A Van Buren man known for his contributions to the beautification of the city was recently awarded for his individual efforts to increase recycling programs at the state and local levels.

John Pope, Keep Van Buren Beautiful executive director, received this year’s Individual Recycler of the Year Award from the Arkansas Recycling Coalition.

Each year, the honor goes to a person “who has made a significant contribution to the advancement of waste reduction, recycling, and sustainability in Arkansas over the past year,” according to the ARC website.

“I’m overwhelmed,” Pope said. “It’s a highly respectable group.”

Pope was named the recipient of the honor at the ARC conference in September. Robert Phelps, former director for Keep Arkansas Beautiful, nominated Pope for this year’s award.

“John has been a champion for recycling ever since he became involved in Keep Arkansas Beautiful and Keep America Beautiful,” Phelps said. “Some of the things he has accomplished there in Van Buren … have really impressed me.”

Pope has worked on numerous recycling and beautification projects in Van Buren and throughout the area, including city-wide clean ups twice a year, a yearly electronic waste collection and ongoing cigarette litter prevention.

He helped create a Van Buren School District recycling program, and started a regional recycling competition for schools participating in Recycle-Bowl.

As state commissioner for Keep Arkansas Beautiful for several years, Pope worked to get communities across the state to host annual America Recycles Day events.

Pope is most proud of a partnership he fostered between Keep America Beautiful and the national Lions Club organization to collect and redistribute used eyeglasses, he said.

Most recently, Pope helped get Van Buren and Keep Van Buren Beautiful selected to be the focus of a Keep America Beautiful recycling training video.

Phelps, who served on the Arkansas Recycling Coalition board from 1998 until 2017, has seen “a number of deserving individuals receive the award,” he said.

“But I couldn’t think of anyone that deserved it more than John - I’m delighted and elated that he was a recipient this year,” Phelps said.

Keep Van Buren Beautiful has won several awards for its efforts, including the President’s Circle Award and cigarette litter prevention award from Keep America Beautiful, and the Shine award from Keep Arkansas Beautiful.

Pope also has been awarded for his efforts in heading the Van Buren affiliate.

“Normally, everything I do is with Keep Van Buren Beautiful and Keep Arkansas Beautiful, and there’s no individual recognition,” Pope said. “Individual recognition is unusual, and it feels great.”