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A poetic send-off for director who spearheaded county’s recyling efforts

Navigating life’s series of prickly briar patches requires moving with enough purpose so the forest knows which direction you’re headed, but not so fast as to get careless and caught on the thorns.

Alan-Hale-retire

Alan Hale hams it up with the luggage and lei he received as part of his retirement during a Hawaiian-themed open house Friday at Logan County Solid Waste District. (EXAMINER PHOTO/NATE SMITH)

That’s the theme of one poem written by Alan Hale, and it’s also a philosophy guiding a career of public service that’s spanned about 40 years — an impressive run that concluded Friday with the coordinator’s retirement from the Logan County Solid Waste Management District.

Directing one of the country’s premier rural recycling initiatives, Mr. Hale counts poetry among a potpourri of interests that may not seem to have much to do with going green. But the foundation for recycling success is the same on which many of Mr. Hale’s other ventures were built, he said.  

“Everything I’ve done has had a mission,” he said. “Identify the goal, and then go about making a plan to achieve that goal.”

Mr. Hale graduated from Dartmouth College in 1961 with a degree in biology, he earned a master’s in experiential education in 1973 from Mankato State University and in 1991 graduated with a law degree from Ohio Northern University.

The bulk of his career has been in a service capacity. Mr. Hale spent three years as Peace Corps Training Officer in Puerto Rico, worked with at-risk youths in adventure programs in wilderness areas of Hawaii and has defended children in court, spending nine years as an assistant Logan County prosecutor where he handled all juvenile matters involving abuse, neglect and custody cases.

An unfunded mandate from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency could be credited for Mr. Hale becoming head of Logan County’s recycling program. Near the end of 2004, the Ohio EPA was forcing each county to revamp its recycling programs, which included forming a solid waste district and hiring a coordinator.

“Serendipity,” Mr. Hale said. “I was about to leave as assistant prosecutor and this post opened up.”

Mr. Hale’s first months as solid waste coordinator were spent working with other public agencies to clean up debris left over from the January 2005 ice storm. Drawing on his experiences in outdoor search and rescue missions in Hawaii and Minnesota, Mr. Hale helped spearhead the cleanup campaign.

Back in those early days, Mr. Hale said, the solid waste district functioned in the basement of Logan County Children’s Services.

Around 2007, a real focus for the solid waste district emerged.

“I attended a Honda function and there was a presentation about their zero-waste initiative,” Mr. Hale said. “And I realized that’s a reasonable goal for Logan County.”

Mr. Hale called the decision to set a stated zero-waste goal by 2020 the, “skeleton for everything else that’s happened.” The zero-waste initiative has given solid waste district a purpose in all its done.

When word came that landfill tipping fees were to be dramatically cut, there was real talk of hunkering down, Mr. Hale said.

“Then the economy really went south and we didn’t know what we were going to do,” Mr. Hale said, “but I believed that we could grow our way out of this.”

About $2 million was borrowed to purchase property, and overhaul the building at solid waste’s current office at 1100 S. Detroit St., as well as to begin building modest, drop-off recycling locations all over the county.

Six years later, the program has been a huge success and has allowed the solid waste district to divert about 70 percent of its waste out of the landfill.

As the program has expanded, the solid waste district can now take on way more than it used to, including difficult plastics such as pool liners. More, Mr. Hale said, there are local outlets sprouting up that can take those materials and recycle them.

“A lot of people have become believers over the years as they’ve seen the recycling program and have watched it grow,” Mr. Hale said.

Read the full story in Saturday's Bellefontaine Examiner.

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