October 25, 2005 | General


BioCycle October 2005, Vol. 46, No. 10, p. 43
This well-documented message – proven in many states – may hold the key to reinvigorating public commitment to materials recovery and reuse.
Matt Ewadinger and Scott Mouw

A RECENT SURVEY in North Carolina shows the powerful impact of recycling as an economic development tool. It reflects similar results of data compiled by state offices, the U.S. EPA and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. These reports all show how recycling means good business that goes far beyond the resources and energy conservation benefits long recognized.
The North Carolina Division of Pollution Prevention and Environmental Assistance conducted a survey to examine recycling’s impact on jobs and the North Carolina economy. This survey follows up a similar effort conducted in 1994 and documents the growth of the recycling industry over the past decade. Some of the findings include:
o Recycling employs approximately 14,000 people across the state.
o In 1994, recycling employed 8,700 people, rising 60 percent in ten years to reach its current level.
o Recycling jobs as a percentage of the state’s total employment has increased 40 percent in ten years, from 0.25 percent of the total labor force in 1994 to 0.35 percent in 2004.
o Fifty-four percent of the businesses surveyed forecast creating more recycling-related jobs in the next two years.
o Recycling employs more people than the biotech and agricultural livestock industries in North Carolina.
o The number of companies listed in the state’s recycling markets directory has increased from 306 in 1994 to 532 in 2004, a 74 percent increase.
The recycling industry can be expected to continue its growth in North Carolina, with expansion of existing firms and the advent of new companies resulting in a rising level of employment in this sector. The two chief obstacles to growth are access to materials that are currently being thrown away and sent to landfills and, as is the case with many small- to medium-sized businesses, access to capital.
In an ideal world, we would measure a recycling company’s success based on its positive environmental impact. In a market-based economy, however, success is measured by a company’s ability to start-up, grow and remain financially solvent. To help these companies be successful, the N.C. Recycling Business Assistance Center (RBAC) collaborated with Self-Help, the state’s community development bank, to create the N.C. Recycling Business Loan Fund. The loan fund nurtures fledgling businesses until they become bankable and graduate to full-service private sector financing. Since the inception of the loan fund in 1999, despite a somewhat sluggish economy, Self-Help has made $1,175,300 in loans and leveraged an additional $1,617,810 from other financial sources resulting in a total of $2,793,110 lent to North Carolina-based recycling companies. Forty-three jobs have been created, 18 jobs have been retained that might otherwise have been lost and 18,782 tons per year of capacity have been developed.
The rationale for establishing a dedicated Recycling Business Loan Fund is that banks can be reluctant to fund start-ups or companies in untested sectors. While venture capital is designed to take on higher levels of risk, those firms often want only very large deals and those with some form of management participation. The loan fund is designed to fill the gap between bank loans and venture capital.
What types of loans are available? The loans are structured as market-rate debt, and can be used for working capital, inventory, equipment and real estate purchases. The staff at Self-Help is well skilled at tapping existing Small Business Administration funding pools and guarantee programs to help with the approval of riskier loans. Self-Help often uses SBA 504 and 7(A) guarantees in its underwriting.
For more information about the N.C. Recycling Business Loan Fund, contact Fred Broadwell, Environmental Finance Coordinator at (919) 956-4490, or e-mail him at, or visit the Self-Help website at
North Carolina’s RBAC has developed “Recycling Means Business! The Impact of Recycling on North Carolina’s Economy.” Unlike other recycling employment and business studies concentrating on economic statistics, this document provides a snapshot of the many faces of North Carolina’s recycling industry. The 42 companies featured are just a few of the 540 state based recycling operations listed in the N.C. Recycling Markets Directory. (See sidebar for description of some of these companies.) The operations range from Fortune 500 manufacturers to single proprietor, family-owned businesses, handling hundreds of different types of materials and products. Some of these companies now occupy old textile factories and other industrial plants abandoned by some of the state’s more traditional industries. A copy of Recycling Means Business! can be found at
Every state could probably provide similar recycling success stories like those highlighted here. An amazing array of companies across the country help turn discarded materials into everyday products while creating jobs for our citizens and investment in our economy at the same time.
