Q: People sometimes think of recycling as a losing proposition. But this quasi-governmental operation, with a budget of about $1.3 million, almost half from sales of cardboard, actually makes money?
A: Some people would say -- a pure capitalist -- you're being subsidized by [our] 10 or 20 percent of grants and state allotments. We don't pay taxes. [But] over the last quarter, we've probably averaged $15-20,000 a month. And except for a rough period where everybody had a tough time last year in the economy, we make money here.
Q: You say you saw the onset of the recession coming last year as your sales dropped, indicating something was afoot. Can you elaborate?
A: We actually were the canary in the coal mine, I think. We saw the prices crashing back in September of a year ago. I remember going to [Kanawha County Commissioner] Kent Carper, who's a big supporter of ours, and just saying this is about to really change everything. We were making $20,000 a month and then ...
So the county helped us out, but I gave them six months notice as we saw it happening. We saw the prices go from $115 a ton for cardboard to $10. When 40 percent of your income comes from cardboard ... Fortunately, we had saved enough money over the years, it got us through that.
Q: What is the mix of the stuff that individuals, businesses and municipalities drop off here and what do you go out and get?
A: We have 22 employees -- four of them are involved full-time in going out and getting materials. We pick up all the state office stuff. We pick up over 200 businesses, from law offices to schools and churches. For free. We have our routes that go around through most of the county. I'd say almost 30 percent of the material we get we go get ourselves.
CMAC is the largest private recycler in the county. We just gave them an award. We go pick it all up. They do almost as much tonnage in their recycling programs -- mostly paper -- as the city of St. Albans, Dunbar and South Charleston, together. Some of the big plants like Clearon bring a lot of their plastic to us. Another 15 percent is dropped off by individuals. The rest is basically cities and businesses.
Q: What's gratifying to you about the recycling business?
A: I was the lobbyist 22 year ago to help write the laws on this thing. I think the most gratifying thing is watching literally hundreds and hundreds of individuals come in here and drop off their stuff. Not because it's the law, not because they're making any money at it. They're doing it because they want to do the right thing.
That's something the people before me have created, a sort of culture of drop-off where 15 to 20 percent of our stuff -- as much as comes from the City of Charleston by their trucks -- comes from people just on their way to work. I've seen people from Cabell County, Lincoln County, Putnam County, Clay County, Roane, Jackson ... Sometimes on a Saturday morning there'll be five or 10 cars here. We have businesses like the Bluegrass Kitchen and Tricky Fish -- they come, I'm going to guess, three times a week, with their cardboard and glass.
Q: What are your goals for future of the place?
A: When I first took the job three years ago I'm embarrassed to say my goal was in two years' time to double the recycling in Kanawha County. It didn't take long to realize we physically can't, even if we had the best programs and collections. So for the past year I've been meeting with the governor, the economic development office, the county commission and the four curbside [recycling] cities: Charleston, South Charleston, Dunbar and St. Albans. We've all agreed we need to have a new state-of-the-art facility.
We're looking at the Tech Center as a possibility [or] some state land up in Campbells Creek. We can't do much more here until we can physically design a new plant that can take the tonnage. That's my long-range goal, within the next two years to have that either in construction or on its way. Then maybe retire. That'd be enough for me.
Reach Douglas Imbrogno at doug...@cnpapers.com or 304-348-3017.