Rachel Hering’s career comes full circle: From Mickey Leland Intern to Texas Environmental Excellence Award winner

Rachel Hering was a part of TCEQ’s Mickey Leland Environmental Internship Program in 2001 and 2002 in the Small Business & Environmental Assistance division. Since then, her career has been all about recycling—from being chairman of TCEQ’s Pollution Prevention Advisory Committee to being the executive director of Keep Texas Recycling, the winner of the 2020 Civic/Community Texas Environmental Excellence Award.

How did your experience as an intern in the Small Business & Environmental Assistance division influence your career?

In the Small Business & Environmental Assistance division, I provided support for the Teaching Environmental Science program, a program where teachers could earn graduate-school credit for a 10-day long program held at various universities across the state. Most of the course was in the field, where we went out with the Coast Guard, toured landfills and water treatment plants. I loved it and it definitely made me passionate about environmental education and real “boots on the ground”-type work.

What was your favorite part of the internship? 

The people I worked with. The people who were in my division/section are absolute legends and I often brag that I know and worked alongside them at TCEQ. I learned so much from them.

Tell me about your current role at Keep Texas Recycling. 

I am currently the director of Keep Texas Recycling, a program of Keep Texas Beautiful. KTR is formerly known as Cooperative Teamwork & Recycling Assistance of which I was executive director for 13 years. After many years of working with KTB, I approached them about possibly merging organizations, which we did at the end of 2019. CTRA became KTR and it’s been flourishing ever since!

What’s your favorite aspect of the job? 

There’s a theme here … the people. I am so lucky to work with such amazing, hard-working people across the state of Texas. I enjoy working with a new community that has no recycling and see the program come to fruition, to give recycling access to where it might not otherwise happen.

KTR recently received a TEEA. What does that mean for KTR?

I nominated our program because I really wanted to recognize the communities that KTR works with—they are who really deserve the award. There is not a lot of incentive to offer recycling in these communities and they often have limited staff and funding, yet they are striving for something better for their community and do it through recycling.  We have cities with populations of 1,000 that have been recycling with KTR for 25 years. I hope this award helps acknowledge the commitment to sustainability in rural Texas.

Recycling seems to be a common theme throughout your career. What attracted you to the industry? 

The industry found me. I was actually in urban forestry prior to landing in recycling.  However, once I was a part of it and saw the impact that a recycling program can have in a community, I was hooked. I like to take action and see results and that’s exactly what KTR’s approach to implementing recycling programs is all about. People LOVE to recycle, and I love to help them do that.

How has the industry changed since you entered the workforce?

The growth in this industry and the sustainability movement in general, is amazing.  When I graduated, environmental science wasn’t even offered as a major at my school. Now, there are so many variations of sustainability degrees and jobs. It’s so exciting to see the industry grow, as it reflects the importance of sustainability and the environment in our society today.

What are you most likely to be found doing when you’re not at work?

Watching sports, enjoying live music, spending time on the lake or playing golf.