Earth Day InterView – Vicki Rice

Vicki Rice – Recycling is What We Do
By Chris Murphy

The City of Modesto has so many functions. The number one is to make sure that the citizens of Modesto are safe and be a part of the community. From the basic utility billing to the parks and neighborhoods department, the City plays a key role in so many places. Here we are in this, the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, and Vicki Rice has been at the helm of the City of Modesto’s Recycling efforts, making sure that Modesto is doing its part. We are faced with global warming, and unpredictable impacts like the COVID-19 and so many outside forces, so we need a solid response from our government and get our citizens into the action too.

You have seen the special event recycling trailers at Modesto’s big events, and you see her crew out there making sure that people are doing their part and just last year, they introduced some new recycling characters, Cali, Ricki and Vinni. Vicki grew up in Fremont , California and earned her Bachelor of Science degree from San Jose State University. Vicki has been a big part of the city management over 25 years. We really can make a difference and let’s find out what Vicki and her team are doing to make sure we are taking care of our city for the future.

ModestoView: You grew up back in the time when recycling was just getting started. How did this frame your outlook on recycling ?
Vicki Rice: I grew up in a middle class family with two sisters and a brother and we were a reduce-reuse-recycle kind of family before it was cool. Leftovers were a given and hand me downs were commonplace. Lucky for me, I was the oldest girl but us sisters definitely shared a clothes closet and all the fights that came along with it. I remember being really little, living in Pacifica and our kitchen table was literally a wooden picnic table with benches. Our coffee table was made out of a huge round pebble rock stepping stone that sat on top of a planter box. Talk about upcycling, my mom probably invented the phrase. I think the best thing ever was in High School when my dad bought a 280Z and handed it down to his kids when he upgraded. We were two years apart so each of us got to drive it our junior and senior year and then passed it on to the next sibling. For two incredible years I drove that car and was the envy of all my friends until for high school graduation, my gift was a recycled orange Mazda four door sedan. How I missed that 280Z!

MV: Modesto had a big part in the origins of curbside recycling with Ecology Action and Cliff Humphrey, how does this innovator legacy drive Modesto to succeed in this?
VR: His grassroot efforts began the same year Earth Day was born. He had faith that residents would source separate materials for recycling and once that happened there was no turning back. Of course, now curbside recycling in Modesto has evolved into what is commonly referred to as “organic recycling”. Modesto had the vision that the organic material (yard waste, food waste and paper waste) could be collected and turned into compost and lessen the overall impact on our landfills. That forward thinking is really making a difference as we work to reduce methane gas production and decrease our carbon footprint. We absolutely still support in CRV recycling and rely on our certified buy back centers in Modesto to make that recycling happen.

MV: It seems that with many concepts, we have to go through the kids to get adults to take action, do you find this to be the case with recycling?
VR: Education and outreach is the key to success. All schools in Modesto are encouraging recycling on many levels. All food waste is being recycled and captured for composting. A lot of recycling efforts occur naturally by the influence of people wanting to do their part and help the environment. Also, the State of California introduced AB 341 which is mandatory commercial recycling and AB 1826, mandatory organic recycling. Start looking around and you will source separation of materials in many businesses. No longer is it acceptable to consider all discards trash. You now have the responsibility as a business owner and resident to recycle. Our hope is that we introduce the concepts early so by the time you are an adult, recycling is second nature.

MV: If you had unlimited budget, what would you do to make fundamental changes in the way the Modesto recycles?
VR: I would start with packaging to help us strive toward a zero waste community. Eliminate straws, plastic bags and Styrofoam. Reduce packaging everywhere. I would like to see Modesto send a clear message to manufacturers to package responsibly by using recycled and environmentally friendly materials. Because recycling organic waste is so important with this new unlimited budget, I would like to see the expansion of Modesto’s compost facility. I wish for them the latest and greatest in technology so they could do their jobs effectively and really make a difference. My ultimate dream would be to eliminate organic contamination. Stop trying to put your overflow trash in your residential or commercial green can. I would like people to look at food and green waste discards as a commodity that has value and they are a part of the end product and ultimately the solution to a greener Modesto.

MV: You have had many roles at the City of Modesto, what makes you want to be such an involved part of improving Modesto?
VR: Modesto is where I chose to raise a family, work and be involved in my community. I think that is key. Modesto is my community. I am invested in making it better for my family, friends, coworkers and those I serve. I want to do my part, teach and influence others to do their part as well. We have to continue to come together and celebrate what makes Modesto a thriving community. For me, maintaining a positive outlook, being thankful and always willing to move forward in an ongoing effort to make things better is the foundation of who I am.

MV: Tell us some of the obstacles you face with making some of this programs part of our routine? VR: In theory, we all want to do the right thing but sometimes we fought an uphill battle. People have a hard time believing that their part can make a difference and collectively we will see change for the better. There are a lot of laws on the books now that require recycling programs be in place in order to meet diversion goals. If those don’t happen, tighter restrictions will be mandated. My personal goal for 2020 is to tell people to take a look at what they recycle and just do one more thing. If you don’t want to take your recyclables to a buy-back center because it is too much trouble, then find a neighborhood kid or non-profit group that will gladly take them off your hands. If you see your neighbor doesn’t understand what goes in their residential green can, take a minute and let them know. Make recycling second nature in your family and the message will spread. Be an influencer!

MV: What is something that you think the public may not understand about your department?
VR: Many people think that because Modesto is not a three- can system (blue for recycling, black for trash and green for organics) we must not recycle. Just remember in Modesto, we are a two-can system and are actively recycling our organic waste. In the absence of the blue recycling bin, we promote self-hauling to a certified recycling center.

MV: What are some of the things you learned early that influence you today?
VR: Most everything we use continues to have value even if we are done with it. Be a frequent donator or buyer at your local thrift stores. Take only what you need and share when you have an abundance. There is so much satisfaction in giving and what you get back in return can be life changing. Don’t be so quick to judge. Sometimes it is as simple as the person didn’t know or have the adequate resources.

MV: Is there something else you feel is important for the community to work on?
VR: We have so many great people living here in Modesto. Some you will recognize by name but there are so many that choose to be behind the scenes and work towards making Modesto a better place for all of us. Who are you? We are in this together. Get involved and be part of the solution. You can go big, or you can go small…just get going and you too can make a difference.

MV: Tell us something that people may not know about you.
VR: I have been married to my high school sweetheart for 38 years and during that time we never had a pet!

MV: Describe your ideal Modesto day.
VR: Take a small part of what Modesto has to offer every day. Visit a boutique because you are looking for the perfect gift. Have lunch at a local downtown restaurant and even before you order they know what you want. Take a walk on your lunch hour with a co-worker who is also your friend. Make plans with family to see a movie at the State Theatre because the experience is nostalgic and they are avid recyclers! Spend family dinner with those I love and start all over again the next day in a City I call home!

12. Beatles or Stones? Definitely Beatles

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To read about the beginnings of Modesto’s recycling

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About the Author:

Chris Murphy is the President and CEO of Sierra Pacific Warehouse Group and Publisher and Founder of ModestoView Inc. Chris worked globally in the cycling industry returning to Modesto in 1996. He is also the founder of the Modesto Historic Graffiti Cruise Route, Legends of the Cruise Walk of Fame, Modesto Rockin’ Holiday, the Modesto Music History Organization and co-founder of the Modesto Area Music Association. Chris is married to his artist wife Rebecca since 1985 and has two daughters Madison and Abigail, both graduating from Modesto High and UC Berkeley. He is lead singer and guitarist for his band, Third Party that donates their performances to non-profits.