One person’s trash

A local woman helps the Terrace area do its part recycling

  • Wed Feb 22nd, 2012 5:00pm
  • Life

After moving to the Terrace area nine years ago from B.C.’s Kootenay region, Kasey Lewis found herself taking up a new habit — throwing waste items she’d once been able to recycle into the trash.

It wasn’t something she wanted to do. Rather, there was no alternative available to sending recyclables to the local landfill.

Lewis soon discovered she wasn’t the only person frustrated by this. So, she decided to do something about it.

And so came about the local recycling operation that now sees tonnes of Terrace and area recyclables literally dropped out of a truck and through its back door thrice weekly.

Lewis’ business, Do Your Part Recycling, began in June 2006 when she and a friend found clients, drove a van, and started picking up bagged recyclables at the curb in front of their homes. They charged a collecting fee per user to pay for their time and expenses.

Demand for the service quickly grew, and over the years what started with one van and two women sorting recyclables in a garage has grown to a recycling operation that operates out of a 1,000 plus square foot warehouse in Thornhill.

Do Your Part has also acquired a half-tonne bailer, which compresses recyclable materials into large cube-like mounds so they can be stored, sold and shipped, and  a roomy yellow truck.

Do Your Part sells what it’s collected to companies which then process the material for use into something new.

And cliche as it may sound, for Lewis, one person’s trash is literally another’s treasure.

Like gold, selling prices for different recyclable materials fluctuate depending on market value. So while Lewis might make some money off cardboard one day —  the recent price for a one-tonne cube was $30 last week — there’s no guarantee the money will come in tomorrow.

“When I first started these cubes sold for $80,” she said, pointing to a four-foot-wide bundle of cardboard, stacked among many in her warehouse, priced at $30.

“Commodity pricing can fluctuate a lot,” she said.

Prices change monthly, she explained, adding office paper can reach up to $140 per bundle but is currently sold for $90.

But just because she takes it in, doesn’t mean it makes a profit.

“I literally lose money every time I touch a piece of plastic,” said Lewis, examining an empty plastic 4-litre milk jug.

The market price for selling recyclable plastic is poor right now, which in the case of some recycling operations makes it not worth recycling, said Lewis.

But to her, the philosophy behind reycling trumps the bottom line, she said, explaining the business mainly makes its money by charging a fee for its recycling pickup and processing services compared to selling processed recyclables.

“It doesn’t matter if plastic makes money, it should still be recycled,” Lewis said.

“Living in the north, everything cost to get here or ship away,” she added. “Our plastic products go to Merlin Plastic in Delta, it then undergoes further processing.”

“We currently ship our fibre material to Prince George, they then sell it directly to the mills.”

Do Your Part is the receiving depot for the paper, cardboard and plastics dropped off at the bins at the city’s test recycling location at the old Co-op site.

The test drop off program began last November and has grown far past original city estimates with Geier Waste now making three trips a week to Do Your Part instead of once a week as first planned.

An earlier curbside pickup experiment by Do Your Part, financed by the city and Rgional District of Kitimat Stikine, wasn’t as successful and the estimated $28,000 that was spent was considered too expensive for what was gathered in.

Lewis said now, the amount of recyclables she processes weekly has gone up.

“We’ve noticed a big increase,” she said.

When asked if Do Your Part is getting too busy handling its curbside pickup and then material from the city’s bins, Lewis said many of her curbside clients are now taking their material to the Co-op bin location.

Lewis estimated she collected three tons weekly before, and that number has now climbed to five tonnes, not including plastics.

Geier takes the large bin containing recyclables Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays to Do Your Part where materials are separated into further categories before some, like paper and cardboard, are crushed and stored.

“We do not take glass because we cannot get rid of it.  Glass is not recycled,” Lewis explained.

“It (would be) crushed and used as landfill cover, road building and fill.”

But there are many other items people drop in the bins that can’t be recycled.

For example, plastic jars that haven’t been washed which contain, for example, peanut butter, can’t be recycled because they’re not clean.

Other non-recyclable surprises like cigarette butts, printer cartridges and wax paper must be picked out and thrown in the trash.

The sorting process means laying out all the material on a large table and picking through items one by one, either breaking them into smaller groups of recyclables like separating newspaper from office paper, or throwing some items into the garbage.

But sorting brings about other surprises as well, not all of them trash.

Lewis and staff find treasures for themselves — things like unused coupons, discarded magazines, and stickers for children in the family.

“It’s one of the perks,” said Lewis.