ONARCHITECTURE- Better with Betty! Website aims to simplify recycling

Teri Kent launched her website Better World Betty in January, hoping the personal touch will get more folks thinking greener.

As we mentioned last week, recycling can be a pain in the... neck ["Coming soon! Van der Linde's amazing recycling machine," February 14]. With Van der Linde's recycling machine not slated to be up and running until May, we're facing several more months of separating cans and paper and glass. And even when it's operational, what are we going to do with that old bag of shoes, that smashed sliding glass door, and that broken washing machine?

Well, duh! Ask Betty!

"People kept telling me about all the piles of recyclables they had lying around at home," says Teri Kent, a former teacher and stay-at-home mom. "And I started putting my own life under the microscope. What can I do to help them and help the environment?"

Inspired by the Better World Handbook, a kind of Activism for Dummies that provides simple, practical ways for busy folks to change the world, Kent launched a website in January called Better World Betty (betterworldbetty.com). The site introduces us to the character of Betty, a kind of perfectly coifed June Cleaver– out not to bake the perfect pie and send her family pressed and neat off to work and school, but to save the planet.

"She tends to the Earth, bringing a better world to the table," writes Kent on her website, "rather than a big roast turkey."

In Kent's mind, the idea of recycling had become too abstract, too clinical, and, well, not very fun. Creating Betty was a way to make it personal.

"When you have a personal connection, people are more likely to change," she says.

Indeed, right from the get-go, Betty began charming local greenies, including former Mayor David Brown, who seemed smitten writing about Betty on his blog in January.

"Kudos to Teri Kent for this useful and charming website," he wrote, mentioning the City's new Green City Initiative website, but adding that it was  "not quite as cool as Betty, though."

In January alone, says Kent, the site saw 1,700 users, 25,000 hits, and most important– 65 percent of people who visited bookmarked it.

Current mayor Dave Norris was charmed as well: he helped organize the simultaneous launch of Better World Betty and the city's site.

"I've talked with her several times about this, and I think it's a good thing," Norris says. "It's one more component in moving our community in the direction of lessening its impact on the environment."

Though Kent already has plans to revamp Betty (no, she's not changing it to Better World Angelina)– giving her an improved directory and more intuitive site functionality, forums, and video presentations– the current directory allows visitors to find out where to recycle everything from toasters to toothbrushes, anti-freeze, backpacks, and batteries. It also has a list of businesses that go the extra green mile, an "Ask Betty" feature where recycling questions are answered, and a whole host of green living tips and information.

"A lot of people talk about change," says Kent, "but I'm big on action. Betty makes it easier to live greener better by giving people the tools they need."

The beauty of Betty, Kent emphasizes, is that site users don't have to be perfect. Instead, the queen of green advocates an incremental approach. "The small things that people decide to do add up," she says.

Ideally, Kent hopes the website helps connect people with the right choices, and eventually, with each other.

"I'd like to create a community where people can share ideas," she says, "like what to do with old sponges or bags of worn shoes. There are so many great ideas out there about how to recycle and reuse. People just don't know about them."

Indeed, Kent believes education is key to living greener better. For example, how many of us know what gets done with the things we take the effort to recycle?

"This has always been somewhat controversial," says Kent. "Does what you recycle really get used?" [See the Hook's cover story, "(Re)cycle of life: We want to believe," February 8, 2007).

Again, the more informed people are, the more likely the system will improve.

"That's the hardest thing, closing the loop, so that materials don't just end up sitting in a landfill," says Kent. "But it's difficult. For example, plastics need to be collected in really high volumes, with good quality, to make it profitable to recycle. People need to know that they can make money salvaging materials. "

 Although unaware of Van der Linde's planned recycling project– a $10 million state-of-the-art sorter and sorting facility near Zion Crossroad that will use various technologies to separate up to 15 recyclable materials– Kent says it's exactly the kind of effort that can close the loop. Indeed, as Van der Linde mentioned last week, a market for recyclables is slowly emerging,  but the situation is not likely to get better until there's more demand.

That might happen, if Kent has her way, when the world will be full of Bettys.

"When you have a personal connection, people are more likely to change," says Terri Kent, seen here with her son Ian.