July 30, 2007
Recycling program helps local adult with disabilities
A brand new recycling program is making a big impact
By Jennifer Gallus
Not only does the environment benefit from a progressive new recycling campaign that focuses on recycling “away from home” in McLeod, Carver, and southern Wright counties, so do local adults with disabilities who are sorting the recyclables as part of their job.
The recycling campaign is called “Message in a Bottle.”
“Most Minnesotans recycle at home, but studies show that recycling rates decrease dramatically when people are away from home,” said Ellen Telander, executive director of the Recycling Association of Minnesota.
“Whether that trend is because people don’t know where they can recycle or because there aren’t any recycling containers convenient to them, the Message in a Bottle campaign will address both issues,” Telander said.
Giant soda bottle-shaped collection containers are multiplying in the area, thanks to the program. The containers were designed to be easily recognizable to people as they frequent gas stations, laundromats, and car washes places where people often clean out their vehicles and toss plastic bottles into the garbage.
The containers were also designed to minimize the possibility of garbage being tossed in with the bottles, and the result has been phenomenal, according to Telander.
“You have to literally push the bottles through the grommet hole and because of that, it has really limited the amount of garbage in the containers. Just by looking (at the huge pile of clear bags of bottles already collected), more than 80 percent is plastic bottles,” Telander said.
Collections started in April of this year. So far, 32 locations, spread throughout the three counties, have agreed to provide recycling containers at their businesses for donation to the program.
Program also targets plastic bags and shrink wrap
In addition to targeting plastic bottles, the program accepts plastic jugs, glass bottles or jars, aluminum cans, plastic grocery bags, and shrink wrap.
The plastic bags and shrink wrap are collected at places like grocery stores, area businesses, and manufacturers. Businesses wishing to collect bags and wrap are provided with appropriate collection containers free of charge.
The grant that the program secured provides for pickup of plastic bottles at community-type businesses that many people frequent, such as gas stations and laundromats, free of charge. A small $6 fee per pickup is charged to other types of businesses and manufacturers.
The recyclables are then brought to the Adult Training and Habilitation Center (ATHC) facility in Hutchinson, according to Telander.
Area manufacturing companies are having their shrink wrap picked up by the program and saving money on their garbage bills.
“About 50 to 60 percent of manufacturer’s garbage is shrink wrap. It’s all air, it fills up the trash, and we’re offering a very inexpensive way to recycle that, and save 50 percent on their trash bill,” Telander said.
Not only does the program save money on trash bills for businesses, it provides for a tax deduction for the business because the material is considered a donation, according to Telander.
Steady work for ATHC clients
Local adults with disabilities who work for ATHC in Hutchinson are sorting the recyclables as part of their job. The recyclables are brought to ATHC and have already filled up much of a large work space at the facility.
“The more volume we can bring in, the more people we can employ and the more money these individuals can put back into our local economy,” said Jason Telander, executive director of ATHC.
Jason and Ellen Telander are a husband and wife who live in rural Winsted, both with unique backgrounds, who meshed their interests together to come up with the idea for the program.
“This is stable work (for the ATHC clients). Every day they have something to do to keep them employed. The program is selling the material to pay the clients the money is going to people with disabilities,” Ellen said.
A bin that holds 11 cubic yards of plastic bottles resides in the ATHC work space.
“Currently, 10 individuals sort through the material. We hope to add to that number as the number of businesses and residents participating in the program increases,” Jason said.
The recycled pop bottles often are made into carpet, whereas the recycled shrink wrap and garbage bags are made into decking material, according to the Telanders.
“The environment wins, too, because the shrink wrap is being made into plastic decking, which is made from 50 percent wood shavings and 50 percent plastic material,” Telander said.
The decking is maintenance-free and lasts a lifetime, which saves on trees, preservative chemicals, sanding, and personal time spent on upkeep.
After the plastic bags or shrink wrap is brought to the ATHC facility, it is sorted by the clients, which has proved interesting for them due to the fact that they’ve found things like money, miscellaneous items, and even a brand new pair of expensive gloves in the bags, according to Ellen.
“Now, they take more interest in sorting because they might find a treasure,” Ellen said.
The plastic garbage bags are placed in a baler donated by Waste Management that makes 1,200-pound bales of the plastic material. Shrink wrap is kept separate from the garbage bags, but also made into bales.
Since collection commenced in April, the program has already made 15 bales, which accounts for 18,000 pounds of plastic that would otherwise have been thrown in the garbage, just in bags and shrink wrap alone.
Additionally, 6,000 pounds of plastic bottles and plastic containers have been collected.
It’s all about the donations
“A lot of donations have gone into the making of this program. You need help getting started with a big recycling project like this,” Ellen said.
Waste Management donated the vertical baler and helped us with installation. The Minnesota Beverage Association provided a grant and recycling bins for bottles. The American Chemistry Council donated the plastic bag recycling bins. Carver and McLeod County have also been very helpful in getting this program off the ground.
The program just started collecting Cokato Township’s recyclables. Sorensons donated the use of a truck to get the recyclables from Cokato Township to the ATHC facility.
“We’re not trying to make a lot of money, rather a good recycling program that will be self-sufficient so we don’t have to seek (monetary) donations to keep the program running,” Ellen said.
The program will have recycling containers stationed at the Carver County Fair Wednesday through Sunday, Aug. 8-12 in Waconia.
The program is seeking more grocery stores or businesses to sign up. The collection containers are free and pickup is either free or will cost $6 per pickup, depending upon the type of service. For more information, contact Ellen Telander at the Recycling Association of Minnesota at (651) 641-4560.