Community Service

After Chemical Spill, West Virginia CU Becomes Recycling Hub

Area residents relying on bottled water can bring their empty containers to Element FCU.

January 27, 2014
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Element FCU recycling bags

Element Federal Credit Union can’t do anything to restore West Virginians’ trust in their water supply following what has been dubbed the "Aquapocalypse."

But in the wake of a chemical spill more than two weeks ago that continues to produce anxiety among the 300,000 people affected, the environmentally conscious credit union devised a way to make life easier for members and nonmembers alike while minimizing further negative impact on the environment.

For more than a week, the $27 million asset credit union based in Charleston, W.V., has promoted itself as a recycling collection point for empty containers of bottled water—and the response from residents and nearby businesses has been tremendous.

Element FCU recycling signEven though a tap water ban expired last week, most people in the nine-county area affected by the spill continue to rely on bottled water for drinking, cooking, hygiene and the like. That’s produced a lot of plastic waste in a region where recycling centers, rather than curbside pickup, is the norm.

“The recycling program has given people peace of mind,” says Miranda Nabers, marketing director at Element Federal. “We’re the middle man for them—it’s one less thing they need to worry about.”

The credit union prides itself on being an environmental steward. Element Federal runs a paperless operation, Executive Vice President Samantha Painter points out.

So when Lisa West, a collector, pitched the recycling center idea shortly after the Jan. 9 spill, it was an easy sell.

Within a day, Element Federal displayed a large vinyl banner at its Kanawha City branch and began a full-court press on social media to alert area residents about the service.

The reaction was immediate and has been overwhelming and ongoing. The credit union’s social media following spiked thanks to announcements of its recycling service, and one Facebook post triggered 35 shares.

“The most rewarding thing has been seeing that people wanted to have a place to recycle,” Nabers said. “Instead of throwing the bottles away, they wanted to be proactive.”

Painter arrived at work last Monday to a pile of bags outside the credit union’s door, all filled with bottles, which made her smile. Last Wednesday, a woman who isn’t a member dropped by with her recyclables, praising the credit union for its service to the community.

Although Element Federal hasn’t kept a tally of the collected bottles, Nabers has packed the company van to the hilt for three trips this week to the recycling center.

The pace doesn’t figure to slow down following the revelation last week that the 7,500-gallon spill from Freedom Industries’ tanks into ground near the Elk River contained a second chemical, PPH. The mixture of glycol ethers performs the same function as the initial chemical identified in the spill, MHCM—to “clean” coal from other nonburnable mined substances such as shale.

Also, residents doubt the effectiveness of methods recommended to flush their water systems of the chemicals, and last week marched on the state capitol seeking answers about immediate and long-term health impacts of the spill.

So the credit union will continue to collect bottles for the foreseeable future. Leadership has pondered whether to turn Element Federal into a permanent recycling hub.

“Honestly, I don’t see people in our area drinking tap water anytime soon, if ever,” Painter says. “It’s that disturbing.”

But Element Federal has provided a bright spot amid the turmoil, and Nabers says she’s been reminded of her state’s stubborn determination.

West Virginians, she says, are creative and persistent. "We’re going to get it done, and we’re going to make the best of the situation. That’s something about our state that’s awesome. You see neighbors helping neighbors. There’s a lot of community spirit going on."

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Great article! Unfortunately, most employees don’t feel valued or appreciated by their supervisors or employers. In fact, research has shown that the predominant reason team members quit their jobs is because they don’t feel valued. This is in spite of the fact that employee recognition programs have proliferated in the workplace – over 90% of all organizations in the U.S. has some form of employee recognition activities in place. But most employee recognition programs are viewed with skepticism and cynicism – because they aren’t viewed as being genuine in their communication of appreciation. Getting the “employee of the month” award, receiving a certificate of recognition, or a “Way to go, team!” email just don’t get the job done. How do you communicate authentic appreciation? We have found people have different ways that they want to be shown appreciation, and if you don’t communicate in the language of appreciation important to them, you essentially “miss the mark”. Additionally, employees need to receive recognition more than once a year at their performance review. Otherwise, they view the praise as “going through the motions”. A third component of authentic appreciation is that the communication has to be about them personally – not the department, not their group, but something they did. Finally, they have to believe that you mean what you say. How you treat them has to match the words you use. If you are not sure how your team members want to be shown appreciation, the Motivating By Appreciation Inventory ( will identify the language of appreciation and specific actions preferred by each employee. You then can create a group profile for your team, so everyone knows how to encourage one another. Remember, employees want to know that they are valued for what they contribute to the success of the organization. And communicating authentic appreciation in the ways they desire it can make the difference between keeping your quality team members or having a negative work environment that everyone wants to leave. Paul White, Ph.D., is the co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace with Dr. Gary Chapman.

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