Recycling center open, profitable
BELLA VISTA — After more than 40 years, the Bella Vista Recycling Center has outlasted other volunteer recycle centers in Northwest Arkansas.
Because of the way the program is structured, the volunteers earn more money than the others as well, board President Paul Poulides said. Every month the center passes out hundreds of dollars to area nonprofit groups.
Until about five years ago the center was completely run by volunteers, but the manager retired and no one was willing to step up and take over. It was basically a full-time job, Poulides said, but there was no pay. The board hired Lou Stirek as its first part-time supervisor. He’s still there and he’s been joined by several part-time paid supervisors who manage up to 10 or 12 volunteers at a time.
As volunteer jobs go, the Recycling Center is a good one, Poulides said. Volunteers not only choose the hours they want to work, they can also choose the jobs they do. Some people love to drive the trucks and pick up cardboard from area businesses. Others like to run the big machines compressing material for easier handing. Then there are those who work outside, meeting customers and helping unload and sort recycling.
Each volunteer gets a credit of $6 for each hour worked, but they don’t get the money. They assign their hours to a local nonprofit group. Once a month, those groups get a check for the hours the volunteers worked. Some volunteers work for more than one group — they can change who they are working for each time they sign in.
The center also uses some community-service workers who are assigned hours by the courts. Community service workers don’t get the monetary credit for hours worked, so their hours help keep the center in the black.
For many businesses, recycling is a win/win situation, Poulides said. He believes he could provide the center’s pickup service to dozens more businesses if he had enough volunteers to run the routes.
The cardboard is a valuable product for the center, although the price varies. But for the businesses needing to dispose of cardboard, it’s an expense. When volunteers pick up loads of cardboard, the business saves money on trash bills and landfills don’t fill as quickly.
Cardboard prices have been high in recent years as more and more people shop online and their products come in cardboard boxes. While there’s more cardboard to get rid of, there’s also more needed by the shippers so the price of recycled cardboard increases.
The center also makes some money selling gently used moving boxes. People donate the boxes, then volunteers collect them and sell them for a much better price than the moving companies. In fact, Poulides said, some moving companies buy the boxes at the center and resell them.
Not all recycled products are as lucrative as cardboard, but part of the center’s mission is to keep items out of landfills, Stirek said. That’s why the center will accept batteries, which are then taken to the Benton County’s recycle center for disposal. The center doesn’t make any money, but the system keep batteries out of landfills.
The center also accept glass, which many volunteer recycling programs won’t handle. Glass is difficult to handle because it’s easy to break and some volunteers will get hurt. In Bella Vista, glass is accepted and carefully sorted according to color. Volunteers grind glass and put it in huge Gaylord crates. Workers can fill a box every other day, with a truck load accumulated once a month. But even by the truck load, there’s little money in glass. It does keep it out of the landfill though, Poulides said.
One of the reasons the Bella Vista Recycling Center is profitable is because of the careful sorting. The center can market recyclables easily because all the buyers know they will get pure products from the enter. That’s why workers have to be picky about what they accept.
People may not understand why they can’t throw a clear plastic food container from a restaurant into the same bin with the clear plastic soda bottles. While they may look alike, they are two different material and buyers want to know the clear soda bottles are just clear soda bottles, Stirek said.
Business at the center picked up when Republic Services — Bella Vista’s trash collection company — stopped collecting blue bags of recyclables. But the new customers brought a new set of problems, Stirek said. Not everyone is happy about dropping off the recycling themselves. That was part of the reason the center stopped putting out trash barrels.
“We’ll take their plastic bags,” Stirek said, referring to the plastic bags that people use to transport their recycling. But the trash cans were getting filled with household trash and cost the center money because it to cover the cost of disposal. Now, there’s only one barrel out and it’s marked “plastic bags only.” If people bring their accumulated Walmart bags, they’ll be asked to return them to the store. The center can’t sell the plastic bags.
It’s difficult to recruit enough volunteers to keep the center running smoothly, but a few large groups help. The Bella Vista Fly-Tyers send 12 to 15 members out every Monday. They like to take the trucks out and run the routes, Poulides said. The money they earn goes back into the community through Fly-Tyers projects including installing fish habitat in area lakes.
The Fly-Tyers recently paid half the cost for moving a fishing dock into deeper water near the Loch Lomond marina.
Oasis, a transitional housing program for women in recovery, also sends many volunteers. Participants in the program are asked to work two shifts a week at the center. The money they raise pays for rent and utilities in Oasis’ three homes. Most of the women in the program also have fulltime jobs, administrative assistant Miranda Styles said.
The recycling center was started by the local AARP Chapter, but is now run by its own board. The board meets once a month and approves the nonprofit groups to receive recycling center money. They also approve each check written to a nonprofit group.
Last year, the center gave away more than $101,000, Poulides said. They may do even better this year.