Retirees like to recycle with 80% participation

By Gerald Hay

When it comes to just recycling a few things at The Village Cooperative of Shawnee, retirees just say rubbish.

Like many residents in similar retirement communities throughout Johnson County, residents at The Village, 12830 Johnson Dr., were used to recycling in their homes and curbside recycling services for decades. Unlike residential recycling, apartments and retirement communities often don’t provide recycling.

Working with the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment, offering recycling information, signage and small bins, and Waste Management, providing trash and recycling pickup services and collection dumpsters, The Village launched a popular recycling program with more than 80% participation among the residents.

A survey among residents found overwhelmingly support for access to recycling.

“The majority of people who are living here had recycled before, most were homeowners and were into curbside recycling,” said Doris Briggs said. “Other residents wanted to continue recycling in their new housing arrangement.”

There are many reasons to recycle: Saving space in landfills, conserving natural resources and energy, reducing the need for new raw materials, top the list of whys.

Sharon Hamilton, president of the board of directors at The Village, offers a far simpler reason: “That we are helping save the earth. I think part of it is our age, we know something needs to be done and we are trying to do our part.”

Peg Carlson, vice president of the board, agreed.

“We’re doing it for our children, our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren. We’re wanting them to grow up in a decent and sustainable environment,” she said.

They are members of the recycle committee of in-house volunteers that guides the recycling program at The Village. The committee includes Bob Carlson, Peg’s husband of 60 years; Mike and Jennifer Dormady, who have been married for 55 years; and Jerry Rittgers.

All are advocates and participants in the successful recycling program in various ways.

“I don’t do anything,” Bob Carlson quipped. “I’m retired.”

Committee members are among the retirees living in 53 apartments on three levels at The Village Cooperative of Shawnee.

Each level has two refuse rooms with small plastic crates for residents to place discarded bottles, jars and other glass. Blue tubs collected donated aluminum cans.

Mike Dormady is the “bottle man” at the retirement community. “My part is collecting the glass in designated areas and taking it to a Ripple glass dumpster located near us,” he explained.

Rittgers is the “can man” in the recycling program. Each week, he empties all blue tubs in the six refuse rooms, filling one, often more, 35-gallon trash bags of cans. Over six to eight weeks, he accumulates 15 to 16 can bags before selling them at a recycle center.

“It’s a SUV full,” he said with a smile.

Stored in the basement, the collection of can bags weighs an average of 50 pounds, selling for $20 in January.

“These funds are returned to the Village Co-op and used to purchase our coffee supplies. A residential benefit is free coffee. There’s no donation jar,” said Rittgers. He is also on the board of directors.

In each refuse room, residents can also open a door to a vertical chute system that allows to separate disposal of both trash and recyclables, such as plastic bottles, food boxes, paper and small cardboard.

Signs remind residents what to recycle and what’s trash. Deposits of both recyclables and trash drop in the chute to appropriate dumpsters in the basement. Another basement dumpster is used to collected large boxes and cardboard donations.

“The key was education, education, education,” Jennifer Dormady said. “To educate, we held a few of us what was recyclable and what was trash. We also have a group compost pile.”

The recycling information meetings were provided through the Department of Health and Environment’s Green Business Program.

The Village was the first Johnson County retirement community assisted by the Green Business Program. The program offers free assistance on sustainability efforts, educational outreach and technical guidance to Johnson County businesses, schools, multi-family housing, retirement communities and places of worship.

In 2019, The Village Cooperative of Shawnee was recipient of a Green Business Award from the department and remains the only retirement community thus far to receive the award.

The many rules of what can and cannot be recycled often are confusing, but a well-known phase suggests practicing the 3Rs: Reduce (waste), reuse, recycle.

Recycling matters at any age whenever and wherever possible. It’s also one important way to celebrate the 53rd anniversary of Earth Day on April 22.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Jennifer Dormady. “As seniors, we want to do our part to try and save the planet, if it’s not too late.”

Note: More information about the Green Business Program is available online at and searching for the program by name or contacting Brian Alferman, sustainability program manager, at the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment at 913-715-6923.

Senior men and women looking into an open recycle bin with a yellow lid.