is beautiful no matter what season it is, and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else,” says Steiner. “I’m proud to know I have made a difference and can continue to do so. It gives me peace of mind to take care of a place where I love to live.”
As she looks ahead to college, Steiner says she hopes she will have the chance to start a recycling program on her campus, and hopes the work she has done she has done in Parker will continue.