Sunday Q&A: Charnae Ware


Executive Director,
Keep Columbus Beautiful Commission

Is Columbus, Georgia a beautiful place?

“It is a beautiful place. But I think we could do a better job keeping it beautiful and making it
more clean. We have to make sure that we’re  pushing things to keep people from littering and keeping our city clean. Because Columbus is a beautiful city.

Littering is such a habit for people—to flick that little cigarette butt out the window. But just imagine flicking that butt times 1,000—now you have a pile of cigarette butts that isn’t so little. Things like that are so important—to keep our watershed protected, because that’s where 100% of our water supply comes from.

Which is why we host events like ‘Help the Hooch’ and different clean-ups with community organizations. To make sure we’re educating the community on the effects of things like flicking your cigarette butt.

I don’t think a lot of people know why it’s important to do the right thing.” 

So is part of your job here to educate the community and to change some people’s mindset?

“It is.

We are currently working on a litter campaign to educate the community. One thing we’ve learned is that some people are still going to do the wrong thing occasionally because of their habits.

We have a litter survey out right now to see where people’s thoughts are:
Is litter an accident? Do you accidentally drop something and just choose not to pick it up? Or is that you see something and not say something?

We try to educate the community that if they see something, say something. Report it to 311. Know that littering is a criminal offense punishable by community service and fines. Once you educate everyone on the enforcement side, then you try to turn it around into a positive.

We focus our education in the schools. Mostly grades K-6—that young age is where it starts.” Then we try to carry it home to the parents and let them know, ‘Hey mom, this is what i learned at school. I’m not going to throw my trash out the window.’

l think kids enforce things bigger than adults sometimes. They’re like, ‘Hey! That’s not right.’” 

The Columbus Consolidated Government’s Public Works Dept.’s
Recycling & Sustainability Center features a green roof.
Keep Columbus Beautiful Commission is housed in city’s Recycling & Sustainability Center at 8001 Pine Grove Way.

It seems like your approach is to make it a direct challenge to people in Columbus: ‘This is your city and it is your responsibility to take care of it.’ Does that strategy work?

“It does. 

Our strategy is to say, ‘This is your home. Would you live in a filthy home? Would you sleep in a dirty bed?’

Some people may have their opinions on what clean is but we try to encourage people that clean is clean and green. And clean and green is zero waste. And zero waste is recycling but most of all it’s reducing the amount of waste you’re putting back into the environment.

That’s why we give the challenge: ‘Let’s all do our part and keep Columbus clean and green.’”


Keep Columbus Beautiful has always hosted large public-participation events. What do you think the effect of these events are?

“The big thing with our events is giving them an outlet. 

For example, apartments are not as easy to recycle at home. A lot of elderly people do not know where to take their grease and they’re the ones with old medications they want to dispose of. [Grease Recycling & Pharmaceutical Disposal o Jan. 9] is a Columbus Water Works event we partner with to educate them on, ‘Your old medicine ends up in the watershed.’  

The thing with us when we plan our events is, ‘What does the public need? What do they need to dispose of?

Which is why we have our shoe-recycling program. I think people fail to realize that everything they throw out is going into our landfill. And it’s not just going away—Poof!—out into the universe.

We have to preserve the life of our landfill. The more stuff we put in there, the more time it takes to decompose, the higher risk we have of those gases coming together and exploding. We want to make sure we’re closing the loop and continuing to reuse things like shoes.

A lot of people don’t know that shoes take over 1,000 years to decompose. And the cool thing is we send them overseas to create jobs in Third World countries. 

Having events like that is all about giving back because that is what our environment does to us. It gives us back oxygen, it gives us back a way of living. When people see that through our programs, I think that is what encourages them to continue them to reduce, reuse, and recycle.” 

Who are some of your partners if the community and how do those relationships work?

“Columbus Water Works is one of our biggest supporters because of that need for watershed protection. And even though we’re a city agency, Columbus Recycles is a major partner.

Another one is Trees Columbus. Especially Trees Columbus. People need to understand the importance of an urban tree canopy. The importance of planting trees and understanding how many trees are planted. Which is why we’re hosting an Arbor Day event in February.

And definitely the schools.

