Re­cy­cling cen­ter open, prof­itable

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - LYNN ATKINS Lynn Atkins can be reached by email at latkins@nwadg.com.

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.

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