Women’s History Month: Insa Riepen

PARK CITY, Utah. — Locals may not know who Insa Riepen is, but they are probably aware of her legacy. Riepen was the Recycle Utah executive director for almost 18 years and helped build the Recycling Center on Woodbine Way into the resource it is today.

Riepen, originally from a German island off the North Sea, lived in the Detroit-metro area for many years before ending in Park City. In Detroit, she found herself in the steel business and the automotive industry, traditionally not women-centric environments.

More on-brand for her, she also worked at a waste-reduction government agency developing educational outreach programs in South-eastern Michigan. In addition, she taught workshops on waste reduction, composting, and using indigenous plants to thwart runoff into the Rouge River.

In 1998, Riepen and her family found themselves moving to Utah for her husband’s job. Their home search began in the Ogden area, but their realtor suggested they enjoy the charming Park City area more.

It was this move that led Riepen to the Recycling Center. Moving boxes were piled high in the garage, waiting to be recycled, when she finally heard of a place to take them. “I drove around because somebody told me there was a recycling center, and I came there…and I met a young man and he told me how this place worked,” she said.

“‘Do you have a program, do you have lesson plans, what are you working with? I’m new in town and I don’t have a job yet. I can help you because I’ve done this before,'” Riepen told him. “Well, that was on Monday, and on Friday, I had his job; he was ready to go.”

In 1999, in her new position as executive director, she was told to shut the program down due to lack of interest and funding from the community. “This was at a time when environmental considerations were not discussed because these concerns didn’t exist,” she said. Nonetheless, she simply said no, she would not shut down.

At the time, Recycle Utah had only three board members and no county funding. Riepen quickly moved to expand the board, write grants, and utilize her PR and marketing background to finance Recycle Utah. In 2005, it began receiving funding from the county.

Recycle Utah had educational programs somewhat in place before her arrival, but she knew she needed to make education the program’s front-runner. “I restarted [the recycling center] in a much different way based on education…I focused on the students. I started with the Colby school, went to Parleys, then to McPolin, and worked my way up to the high school.”

Riepen explained to students that there are only three things you need on this earth: clean air, clean water, and food. “Kids get the message,” she said. She relied on the students to talk to brothers, sisters, parents, and grandparents at the dinner table and get the older generations involved in caring about the environment.

By 2005, all Park City schools anticipated an annual visit from the recycling center to their classrooms. Under her reign, Riepen also created local business recycling bin sponsorships, hazardous waste management programs, plastics recycling, afternoon support programs, and more.

Although education was a huge priority, it was still a business reliant on capital. “You still have to run a business, and I ran Recycle Utah as a business,” Riepen said. “Starting with very little money and leaving something in the bank when I left.”

In 2018, after 18 years, it was time to step aside for the younger generation. “It was time to make room for younger people. Because if we don’t make room for them, then they never have a chance to do better than we did,” Riepen said.

Riepen may have officially left Recycle Utah, but her work is never done. During and after her time there, she championed local nonprofits. “I have always felt that nonprofit leaders have to work in other nonprofits, so I have always worked as a board member of the various organizations. We have a lot of new citizens in this in our community now, and I hope they will get involved in nonprofits because our nonprofits do incredible work.”

She currently works with Friends of the Farm, Summit Community Gardens, other small local gardens, and her HOA.

She has also found a new channel through which to educate. Riepen resigned from Recycle Utah in part due to her health. She has been living with Parkinson’s disease, learning about it, and hoping to share her knowledge with others.

Riepen has a legacy of caring for the environment, children, and local businesses.

“Park City is home even though I’ve lived in many other places, and I consider myself very lucky,” she said. “My hope is that somebody…has the guts to say enough is enough. We don’t need more… Let’s rethink what we’re doing here because our resources are finite. Let’s preserve what we have and not use it all up, because what’s left for children? I think what people forget is that [Park City’s environment] is very delicate, very precious. We need to do more to protect it because the very reason for which people move here is being destroyed.”

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