Recycling exists in many forms.
Currently every municipality in Mills County has a recycling bin or drop-off location inside their city limits preventing at least one material from reaching the landfill and the waste stream.
Most grocery stores and convenience stores in the county accept cans and bottles. They, too, are recycling.
Several service stations accept used motor oil, old tires and even dead car batteries.
They’re recycling, too.
And then there’s a program like the Glenwood Recourse Center.
The nearly 150-year old, 1,200-acre campus on the hill in Glenwood does a little recycling of its own.
Actually, more than a little.
Try more than 700,000 pounds of paper last year.
The GRC’s recycling serves over 130 customers in dozens of southwest Iowa cities and towns in five counties.
They are perhaps the most prolific recyclers in Mills County.
And odds are, many people in Mills County have no idea “recycling” was even one of the services they provide.
The GRC’s recycling program collects any kind of fiber products, from newspaper to copy paper to junk mail, as well as cardboard from more than 150 locations in southwest Iowa. Their customers include 17 towns, eight districts and 18 federal post offices in a five-county area. Their route takes them as far south as Hamburg and as far north as Carson. The service is free to customers.
After the materials are collected they are sorted, bailed and marketed through an Omaha fiber processor.
Bob Stanley heads up the recycling program for the GRC. He’s been a resource center employee for 16 years but came over to the recycling side about four years ago. He and a full-time staff of four work with the clients and manage the facility.
In the early years, the facility recycled approximately 70 tons of materials annually. The facility did more than 350 tons last year. In addition to providing business pickup, the GRC has a paper bin located at the Glenwood Recycling Center at Vine and Tyson Streets that is used for community collection.
“It’s increased quite a bit,” said Stanley of the size and sophistication of the recycling program. “Glenwood is excellent at recycling. We service that box down there seven days a week and it’s always full to the top.”
The program started 20 years ago with one truck, two staff and about 30 clients. Today, the program has two dedicated trucks and 96 clients with varying degrees of developmental delay working Monday through Friday and making a living.
The recycling center has called the basement of the Meyer’s Building home since the Glenwood Middle School vacated the structure nearly three years ago. The main room of the recycling center – which was once the middle school library – features a long table where clients sort out each paper type by hand for bailing.
Clients who work in the program are evaluated on skill levels to determine work assignments. Some do sorting, others unload the trucks, and some might help in the bailing process. GRC clients are paid “commensurate wages according to the Department of Labor regulations,” which varies pay based on skill levels and task.
Stanley calls the weather one of the biggest challenges for such an ambitious recycling effort.
“The routes are there no matter what the weather is,” he said. “It can slow things down. Along with the market, which changes a lot, the weather is a challenge.”
The one advantage the GRC has in its battle against the elements and a fickle material market is its 5,000-square foot building east of the Meyer’s Building that is dedicated to recycling. The building is used to house both the pre- and post-sorted, bailed materials ready for market. A walk-through of the recycling building reveals 300-pound bails of cardboard stacked 15 feet high, three dozen 400-500 pound containers of mixed paper waiting to be sorted and bails of shredded paper.
If need be, during downturns in the market, the building can hold on to materials until prices improve.
“But stuff keeps coming in all the time. We can hold on to it for only so long,” Stanley said.
Stanley admits the profit margin in recycling, even for a program the size of the GRC’s, is a thin one. While he can’t point to a precise financial impact of recycling on the GRC’s garbage bills, Stanley presumes there has to be a correlation between more recycling equaling lower garbage bills for their own facility and most of their clients.
“There has to be, especially in the cardboard,” Stanley said. “We never were throwing away any of our confidential stuff but we were shredding it and we now do it in house. As far as impact on our garbage, there would have to be because we do process quite a bit and we don’t have to pay someone externally to do that for us. It also provides an opportunity for employment.”
The impact of the program on the “environment” is really two-fold for the GRC. Recycling is a break-even endeavor as a business plan. Revenue from materials just barely keeps most programs in the black, financially. Stanley agrees. But the job skills clients learn as part of the program, can’t be measured in any ledger book.
“The recycling is just one part. We’re providing work for our residents where they live and work. That’s valuable in itself,” he said.
The Redemption Center located on South Chestnut Street in Glenwood has a similar business model to the GRC, and has shown success in recycling aluminum cans, plastic bottles and glass while providing vocational training. The Redemption Center works in conjunction with the Pacific Place Work Activity Center.
Clients, who have varying degrees of developmental disabilities, come from Pacific Place and sister facility, Park Place to do the recycling sorting. Clients work on a conveyor belt where materials are sorted by type (aluminum, glass or plastic) and by vendor (Pepsi and Coca-Cola, etc.). They sort approximately 25,000 bottles and cans per week.
“Each product has to be sorted into different bags so the clients have to know each vendor and product so when the trucks come each week they’re already sorted,” Redemption Center Manager Angie Johnson said.
The facility, which opened a year after the GRC program, currently contracts with more than a dozen businesses in Glenwood, Malvern, Pacific Junction, Tabor and others to provide pick-up of materials. Some offices have bins set aside for recyclables, others, like the Casey’s General Stores in Glenwood and in Tabor, have a container besides their building for bottles and cans.
“Each business has a designated area we pick up from,” Johnson said. “It’s never the same (with each business). Some keep them in the back room or the basement, some have a little shed.”
Much like the GRC’s program, trucks service the route five days a week, but each business sets their own pick-up time and day.
The center currently employs 15 clients. While hours vary by client, for most, it is a full-time job.
“This is their job. They come here Monday through Friday,” Johnson said. “Most work inside on the conveyor belt to sort. One (client) goes out with the route driver every day to pick up from the businesses.”