Everyone Plays a Role: Erin’s Story
As Iron Mountain’s first-ever Circular Economy Project Manager, Erin Gately works to create ways for Iron Mountain’s teams and clients to utilize materials at their highest value for as long as possible.
Some people look at trash with disgust. When Erin Gately looks at trash, she sees new opportunities.
Based in Portland, Oregon, as Iron Mountain’s first-ever Circular Economy Project Manager, Erin works to create ways for Iron Mountain’s teams and clients to turn “waste” into new resources.
“The goal of the circular economy is to utilize materials at their highest value as long as possible,” says Erin.
“A lot of people don’t know what a circular economy is, so I have to start by explaining a linear economy,” Erin explains. “A linear economy is when you take stuff out of the ground, you make something, you use it up and you throw it ‘away.’ I'm putting away in quotations because there is no away. The circular economy is when you can find a way to create a circular loop at any point within the life cycle of the product by reusing, refurbishing, or repairing them, so that nothing goes to waste.”
Iron Mountain is reducing waste and working towards a more circular economy by recycling and reusing things like paper to prescription pill bottles to X-rays and electronic products. For instance, paper is picked up from clients in secure bins, shredded, and then sold to paper brokers where 100% of the paper gets remade into new paper products.
“Companies are talking about wanting to participate in a circular economy and we're saying, ‘hey, we have a way for you to do that.’ I'm just excited about it because I feel like I found a way to really offer value to our customers, and it also is really good for the planet.”
When Erin first began taking an inventory of the inputs and outputs at Iron Mountain, she contacted a local Iron Mountain paper shredding facility in order to witness first hand the work that the drivers do and the products they collect. She was connected with driver Shawn Perini to spend a day riding along with him on his Portland and Vancouver weekly paper collection route.
“For me it was about understanding the actual process that the driver has to go through,” Erin says. “These are the people that are representing Iron Mountain in our communities all over the world all the time. I am interested in trying to find more things that we can recycle for our customers and increase some of the things that we already have. So I have to understand what the process is before I can change the process or influence the process.”
As natural conversation picked along the truck ride, Erin got the chance to discuss with Shawn what a circular economy is and ways she’s looking to identify the outputs for Iron Mountain’s clients in order to move from linear to circular economies.
“I don’t know if [Shawn] knew what a circular economy was until we went out. And now he's starting to think and come up with ideas himself, so I'm definitely going to take that back to the business and see if we can make something happen there. So that's pretty cool. As I was educating more people on the inside and then all of a sudden, you're having the multiplying effect of more people understanding and more people can make a difference.”
This is important because the waste of one company may have value to another system, and with the right partner and application, Iron Mountain can move from a linear to a circular economy.
“Anybody in our company that has any idea of anything that could be circular, I want to know what that idea is. Everyone has a role to play in helping us to become a more circular economy.”