Recycling director Laura Midan spends her days working alongside her management team supporting their crew which includes office staff, an education coordinator, machine operators, drop-off attendants, and line workers.
“When our recycling program began in 1970, its primary purpose was to offer employment opportunities to people who had barriers to traditional employment. Over 50 years later, offering a supportive and flexible workplace remains a key component of our program,” said Laura.
“When somebody comes to work for us, we make accommodations for them. We offer strength-based employment which focuses on tasks that we know will build their capacity.”
Many staff identify as having barriers to employment, which include mental, physical, and developmental disabilities. Some of the other barriers are language skills, hearing impairments, or being limited by a stroke.
“We have some newcomers to the country where maybe their English level isn’t high enough to work on another job site, but we work with them using a variety of methods to ensure their understanding of job tasks.”
“Another example would be a single parent who needs to be able to have the flexibility of shift work and working a specific time. We have also supported some staff through addictions issues and overcoming mental health challenges. I often refer to the work that we do with our team as life coaching.”
“One staff member works eight hours a week over four days on the sort line and organizing batteries at the front drop-off. He can’t work more than two consecutive hours, so we work around hours that allow him to contribute. This schedule also allows him to qualify for disability benefits.”
We have also supported some staff through addictions issues and overcoming mental health challenges. I often refer to the work that we do with our team as life coaching.”
Recycling staff celebrating Pride Month
A supportive environment
Laura enthusiastically shares, “my team is fantastic. From the person who works two hours a day, to somebody who works 48 hours a week, they all bring something so valuable to our team.”
“Our staff are also so supportive of each other. Despite being from all walks of life, they know that they are always there for each other.”
“We don’t focus on our disabilities or what brought us here. I think that it’s because they all know that most of us have had struggles that we’ve had to overcome.”
“Between the tonnes of recycling, we process each day and the life coaching, my work can be quite challenging but seeing the difference that we are able to make motivates me.”
“If anyone is hesitant to employ people that may have a barrier to employment, I’d like to share the staff is very dedicated.”
“Once you have trained them and they’re confident and empowered, they are so loyal and they want to continue to work for you. Despite some tough working conditions, we have some long-standing employees – 10, 20, and 25 years!”
Staying open during uncertain times
The Abbotsford Depot only closes four days a year and despite COVID restrictions and closures of other organizations, the program never missed a day.
“We’ve been able to stay operational through COVID because we implemented quite a few rules quite quickly, including masks before they were mandated.”
“We also had diligent cleaning and sanitizing because we have up to 60 people coming and going each day. After every break, so eight times a day, our lunchroom and other high touchpoints were cleaned. Furthermore, we hired our external janitor who used to clean once a week for us. She now comes every single day at shift change to do an hour of cleaning.”
“Other measures included directional arrows on floors, and an additional lunchroom space in another trailer so that we could spread staff out.”
“Our efforts proved successful as we did not have any community transmissions on our job sites.”
“We so appreciate the staff’s willingness to work within the guidelines to keep us all safe and the program operational.”
While the team is safely navigating the pandemic, there are other hazards on the job.
“There are so many hazards that are unnecessary including batteries that can start fires or biohazard waste like diapers. Over a 6 month period, line workers will fill a 5-gallon pail with wrongfully discarded needles. The volume is quite astounding, and I can’t quite grasp why it happens. I don’t know if it’s just an awareness thing or a laziness thing, or it’s thinking that a machine is behind the process.”
While the curbside pick-up of recycling bins has now been automated, all recycling is still hand-sorted.
“Our employees are amazing at sorting but contamination slows down the process and can pose risks to our team and machinery.”
Despite all the challenges, Laura still loves her job after 10 years. “I see the good that comes from the team that we have built. I see how people have grown, how their skills have improved, and how some of them have moved from couch surfing and near homelessness to having a stable place to hang their hats. And it is things like this that really get me excited.”
Director Laura and Production Manager Mike with the Recycling Rotary at Work Award