Reflecting on NRRA's 40th Anniversary
Remarks by Executive Director Reagan Bissonnette at NRRA's 2021 Annual Meeting
This year marks our 40th Anniversary, and it’s wonderful to have so many members, board members, and staff here today.
As many of you know, NRRA is a rather unique organization. We’re one of only a handful of nonprofits in the entire country that operates a cooperative model where we directly connect communities with recyclable commodities to companies that wish to acquire that material. Our mission is to partner with municipalities to make recycling strong through economic and environmentally sound solutions. In recognition of our 40th anniversary, I thought it would be appropriate to reflect back on our founding in 1981, and how that compares to today.
NRRA was founded back in 1981. Keep in mind that in 1981, recycling was not cool or mainstream. There were no other organizations in NH helping municipalities market their recyclables.
At our founding, we were called the New Hampshire Resource Recovery Association. Our original four founding member towns were Epsom, Peterborough, Franconia and North Conway, and our first Executive Director was Liz Bedard. We started with marketing perhaps five commodities, and we worked with only one vendor for each commodity. Our financial documents were stored in a box in an office space we rented from our accounting firm. We paid our members whenever we got paid from our vendors, which could sometimes take months. And in the early days, we sometimes struggled to make payroll.
Fast forward to today, we have nearly 450 members across New England, mostly in NH and VT. We have ten staff, and I’m excited to share that we have an 11th staff member joining us next week as our new Office Assistant. We’re fortunate that many of our staff have been with NRRA for a good part of our history, especially Paula Dow, our Finance & HR Manager at 31 years, as well as Bonnie Bethune, our Senior Member Services Representative at 19 years (who, by the way, worked as a solid waste operator in Wilton when we were founded), and Marilyn Weir at 12 years (who retired as a Member Services Representative a few years ago, thought better of it, and came back again as a part time Finance Assistant).
Remember that box of financial documents? It’s been been replaced with increasingly modern databases. As for our financial health, we have solid cash flow that enables us to pay our members within 45 days, even if our vendors take longer to pay us. As a matter of fact, on at least five occasions, we have had vendors go out of business and not pay us thousands of dollars, but we still stood by our members and paid them for their material. Today we also have enough reserve funds in the bank to cover months of operating expenses.
I’d like to emphasize that NRRA wouldn’t be the organization it is today if not for the support of our members. And I have two stories to share to illustrate that point. In 1992, we were struggling financially and the board considered closing its doors. However, we discovered that we didn’t even have enough money to do so. That’s when our executive director at the time, Ray Pierce, came up with the idea of asking our members to pay their dues twice. To our grateful surprise, we received overwhelmingly positive support and were able to shore up our finances and keep operating.
Second, in 1998, we were renting office space in Concord and wanted to buy our own office. Staffers Paula Dow and Kim Morrell came up with the creative idea to invite our members to donate a load of cardboard to help NRRA raise money for a down payment. Again, our members responded enthusiastically and helped us raise $20k to buy our first property, which is where Chucksters is now located. We later moved to our current office building in Epsom.
Let’s look at how our cooperative marketing programs have grown over time. We now help communities market dozens of different types of commodities with over 70 vendors and haulers.
In 2020, NRRA returned over $1.8 million to our members from the sale of their recyclables. And that’s $1.8 million net, not gross. And last year, our members recycled and managed nearly 50,000 tons of material through NRRA. Based on calculations from the Environmental Protection Agency, that’s enough material to avoid greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to removing almost 22,000 passenger cars from the road for an entire year.
Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our lives and work, even if we’re all sick of talking about it. We at NRRA are well aware that our members have continued their essential work of managing solid waste during the pandemic, and we are grateful for your service to your communities. I’d also like to acknowledge the hard work, dedication, and positive attitude of the NRRA staff over this last year of change.
NRRA’s growth and achievements over the past 40 years couldn’t have happened without you. Thank you for your membership and support, and we look forward to the next forty years!