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Bob - and Hundreds of Thousands of Cardboard Boxes

By Rick Edwards, consultant on Sustainable Wenatchee board of advisors

When Bob was released from prison after serving 15 years, he landed at Hospitality House, a men’s homeless shelter run by Hospitality Ministries in Wenatchee. Following a stint as cook at the House, Bob needed a different job. That’s when he came up with the idea of collecting cardboard from local businesses, selling it, and donating the proceeds to support the House. More than 14 years later, that suggestion has led to steady work for many Hospitality House residents, benefits for local businesses and non-profits, a reliable supply of raw materials for a major local green manufacturer, less solid waste in our regional landfill, and a reduction in greenhouse-gas production.

Cardboard bales at Hospitality House waiting for pick-up

Hospitality House’s recycling service began to take shape in 2006, when Bob and a board member formally organized it into a job-training and income-producing operation for Hospitality Ministries. A partnership was later established with Keyes Fibre (now Keyes Packaging Group), with Keyes providing the House with an on-site cardboard baler and helping with the purchase of two Ford Rangers for use in collecting recyclables. The Keyes plant in Wenatchee relies on recycled cardboard and waste paper to manufacture a wide range of food-packaging products such as fruit packing liners. Keyes has a long history as a green manufacturer.

Driver Jeff Carollo with a Hospitality House recycling truck

Currently, the House has 130 cardboard pick-up accounts in the Wenatchee area, including downtown stores, restaurants, Confluence Health, and malls. Hospitality House charges businesses for cardboard pick-up, with service either weekly ($60/month) or biweekly ($40/month). The service picks up cardboard for free from Wenatchee School District sites, entities that financially support Hospitality Ministries, and some churches and other non-profits. Cardboard pick-up occurs late at night and early in the morning, so the trucks are rarely seen during the day. Waste Management actually directs some businesses to Hospitality House’s program, especially in cases where large truck access is impossible or problematic, such as narrow downtown alleys. The House does not collect recyclables from private residences.

Kevin Hammitt and David “Wade” Edes with Keyes baler

The results of Hospitality House’s recycling service are immediate and measurable. The operation employs at least six residents who receive job training, a small stipend, food, and housing. Local businesses obtain a reliable service handling cardboard at a very reasonable rate. Free pick-up at Wenatchee Schools, churches, and non-profits allows those entities to use their limited funding toward other efforts in the community. The operation provides its major partner, Keyes Packaging Group, with an average of 125 bales of cardboard a month; monthly collections range from 100,000-120,000 pounds, with bales weighing up to 900 pounds. Additionally, the service collects one to two large bins of mixed paper and a bin of aluminum cans per month. This material might otherwise end up in the regional landfill. Keyes Packaging Group’s use of this locally sourced raw material has a dramatically reduced cost and carbon load compared to recyclables that would otherwise have to be transported to, processed at, and re-distributed from recycling facilities in the Spokane or Seattle areas.

In the last two years, international recycling markets have reeled from China and other Asian nations’ decisions to drastically reduce their import of recycled fiber and plastics from the United States, Canada, and Europe. As a result, recycling materials are piling up at ports and processing facilities. This has triggered a significant drop in the market value of most recyclables, with cardboard and mixed paper being especially hard hit. One solution to this situation is the development across the country of local and regional manufacturing plants designed to utilize recycled materials in the creation of new products. The long-term partnership between Hospitality House and Keyes Packaging Group is a stellar example of this business model, in which recycled materials are collected and processed locally with a minimum of transportation costs.

A truck load of cardboard on its way to Keyes Packaging

As for Bob, when he left the House after a number of years, he moved to Seattle and started a janitorial business that employed six people. He ran this business until retirement. Bob now lives in California to be closer to family and volunteers as a church custodian. Hospitality House was instrumental in helping Bob move his life in a positive direction. In turn, Bob left the House with a recycling program legacy that has benefited the environment and helped sustain the House for many years.

To learn more about the Hospitality House recycling operation or to sign up for collection service, please contact them at 509-663-4289.

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