To help companies like these thrive, states can help create and maintain a business climate that supports the success of recycling companies. Local communities and states can help with policies, programs and incentives that drive materials out of the waste stream and into the hands of recyclers. Some recyclers struggle to compete against relatively low tipping fees for materials. Access to capital, discussed previously, needs to improve. Maintaining a strong network of technical, economic development and business planning assistance can give companies a strong foundation for expansion and improvement. A need to raise public awareness of the recycling economy exists. Waste generators, decision-makers and the public should know about the economic development, as well as the environmental, benefits the recycling industry offers.
Recycling’s environmental promise is matched by its ability to grow jobs and businesses and strengthen the overall economy. This message, now well documented, may hold the key to reinvigorating public commitment to recycling and to capturing the large amount of materials that are now mistakenly discarded as “waste.”
Matt Ewadinger is manager of the North Carolina Recycling Business Assistance Center, a cooperative effort of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the N.C. Department of Commerce. Scott Mouw is chief of the Community and Business Assistance Section of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Sidebar p. 44
Oaks Unlimited has more than 40 years’ experience producing high quality hardwood lumber for both domestic and overseas markets. In 2004, Oaks Unlimited president, Joe Pryor, expanded operations to produce a hardwood-flooring product made from recycled pallet deck boards.
Located in Waynesville, Oaks Unlimited has worked closely with Waste Reduction Partners in Asheville to develop the flooring production process. Additional equipment purchases and a required building expansion were partially financed through grant funding from the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
The “start-up” component of this new venture for Oaks Unlimited has been successful. From June to December 2004, Oaks Unlimited created one full-time position, and requires three additional part-time employees to meet the initial production schedule. As it ramps up to meet demand, production could be doubled using existing equipment and adding more employees.
Oaks Unlimited has used its experience in the production, marketing and distribution of high quality lumber to create a business that is designed to fill a niche in the hardwood flooring market. The final product is a three-eighths inches thick, solid hardwood flooring that is prefinished and ready for installation. The rustic flooring is marketed as a “green” product, and more than 250 tons of pallet deck boards are recycled annually in its production. This translates into 120,000 square feet per year of flooring. Increases in waste diversion rates are directly proportional to expanding market demand. Contact Joe Pryor at (828) 926-1621, e-mail:
Under the leadership of M. Noel Lyons, McGill-Leprechaun operates two compost manufacturing plants in North Carolina and is one of the largest solid waste composting companies on the East Coast. The company was started in 1991 near Harrells to help manage the growing amount of animal waste generated by the poultry industry. Now, its facilities in Chatham and Sampson Counties process more than 200,000 tons of material per year. Feedstocks come from a large variety of generators, including industrial plants, municipalities and agricultural operations. The materials handled by McGill include industrial residuals, municipal biosolids, water treatment plant residuals, sheetrock, clean construction wood waste, commercial wood waste (pallets, shipping crates, etc.), food processing waste, grease trap waste, agricultural residuals, animal waste and source-separated organic solid waste (shredded paper, food scraps, waxed cardboard, etc.).
With more than 50 employees and $7 million in annual revenue, McGill-Leprechaun is poised to expand its operations to other parts of the state. It found large-scale markets for its finished compost, which is sold in bulk by the cubic yard to retail and wholesale customers throughout the Carolinas. McGill’s products have been used effectively to eliminate the use of methyl bromide, an ozone-depleting chemical, in produce and crop production. The company’s rapid growth and innovative technology earned McGill-Leprechaun the honor of runner-up for North Carolina Small Business of the Year in 2004. Contact Lynn Lucas at McGill (910) 532-2539, e-mail:, or visit the company’s website at http://www.
