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Natural Awakenings Atlanta

Live Thrive Closes the Loop

An amber bottle gets recycled at a house party in Decatur and brought into the Center for Hard to Recycle Materials (CHaRM) at 1110 Hill Street SE. That bottle, along with thousands of others, is picked up by a delivery service and brought to a plant in Georgia where it is cleaned and recycled.

The amber glass is then redistributed to local Atlanta buyers: For instance, a brewing company that fills amber bottles with beer purchased for Decatur house parties.

This is what Peggy Whitlow Ratcliffe, founder and executive director of Live Thrive Atlanta, the company that owns the CHaRM facility, refers to as “a closed loop of recycling,” a system to which she is a proud contributor.

“At the time I started to research how to do all this - my mom had passed away and her hospice poured her meds down the drain” Ratcliffe says, “and then after she passed away, when you start cleaning out someone’s house, they’ve got herbicides and pesticides from 30 years prior. It’s like, what do you do with this stuff?”

Even though other municipalities in Georgia had done household hazardous waste collections before, Atlanta never had, Ratcliffe says. Sensing there was need waiting to be met, Ratcliffe started thinking about the city’s first hazardous waste collection effort, and the organization grew from there.

“Live Thrive Atlanta actually started in 2010” Ratcliffe says, “and we held the first city of Atlanta household hazardous waste event in September.”

A non-profit organization, Live Thrive Atlanta partnered with various city council members to put on numerous recycling events which, though successful in safely disposing of hazardous materials, were not very cost effective. The largest of these events cost upwards of $65,000, which after contributions from city council members, left more than $40,000 to be raised by Ratcliffe.

After five years of such events, Ratcliffe turned to Atlanta city council member Alex Wan to help advance her vision.

“When he saw the numbers about how much it was costing us to do them, and how many people were actually serviced, and the good we were doing, he was like, ‘You know, I would love to help you get a permit.’”

Ratcliffe opened the CHaRM facility two years ago, and now employs two other people to assist at a facility that can recycle - or safely dispose of - a wide variety of items, including but not limited to toilets, glass, tires, mattresses, Styrofoam, paint, and, on the rare occasion, tubes of mercury.

At the heart of Live Thrive Atlanta is Ratcliffe’s philosophy that things continue to be useful long after they’ve been conventionally discarded. Groups of school children touring the facility, for instance, are often delighted to learn that recycled porcelain toilets get crushed down to form the base for roads.

Ratcliffe says since opening CHaRM, Live Thrive Atlanta has recycled about 1,500 tons. In that time, Ratcliffe has noticed the surrounding neighborhood sprout from an industrial one to increasingly residential. The growing number of new families fuels her efforts to build a more sustainable, cleaner, and safer community.

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