We’re very big on partnering with community organizations because we all share the same mission. We all live here. I think it’s very important to discover that environmental affairs is in everything we do: eat, breathe, sleep.”

Charnae Ware gives a tour of the city’s Recycling & Sustainability Center. 12.21.2020

What exactly happens to the stuff we put in our blue recycling bins?

“It comes out here to our facility where it’s hand-sorted by inmate labor. That’s why it’s very important to understand what can go into that blue bin. Because certain machines can’t take plastic bags because it’ll mess up the machines. So we encourage people to take them to places that do recycle them, like Target or Publix.

What happens when your recycling gets here is it gets sorted, then put into bails, then they ship it out to different companies for it to be used again and given a second life. A new water bottle. A new bench. Different things like that.

That’s what we believe at Keep Columbus Beautiful; we believe that everything has a second life. ”

What do your efforts accomplish as far as improving the overall health and wellness of people living in our community?

“The first thing I tell people is, ‘We did not inherit the Earth from our ancestors. We are borrowing it from our children.’

So we have to remember that there’s a generation after us that needs a sustainable way of living. We want them to live healthy. We want the air they’re breathing to not be polluted. We always tell people, ‘Don’t be part of the pollution, be part of the solution.’

What we do is really educating the community that, ‘If you don’t take care of the Earth today, what’s going to be here tomorrow?’

Our overall big picture is that if we create a better today by living green—such as by using a reusable bottle versus a plastic water bottle—that’s one step closer to being zero waste. And that’s one step closer to having a better environment for our children.

It creates a better environment for people to come to Columbus. We believe if our city is beautiful, we can get more events. More tourism. It is such a historic city but nobody is going to visit it if it’s trashy. Nobody wants to come and see trash on the highways.

It’s a solider town, so we have families visiting from all over. And families coming to live here from all over, even if just for a short time.

My thing at Keep Columbus Beautiful is making sure we’re creating that clean and safe environment. Making sure that city is clean and green.” 

Cheandra Ware started her job as Executive Director of Keep Columbus Beautiful Commission on November 19, 2019.
BONUS AUDIO: ECL Editor Frank Etheridge interview with
Keep Columbus Beautiful Executive Director Charnae Ware. 12.21.2020

Hometown: “Born and raised in Columbus. Which is why this is such a passionate job for me, because I get to give back to my city. I even used to volunteer at Help the Hooch when I was a little girl.”
Family: Dad Oscar Daise, pastor at Grant Chapel Church; mom Gina Daise, doctor of pharmacy, health-care provider for Piedmont Columbus Regional. 
Education: Shaw High School, Class of 2014. Savannah State University, degree in Mass Communications and Pre-Law, Currently at Columbus State University for a Master’s in Public Administration-Government. Taking the L-SAT in April 2021 with plans to continue on as either an environmental-law attorney or a criminal-justice attorney.
Best concert ever attended: “I’ve only been to one — Drake, when I was in high school.”
Historical figure you admire: “Michelle Obama. Because of her impact on having an understanding of all communities and using that to make a larger impact. I encourage everyone to take a stand like her to be a positive part of the community.” 
Most beautiful spot in Columbus, Georgia: “The Riverwalk.  I got there to run, walk, or pretend that I like to exercise. It’s our beautiful spot. That’s why it’s so important to tell people, ‘Hey, your trash ends up here.’ I don’t want to see your water bottle floating down the river.”
Biggest challenge you face on the job: “Litter. It’s one thing to acknowledge a problem; it’s another to get behavior to change.”
Biggest opportunity you face on the job: “It’s not just a job to me. It’s more like I get to do community service everyday. I not only work with the community but I also get to work with elected officials. And it’s opened up new doors for me—I’ll be competing in Miss Georgia Earth 2021 as part of the Miss Earth USA pageant. That will allow me to expand this platform beyond Columbus and hopefully beyond Georgia.”

Created by city ordinance in 1986, Keep Columbus Beautiful Commission’s mission is: ”To engage and educate individuals to take greater responsibility for enhancing beautification, protecting the environment, and eliminating litter and blight

About the author

Frank Etheridge

Native son and veteran journalist Frank Etheridge is Editor of Electric City, a digital media outlet dedicated to documenting the news and culture of Columbus, Georgia.

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By Frank Etheridge