Suzanne Jones
Suzanne Jones ( Jonathan Castner )

Longtime executive director Eric Lombardi will step down from his position at Eco-Cycle at the end of the year and be replaced by Suzanne Jones, a Boulder City Council member with a long career in environmental advocacy.

Lombardi, who has been the executive director of the recycling and zero-waste advocacy organization for 24 years, will lead a new international effort called Eco-Cycle International. It will provide media materials, a one-stop information and networking website portal and consultants to promote zero-waste programs in other countries, especially in the developing world.

Lombardi took Eco-Cycle from a financially struggling nonprofit in the late 1980s to a stable enterprise that invested in new technologies and became a leader in the zero-waste movement.

When Lombardi took over in 1989, he knew he needed to run Eco-Cycle like a business if it was to achieve its environmental goals. He sensed that recycling was about to become mainstream and wanted Eco-Cycle to have the facilities to manage larger waste streams.

He persuaded the city and large commercial clients to accept a fee structure that amounted to cost plus 10 percent, and that 10 percent went into new equipment, research and innovation.

Lombardi said he is particularly proud of the establishment of the Center for Hard to Recycle Materials, or CHaRM, and of Eco-Cycle's role in developing new technologies for sorting single-stream recycling. Many new kinds of equipment were developed through trial and error in Eco-Cycle's "skunkyard" and then used by other recycling facilities.


"This is a perfect time for Eco-Cycle and Eric to be making this transition," Lombardi said. "I pretty much accomplished what I wanted to accomplish for Eco-Cycle by getting the infrastructure in place. It's a good time for Eco-Cycle and Boulder County to pay more attention to the culture shift and the government rules around how waste is treated in the marketplace."

Eco-Cycle wants to raise more public awareness of the potential for recycling to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the need for new raw materials and to move to more widespread commercial recycling and composting.

Eric Lombardi
Eric Lombardi ( PAUL AIKEN )

Eco-Cycle has proposed that Boulder lead the way by requiring commercial recycling. Current estimates are that only 17 percent of Boulder businesses recycle.

Jones said she sees her new role at Eco-Cycle as complementing her work on the City Council to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow climate change through the development of a municipal electric utility and the promotion of alternative modes of transportation.

Jones was previously regional director for The Wilderness Society and made her career in environmental advocacy.

Jones called the job with Eco-Cycle an "evolution" in her conservation work and an opportunity to work on shifting cultural attitudes toward waste, which could be a valuable resource for the future.

"I think of it as the third leg of the stool when we talk about reducing use of energy -- use of energy in our buildings, use of energy in our vehicles and then use of energy in our consumption and waste management," she said.

Lombardi said Jones' experience dealing with governmental agencies would be valuable as Eco-Cycle tries to change the recycling landscape and get closer to zero-waste.

Jones said she would have to manage several different hats as both a City Council member and the head of an important nonprofit agency advocating for policy changes.

Jones said she will recuse herself when appropriate and handle other areas with "transparency and disclosure."

Jones said she is working with City Attorney Tom Carr to develop a written protocol for handling issues that involve Eco-Cycle.

However, Eco-Cycle's goals are very similar to the city's own waste management goals, Jones said.

"Eco-Cycle is a nonprofit with a mission that aligns very closely with the city's own waste goals," she said. "In that sense, we're moving in the same direction."

Jones said she would like the city to move toward mandatory commercial recycling and composting, but she wants to work with the business community to do it in a way that is not onerous and could even help some businesses.

The next frontiers for Eco-Cycle, Jones said, are to make clearer the connections between consumption and waste, including the ways waste can become a resource, increasing commercial recycling and composting and increasing composting across the board, so that less organic material goes to landfills, where it releases methane as it decomposes.

Lombardi will head up Eco-Cycle International, which will work with government officials and entrepreneurs in other countries to develop zero-waste programs and business opportunities. The spin-off will create a web portal that will be a source of information and training on zero-waste community solutions and will allow members to talk to each other and share experiences. The enterprise will also offer "planet mechanics," consultants who can be hired to work with local communities on zero-waste solutions.

Lombardi also plans to write a book and spend more time at conferences, where he hopes to spread the zero-waste message to more people.

"Waste is not a problem," he said. "It's a resource."