Judy and Dean Brooks own and operate one of North Carolina’s largest state-permitted composting facilities. In 1992, Chatham County’s Brooks Contractors began accepting organics on its 30-acre facility to process into a valuable compost product. Brooks started out with only two employees, a couple of customers and a few hundred tons of organics to process. Today, Brooks has a substantial customer base, more than 55,000 tons to process each year, a fleet of trucks, and 12 full-time and a few part-time employees.
In the late 1990s, Brooks began offering collection of food residuals to grocery stores, restaurants, microbreweries and cafeterias in Orange County. Food collection expanded quickly from 700 tons the first year to more than 24,000 tons from Orange, Wake, Durham and surrounding counties. Brooks has made major contributions to the food collection and composting industry. The company designed a collection truck that provides several functions not found on a typical waste hauling truck. The truck weighs the container before and after dumping its contents into the truck. The truck is also equipped with a high-pressure water system that allows operators to clean out and sanitize each collection container after dumping. This valuable and unique feature has been critical to making the food collection service a success by nearly eliminating odor and fly complaints.
In addition to its original compost, Brooks has expanded its product line to include more than eight different products, including topsoils, flower-bed mix and other compost blends to meet varied landscaping and agricultural needs. Contact Judy Brooks at (919) 837-5914, e-mail:
Clean Green Inc. is a growing recycling business that processes between 5,000 and 7,000 gallons of antifreeze per week at its plant in eastern Durham. The used antifreeze is purified by a patented filtration system designed by the company’s owner, Tim Wilkinson. A longtime Durham car repair shop owner and auto mechanics teacher, Wilkinson saw a need to improve the handling of the hazardous fluid and, in the true entrepreneurial spirit, learned the chemistry involved to create the process necessary to purify antifreeze.
Incorporated in 1997, Clean Green now employs 10 people. It operates five trucks for collecting waste and delivering recycled antifreeze. Subject to the same standards as the virgin product, the recycled antifreeze is available in all major colors and formulations. The company collects used antifreeze from many sources, including the automotive industry, municipalities, N.C. landfills and collection centers and other industries. However, a majority of the used antifreeze is collected from the companies purchasing the reprocessed product. This offers companies a closed-loop system of recycling for their antifreeze needs. Customers save dramatically by purchasing Clean Green’s recycled antifreeze, which sells for less than half the price of virgin antifreeze.
Wilkinson has watched the company grow approximately 20 percent each year and is expanding operations to include recycling of used oil filters. Clean Green is now reprocessing more than 300 barrels (45-50 tons) each month of used oil filters. These filters are 100 percent recyclable and contain valuable steel and waste oil used for fuel. Contact Wilkinson at (919) 596-3500, or
In 2001, Joe Van Eron decided to do something about the large amount of wood being collected and sent to landfills as a result of his Wilmington-based construction site clean-up business, Total Maintenance. His first step was to purchase a tub grinder to market mulch and boiler fuel products.
Later, Van Eron purchased a colorizing machine that produces red, brown and black mulch. This led to the establishment of his second company, The Mulch Master of Wilmington. Currently, 15 employees work at Total Maintenance and The Mulch Master collecting, sorting, grinding and colorizing the recovered wood waste. During the first year of operation, approximately 2,250 tons of material were recovered. Today, that amount has increased to 5,000 tons and Van Eron anticipates continued growth. In fact, Van Eron expects to begin recycling approximately 40 tons per week of gypsum drywall in the near future. Contact Joe Van Eron at (910) 763-5955, e-mail:
Huntersville’s Wallace Farms Soil Products began operation in the early 1940s as one of the largest dairy farms in North Carolina. In 1990, the family-owned and operated business decided to diversify by leasing out its dairy facilities, and creating a soil processing and composting operation.
