Last month, Gwinnett County voters selected our county’s new leader, Nicole Love Hendrickson. A longtime public servant in Gwinnett County, Love Hendrickson will take office as the chairwoman of the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners on January 1, 2021.
Love Hendrickson will draw on her community-building experience from serving for five years as Gwinnett’s first Community Outreach Director, where she created programs like Gwinnett 101 to help residents learn about how county government works and oversaw the county’s youth commission and cultural outreach initiatives. She also brings important perspective from her seven-year role as Associate Director with the Gwinnett Coalition for Health and Human Services, where she worked with people experiencing poverty, homelessness, and food insecurity in Gwinnett County.
As chairwoman of the board, Nicole Love Hendrickson plans to serve all Gwinnettians, including those who did not vote for her. As she recently told the Gwinnett Daily Post, “I realize there are Republicans that did not vote for me, there’s constituents who did not vote for me, but I realize that in order to address the real challenges, it’s going to take a collective effort. I have experience bringing people to the table and building consensus, building community, and building a platform where voices can be heard, people can have a seat at the table, and we can work toward a unified vision.”
A Leader Who Prioritizes the Environment
Prior to the election, I personally endorsed Nicole Love Hendrickson to lead our county government because of her experience, character, and demonstrated commitment to our community in all of its diversity. Over the course of her campaign, Love Hendrickson also signaled her commitment to our cause of concern — that of the environment — and elevating sustainability as a priority issue in county government.
Love Hendrickson participated in our Gwinnett County candidate forum on environmental issues held this spring, providing the following responses to questions from Gwinnett Recycles about improving curbside recycling, expanding recycling access via a network of convenient drop-off facilities, and addressing the crisis of plastic pollution:
Gwinnett Recycles: Georgia is one of the country’s top hubs for the manufacturing of goods made from recycled materials. It is home to paper mills, a major glass recycling plant, the world’s largest aluminum recycler, and a carpet industry that consumes one-third of North America’s recycled plastic bottles. Recycling employs more than 20,000 Georgians in producing goods at lower cost to the planet. Despite our opportunity to be part of leading the nation in this space, Gwinnett County has lagged in recycling. Our recycling rate is consistently lower than 15% compared to the 35% national average, resident education on how to properly sort recyclables from trash has been minimal, and as a result of high trash contamination in the recycling stream, Gwinnett’s waste haulers recently petitioned the county to start charging residents to recycle. What steps would you take to improve the situation with curbside recycling in Gwinnett?
Nicole Love Hendrickson: My first act as Chair would be to create a Committee on Sustainable Practices. Currently the Board of Commissioners receives little guidance on issues like reducing emissions, recycling, and conservation from Gwinnett Clean & Beautiful, Department of Water Resources and our Solid Waste Division. I would work to ensure that a Sustainability committee could work on better measurement and performance in these areas. As the former Community Outreach Director, I know that we have the capacity to educate our residents on recycling initiatives, and would make that a priority and set goals to reduce trash contamination in the short-term. I would immediately look into public-private partnerships to use recycled goods and study our revenue streams. Before we resort to charging residents to recycle, we must acknowledge how little the county has prioritized this over the years and determine where the low-hanging fruit lays, as well as creating long-term plans to utilize the resources we have and need.
Gwinnett Recycles: By their nature, some recyclable materials, such as glass, flexible and foam plastics, and electronics aren’t well-suited for curbside recycling. In addition, many county residents, living in growing high-density multi-family dwellings, do not have access to recycling. Gwinnett County has only one recycling drop-off location open to the general public, the Snellville Recycling Center operated by that City without county support. If elected, would you consider opening permanent recycling drop-off locations throughout the county that would accept recyclables, as well as household hazardous waste, to divert these materials from landfills?
Nicole Love Hendrickson: Gwinnett County does not have any publicly-owned recycling facilities. The one that exists in Snellville is within the city limits – the county has no jurisdiction over this site. Again, my first act would be to appoint a committee on Sustainable Practices, and one of their first tasks would be to study the Snellville center and other similar suburban centers to see what works and what can be replicated. In Atlanta, where glass is no longer collected, there are many residents who are willing to drive to recycling centers. In short, I would absolutely look at opening recycling centers in the county, but this alone is not a panacea. We must make sure that recycling is viable here and study how other municipalities have made that happen.
Gwinnett Recycles: Plastic pollution is a mounting environmental crisis. Single-use plastic, used for just a short time and then discarded, is increasingly ubiquitous and is often hard to recycle. It is also a blight on our community, being the number-one category of litter contaminating the environment in Gwinnett. Neighboring municipalities like Fulton County, City of Atlanta, and City of Clarkston have begun to take action, limiting single-use plastic such as plastic bags, cutlery, and cups in government buildings, businesses, and the Atlanta airport. Are you concerned about plastic pollution, and if so, what measures would you consider to mitigate this problem?
Nicole Love Hendrickson: I am absolutely concerned about plastic pollution. Aside from the aesthetics of it, plastic seep has been shown to be toxic and plastic in our oceans and waterways could greatly damage the food chain and the environment. The Committee on Sustainable Practices would study how other government agencies have reduced plastic waste in cost-effective ways, and we would look to implement that here. There was a time not long ago when people didn’t eat with plastic forks at every meal or drink water endlessly from plastic bottles. We would have to study cleanliness practices given health concerns in this new COVID era, but I feel confident that in government there are many practices we could implement to significantly reduce our plastic consumption immediately.
Even before taking office, Love Hendrickson has already helped amplify sustainability voices. As part of the virtual Town Hall Meeting community engagement program during her campaign, Love Hendrickson invited Gwinnett-based eco-activists Tixie Fowler of the Georgia Association of Conservation Districts, Beth Remmes of Georgia Interfaith Power & Light, and myself to present to Gwinnettians about environmental issues and answer questions during a sustainability-themed Town Hall. Watch the recording here.
We are excited to welcome Nicole Love Hendrickson, a leader for all and a pioneer on so many critical issues. To support her as she begins her tenure at the helm of our government, you can attend her virtual swearing-in ceremony on Monday, December 28. Here’s to a green new chapter in Gwinnett!
About Gwinnett Recycles: Gwinnett Recycles is focused on helping Gwinnett County, the second-largest county in the state of Georgia, reduce, reuse, compost, and recycle more material and keep waste out of landfills and the environment. Gwinnett Recycles is run 100% independently by citizen volunteers. To connect with us and support our efforts, follow us on Facebook and Instagram, subscribe to our newsletter, and consider volunteering with us!