Selling recyclables provides cash for trash

Susan Varno Originally Published December 9, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated December 7, 2012 at 9:58 a.m.
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Kellie Traylor, left, and Nell Harrelson work the vertical baler at the Stone County Recycling Center, which collected more than 1 million pounds of recyclable material in 2011.

— In 2011, the Stone County Recycling Center in Mountain View collected 1,030,642 pounds of cardboard, paper, aluminum cans, plastic, textiles, electronic waste and steel. The center sold the material for more than $75,000, center coordinator Nell Harrelson said.

“Almost every business in town recycles,” Harrelson said. “The center has four large panel trucks. Three are in use almost every day. We have only four paid employees, but we get a lot of help from community-service workers who are paying off their county fines. Also in Stone County, people have to work a certain number of community-service hours to get their food stamps.”

The center has curbside pickup routes in Mountain View three days a week and makes pickups at the North Central Unit prison and at a public bin in Calico Rock twice a week. The center also picks up recyclables once a month from the Marcella and Fox communities in southern Stone County.

Standing in the back of one of the trucks, Mary Hibshman described the curbside operation.

“Our driver and a helper are in the cab, and a sorter is in the back,” she said. “At each stop, the helper gets out and hands up the curbside bin to the sorter. The sorter dumps out the bin onto a tray and throws each kind of recycling into the right bag.”

Hibshman pointed out the three large and three smaller canvas bags hooked to the inside walls of the truck.

“Milk jugs need a big bag; so do clear plastic and cardboard,” she said. “Colored plastic, paper and steel go in small bags. We use bins on the floor for each color of glass.”

Although most people are good about sorting their trash, Hibshman said, “some people don’t rinse their cans and glass jars out like they should. In the summer, sometimes we find maggots and other ‘creepy crawlers.’ They don’t realize we have to touch everything they recycle.”

Other center employees are Susan Lawrence, Kellie Traylor and Allen Brooks.

A sign on Arkansas 5, north of Mountain View, directs people down a side road to the center. The 20-foot-high metal building measures 70 by 110 feet. When a truck arrives, workers first lift bags of paper onto a forklift. The forklift driver dumps the load onto the lower end of the horizontal baler. The big green machine is 26 feet long and rises at an angle to 10 feet high.

As the conveyer belt moves the paper toward the top, workers stand on each side to pull out anything that doesn’t belong there.

“You don’t want to stand up too high beside the baler when it’s going,” Harrelson said. “You could fall in and be crushed.”

When the paper reaches the top, it drops down a chute, where the paper is pressed and tied into a 2 1/2- by 4 1/2-foot bale. This machine bales all recycling categories except cloth.

Across the room is a small vertical baler. Once a week, workers process cloth from the Dorcas Thrift Store in Mountain View. The clothes must be shaken out and thrown in a few at a time. In one corner of the huge room, bags and bins are arranged along the walls, just as on the trucks. Here, workers sort materials dropped off at the center by the public.

“We need at least 40,000 pounds before Ozark Recycling Enterprises in Clinton will pick up our bales,” Harrelson said. “We ship almost everything to them. Up on the mountain here, Lloyd Hershberger has a little recycling business going on. We sell him our aluminum cans.”

Tom Holland serves on the Stone County Recycling Board, which oversees the center.

“I became involved with solid-waste issues here in 1987,” Holland said. “Gov. Bill Clinton had put a $1 tax on every ton of garbage buried in Arkansas landfills. This created a pool of grant money through the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality. Several of us set up the Stone County Solid Waste Task Force. The members who worked most on our grant application were Lori Freeze, Andrew DeQuisto, Margaret Hart and myself. We wrote a combined grant with Van Buren and Searcy counties. In 1992, the three counties were awarded $375,000. Of that, Stone County received $98,000.”

Holland agreed to handle the finances, design the building and hire contractors for the recycling center.

“I drove all over Arkansas looking for glass crushers and forklifts,” he said. “We had to match 50 percent of the ADEQ grant. I got friends to donate backhoe time. A whole concrete crew volunteered to pour the building slab. Volunteers put in the septic line and built retaining walls. The Stone County Quorum Court voted funds for the site and the electric work. We opened the center in 1992.”

Harrelson started working there in 1997. She had recently moved from Memphis, where she had worked as an office manager.

“I hadn’t lived in Mountain View very long when my son was killed,” she said. “He was on his way to move here. He missed a curve and died. I was just sitting and thinking about that all the time. A friend of mine said she had put in her application for AmeriCorps Vista, and would I like to join? I said, ‘Yes, it will get me out of the house.’”

For four years, Harrelson worked at the center as a Vista volunteer before she was asked to take over as coordinator.

“At first, all we had were two vertical balers,” she said. “You stood there and fed the recyclables in by hand. We were always running behind. Eleven years ago, I saw a horizontal baler at a conference. I told the Quorum Court if we bought one, we could cut our payroll. They voted us $20,000, and we paid the other $20,000 from recycling funds. From there, recycling really took off.”

Besides payments for the recyclables, Harrelson explained that the center is financed by reimbursements from the Quorum Court and yearly grants from the ADEQ. The city of Mountain View pays curbside fees and a “diversion credit” to keep waste out of landfills. The Calico Rock City Council also pays a monthly fee. Last year, the center’s budget was almost $140,000.

For more information about the center, call (870) 269-5081.

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