Because of increasing environmental concerns and regulations governing animal waste, the Wallace family set out to develop an environmentally friendly method of managing the dairy manure. Aerobic composting proved to be the logical solution, originating one of the few “real” composted cow manures available today. Wallace Farm Soil Products has since developed a high-quality line of soil and compost products, including blended topsoil, composted cow manure, compost-plus, potting soil and play sand.
With 22 employees, Wallace Farm Soil Products receives approximately 60,000 tons of organic residuals a year and is one of the largest compost and packaging facilities in the state. The farm reaches out to other farms and industries to divert materials such as animal manures, food residuals, wood and yard trimmings from landfills. Contact Eric Wallace at (704) 875-2975, or visit the company’s website at http://www.
Located in Pasquotank Industrial Park, Elizabeth City, Elizabeth City Glass Inc. is both a processor and end user of construction glass, Pyrex, ceramics and mixed post-consumer container glass. After spending three years in the research and development phase, ECG began operation on Jan. 1, 2004, as a full-scale, operational pilot project. The brand-new facility includes a 16,000 square foot building with most operations under roof. Truck scales and an industrial-sized hopper provide the tools for handling feedstock coming into the facility. Material is offloaded directly into the hopper where the materials are transported to the processing equipment inside the facility where glass material is crushed, screened and washed. The finished material is used to produce a line of utilitarian and decorative precast concrete products with 82 percent recycled glass content. Products at the facility include crosswalk tactile warning blocks for the physically challenged, parking lot wheel stops and patio pavers.
At current production levels, ECG employs four people and is recovering 384 tons per year of glass waste. ECG expects to grow as sales increase in 2005. With few outlets for recovered mixed glass in the northeastern part of the state as well as southeastern Virginia, ECG is providing a much-needed market for this material. Contact Shawn Lemmond at (252) 333-1002 or e-mail at
CompuTel IG LLC is a family-owned Charlotte-based recycling business started in 1995 by John Rhinehardt. The company collects, processes and markets materials in the emerging area of computer and electronics recycling. CompuTel accepts a complete range of consumer electronics from sources that range from large generators such as state and local government agencies, international power companies and school districts, to local residents who routinely drop off material at CompuTel’s Charlotte location.
With purchase of a 24-foot box-body truck, CompuTel anticipates increasing its recovery efforts to more than 750 tons of electronic scrap per year. The purchase of that vehicle was partially financed through grant funding from the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. John and his son Brett are optimistic about the company’s future and project continued growth, based in part on being named as available vendors in the North Carolina Electronic Recycling Services State Term Contract. CompuTel currently employs seven people and, should its growth trend continue, may add three to five jobs over the next year. Contact Brett Rhinehardt at (704) 376-1116, e-mail:
sidebar p. 46
THE NORTH Carolina General Assembly passed House Bill 1465, which bans the disposal of wooden pallets, as well as motor vehicle oil filters, rigid plastic containers that have a neck smaller than the body of the container and oyster shells. Wooden pallets may still be accepted for disposal at facilities permitted to accept only construction and demolition debris. HB 1465 was signed into law and becomes effective on October 1, 2009.
Pallets represent approximately four percent of all disposed waste in North Carolina, notes Scott Mouw of the state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources, coauthor of the accompanying article. A disposal ban would divert as much as 200,000 tons per year from disposal. “We were able to ‘sell’ the idea of the ban in part because of the extensive infrastructure that is already in place for recycling many of these materials, and the opportunities to grow that infrastructure,” he explains. Talking points prepared in support of the ban cite a recent North Carolina study that identified over 100 pallet recycling companies covering all areas of the state, employing an average of 33 people per business. Eighty-five percent of these recyclers could sell more pallets if they had them, and could handle another 192,000 tons beyond current consumption. There also are over 160 facilities in North Carolina permitted to burn wood as fuel, with other large wood fuel users accessible in nearby states. Five large commercial composting operations and some smaller ones need more wood feedstock, including pallet wood. In addition, there are wood mulch operations. Value-added wood product manufacturers operating in the central and western regions of the state want more pallet wood as well.

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