Beat Goes On For GRC Recycling Center
Recycling, by its nature, is a fluid enterprise.
Materials, markets, and minimizing waste, they tend to fluctuate.
So it goes recycling programs, no matter their altruistic or economic intentions, come and go.
Not the Glenwood Resource Center’s Recycling Program.
In an era when Mills County has seen its number of recycling options dwindle to just a handful in the last decade, the GRC’s paper recycling operation has thrived. Save for a hiccup during COVID and the program has been a recycling mainstay diverting everything from office paper, junk mail and magazines to newspaper and cardboard from garbage trucks and the landfill to the tune of 10 to 20 tons per month for the better part of 30 years.
That makes them the most prolific recycler in the county.
The community role isn’t lost on Dan Hunter, the day services director at the Glenwood Resource Center. Among his duties is overseeing the recycling undertaken by the facility both on its campus and in the community. He is a fourth generation GRC employee who started out working in direct care and worked his way into his current position over the last 19 years.
“I’ve kind of seen the program grow into what is now,” he said.
What the GRC’s primary program is now is a thriving recycler that picks up from 83 businesses, schools, post offices and county and city buildings scattered over 16 communities in and around Mills County. They also service drop-off paper recycling containers in Glenwood, Malvern and Silver City.
The program started in the early 1990s with one truck, two staff and about a dozen residents working on the sorting. Today, the program has two dedicated truck and nearly 40 residents with varying degrees of developmental delays punching a clock Monday through Friday, earning a paycheck and job skills.
The GRC also offers can and bottle redemption. They took in a little over three million pieces last year alone.
“We were shut down a little bit for COVID too or it probably would have been our best year on record,” Hunter said.
They also offer bottles and can pick up, but Hunter said the number of pick-ups vs. drop offs is about a 50-50 split. The GRC pays a redemption fee for the bottles and cans by check once a month.
Since 2009, the program has been housed in the basement of the Meyer’s Building. The building that was at one time the Glenwood Middle School and the former library is now the sorting room when materials come in. A 5,000 square foot building adjacent the Meyer’s Building serves as holding area for pre-sorted materials and the finished bales.
The facility’s vocational program has residents assisting in the recycling – sorting on site and on pick-ups in the community. About 35 residents work in the paper recycling weekly. The paper is sorted by color, newsprint and slick magazine paper. All of the paper is shredded and baled separated from the cardboard. The bales weigh approximately 800 pounds.
Residents who work in the program are evaluated on kills level to determine work assignments. Some clients sort, others unload truck or accompany a driver on runs and some help with the bailing. The clients are pair “commensurate wage according to the Department of Labor Requirements,” according to DHHS website.
Profit margins are a thin one for the program. Omaha-based International Paper collects the baled paper. They are charged for the pick-up of the material, but the GRC is credited the difference between their processed material and the cost of pick up.
What little revenue comes in goes back into the program, Hunter said. He points to the numbers – not the financials – as the best argument for why recycling is necessary.
“Every ton of recycled paper saves 4,000 kilowatts of energy and 17 trees,” he said.
Hunter is well aware the GRC is one of the last long standing recycling programs in the area. He’s seen the drop-off bins pulled from towns all over the county and he’s fielded the calls of those looking to recycle more than what the GRC handles.
“I think it goes with the times,” Hunter said of the lack of recycling options. “There was a time I think it (recycling) was an important thing and there was a heightened awareness of it, and it doesn’t seem like it’s as much of a focus as it was.”
He said it’s hard to say why the attention to recycling isn’t there, but he guesses a lack of tangible results could be to blame. The financial motivation of aluminum can recycling attracts its own market. But there’s lessons in that level of awareness in a material’s “recyclability.”
“It’s hard to see what you get out of recycling,” he said. “An aluminum can is probably the best thing to recycle because extracting aluminum ore to make a new can is way harder than recycling a can. There’s no loss in a material in a recycled can.
“Between the time you drop off a can and the time it’s recycled and back on a shelf is less than three months and 100 percent of that material is used. There’s so much information about the value of recycling but I don’t think it’s out there to everybody.”
Just how long the GRC will continue its recycling mission is up in the air. Gov. Kim Reynolds announced in April that the facility would close in 2024, leaving the recycling program’s future in doubt.
Hunter holds out hope a private provider might step up to take over the recycling programs.
“That’s a decision way above my pay grade," he said.