PORT ALLEN — You won’t hear it from Mary Delapasse, but the 5-foot 1-inch executive director of Keep West Baton Rouge Beautiful is a big reason for renewed interest in recycling in the parish.
“She’s very modest,” said Leigh Harris, executive director of Keep Louisiana Beautiful.
In 2011, Harris nominated Delapasse for a national award that had her competing with 50 other young affiliates (chapters) nationwide.
Keep West Baton Rouge Beautiful won.
Delapasse, 54, is persistent in going after grant money, Harris said. “She mentors other communities. People gravitate to her.”
An office budget of $59,000 pays Delapasse’s salary, office supplies and advertising material. Delapasse works three days a week. She’s paid by the towns she serves and the parish.
In addition to Keep Louisiana Beautiful grants, she’s received grants from companies that include a $20,000 grant from Dow Chemical and $10,000 from Anheiser-Busch that bought recycling cans for baseball, football and recreational parks.
Delapasse, though a Master Gardener, didn’t consider herself particularly “green” when she took the Keep West Baton Rouge Beautiful job more than four years ago. She’d been the manager of a periodontist’s office.
Delapasse first worked from a tiny office in the parish Governmental Building. Her present 9-by-12-foot office is big by comparison.
Delapasse and a desk share space with a huge body puppet named “Louie,” yard signs, stacks of pamphlets, tote bags, a costume made of woven plastic bags and plastic containers for recycling batteries. Two sheds accommodate the overflow.
“The response to battery recycling stunned me,” said Delapasse, who tears up sometimes when she talks about recycling.
Delapasse put the battery buckets at hardware stores in Addis, Port Allen and at “the fruit stand” on La. 415.
The response to her “Keep Your Butt in Your Pants” campaign was less dramatic.
Delapasse passed out 900 cigarette butt kits at drugstores in the parish. The campaign asked smokers to put their cigarette butts in metal-lined, plastic containers instead of throwing butts from car windows.
Delapasse tendered a card captioned “Cigarette Butt Fast Facts”.
The card said cigarette butts are “the world’s greatest environmental litter problem.” More than 176 million pounds of cigarette butts are discarded every year in the United States, according to the card.
“Wind and rain often carry cigarette butts into waterways where the toxic chemicals in the cigarette filters leak out ... Cigarette butts have been found in the stomachs of fish, birds, whales and other marine creatures.”
Delapasse got a $9,666.49 grant from Keep Louisiana Beautiful for a program called “My Neighbor Recycles — Do You?”
Some of the money was used to buy recycling bins and garbage cans for parks. Signs created by Delapasse’s one-woman office appeared in yards in parts of the parish where residents had grown lackadaisical about recycling.
At least five companies pick up recycling and garbage at residences and businesses in Port Allen, Addis, Brusly and in the parish.
“And there are niche markets for metals and cardboards,” said Karla Swacker with Allied Waste Services, one of the companies serving municipalities in the parish.
Over the years, if a service provider frequently failed to empty recycling receptacles on pickup day, residents lost interest in recycling, said Terry Pattan, administrative coordinator of utilities in Port Allen.
“When I started seven years ago, a lot of people recycled,” she said.
Because of Delapasse’s campaign, recycling is picking up in the parish, said Pam Keowen, office supervisor of the West Baton Rouge Parish Natural Gas and Water System.
“Since the campaign,” Keowen said, “we’ve had 175 to 200 people ask for bins.”
In Port Allen, about a third of the city’s 2,238 utility customers recycle, Pattan said.
“We got about 100 calls as a result of the campaign,” she said.
Parishwide, the campaign prompted more than 900 calls, Delapasse said.
Delapasse promotes gardening in parish schools and tree planting in addition to her anti-litter campaigns. She invites businesses to keep their premises litter free and to maintain attractive landscaping.
The grant she got from Dow Chemical goes to a household hazardous waste collection day.
Delapasse invites children and their parents to sign recycling and anti-littering pledges.
“I go to Wal-Mart, people know me, and parents stop me to say, ‘My children are making us recycle.’ ’’
When she talks to students, Delapasse tells them “litter costs Louisiana $40 million a year to clean up.”
“Businesses come into your parish, see all the litter and leave,” she said.
“We love West Baton Rouge, but people don’t understand if they put trash in the back of a pickup the trash blows out,” she said.
“I tell children about contaminating recycling trucks and recycling dumpsters,” Delapasse said. “If there’s more than 15 percent that isn’t recyclable — food, styrofoam — the contents can’t be recycled. They have to go to the landfill.”
When a recycling company stopped taking plastic bags, Delapasse found herself with 60,000 plastic bags collected by children. A Baton Rouge church took the bags to weave into mats for homeless people.