"The greater the work the more
important it is to establish it on
a solid foundation. Thus it will
not only be more perfect; it
will also be more lasting.”

St. Louise de Marillac

Colleen McSwiggin: Revolutionizing How People Think

By Erin Reder

S. Joyce Richter (left) is a faithful volunteer at the Cincinnati Recycling & Reuse Hub, founded by former Elizabeth Ann Seton Award recipient Colleen McSwiggin (right).

Care for creation and resourcefulness are rooted deep in Colleen McSwiggin. The Cincinnati native and 2019 Elizabeth Ann Seton Award recipient remembers helping her father start seedlings in their laundry room as a young child and tending to his garden. Her father’s passion coupled with her maternal grandparents forward-thinking instilled in Colleen an awareness and purpose that would eventually lead her to open the Cincinnati Recycling & Reuse Hub (the Hub), a nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing the amount of waste going to landfills through its one-stop drop-off location.

Colleen credits her prior position with Mount St. Joseph University as the impetus for opening the Hub. From 2010-2021, she was the Chemistry Lab Manager at the Mount. She also served as a member and chairperson of the Mount’s Sustainability Committee, and when S. Martha Walsh decided to step down from coordinating Community Electronics Recycling Days, Colleen stepped up to take it over.  

She explains, “In April 2012 we had our first on-site recycling event at the Mount; every year following we would host one event in the fall at the Mount and a second in the spring at Oak Hills High School. At one of those events I had a lightbulb moment. It was April 2018 and we had 764 cars go through the line in 2 ½ hours; we filled five semi-trucks and still had to tell 150 people we couldn’t take their items. It was the one that killed me; I started to think how can we fix this problem?”

Out of this question grew the Cincinnati Recycling & Reuse Hub. The organization accepts items and materials that are recyclable and reusable, even some that are not permitted in traditional recycling bins. This one-stop model is unique in that it saves time, effort, and gas for donors, and it allows for more items to be recycled or reused than the previous waste/recycling/reuse infrastructure for the Greater Cincinnati area.

Colleen also credits the Sisters of Charity as an inspiration. Following her 2019 honor as the congregation’s Elizabeth Ann Seton Award recipient, she said, “I felt I needed to step up my game. [The recognition] gave me the push to do more. And I could see how to do it, so I tried and did.”

Colleen added that she admires the Sisters thoughtful response to the world and justice issues around them. “They put the humanity and heart behind something. They think how is this particular issue affecting people and their lives and how can we respond to care for all? I admire that very much. Being able to stand for what they believe in is inspiring.”

In the 20 months since the Hub has been open, they have kept 200 tons of waste out of the landfill. Colleen takes pride in knowing that the organization is able to handle a problem no other organization in the Greater Cincinnati area is able to handle, particularly on a large scale. She explains that only one-third of our waste actually needs to go to the landfill as one-third is recyclable and the other third compostable. “If we can take care of two-thirds of what goes to the landfill, and if the Hub can help with a dent of that, especially if someone else can use the items, then that’s why we exist. To fill that gap, to try to make things more sustainable in general, and to get items to people who need them.”

Shifting norms and expectations away from disposability and toward sustainability is the vision of the Hub. Colleen and her staff are committed to increasing awareness and helping the community look differently at how their actions to recycle and reuse have long-term effects on the environment, the economy, and social justice. Colleen’s tireless efforts continue to exemplify why she was a most-deserving recipient of the Elizabeth Ann Seton Award. Her heart is called to the Community’s mission to care for all creation.

About the Hub

Located on Evans Street in Lower Price Hill, the Cincinnati Recycling & Reuse Hub welcomes drop-offs on Thursdays from 12-6 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

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