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Carmen Lopez

Las Vegas, N.M. – The recycling coordinator at Highlands University earned top honors as the New Mexico Recycling Employee/Operator of the Year in 2016.

The New Mexico Recycling Coalition named Carmen Lopez for the award, which recognizes individuals and entities for their outstanding work to promote recycling, composting and solid waste best practices.

“Aside from diverting a large amount of material from landfills, Carmen goes above and beyond by finding creative recycling solutions,” said Sarah Pierpont, director, New Mexico Recycling Coalition. “Carmen cares deeply about her recycling center, which is evident in the quality of the recyclables the center produces that are always sorted properly. Careful sorting is extremely important.”

Pierpont said Lopez has an ever-positive attitude, using her interactions with customers of all ages to teach them about recycling.

Lopez said the Highlands Recycling Center recycled approximately 85 tons in 2015. In addition, she said the final 2015 tally for revenue generated from recyclables in 2015 is $9,879.

“One of my goals is to continually find ways to recycle materials that we haven’t recycled before,” Lopez said. “For example, in 2016 we recycled plastic-coated copper wire from power lines that were replaced at Highlands. This generated $1,892 in revenue,” Lopez said.

Since Lopez started her recycling position in November 2013, she added new materials to the list of what can be recycled at the center including VCRs, microwave ovens, car batteries, stainless steel like water fountains, and copper wires that aren’t coated.

“I’m concerned about the environmental contamination that occurs at landfills. With our recycling center, we can minimize the waste stream to landfills and guarantee that the materials are being recycled,” Lopez said.

She said an important priority for her is offering education on-site at the recycling center for local schools such as Las Vegas City Schools’ Early Childhood Center and Los Niños Elementary.

“We want children to get excited and knowledgeable about recycling from an early age. They are very eager learners,” Lopez said.

Highlands built a recycling center in 2010 and opened it to the public. Since then, the center has accepted aluminum, mixed paper, cardboard, tin and plastics 1, like water and soft drink bottles, and plastics 2, like milk jugs.

In addition, Highlands has an on-campus recycling program with large three-bin recycling containers for paper, plastic and aluminum.

Lopez is the only full-time university employing staffing the recycling center. One part-time employee and several Highlands work-study students round out the crew.

“It was such an honor to be recognized for this recycling award. I can’t thank the recycling center workers enough for helping put the center on the map,” Lopez said.

The Highlands Recycling Center is at 9th and Raynolds adjacent to the Gallinas River Walk. It is west of the university’s John A. Wilson Complex and behind the tennis court parking lot. It is open Monday – Friday 8 a.m. – 3:30 p.m., except during holidays and other university closures.

The recycling center cannot accept items like televisions, mattresses, tires, Styrofoam, shredded paper, motor oil and paint because it can’t recycle them. Biohazards like diabetic needles also aren’t allowed.

The phone number for the center is 505-426-7788.