Recycling adds jobs A new program at Adult Training and Habilitation Center is cleaning up the environment, creating new jobs, and even making a little money

Author(s): LESLEY CHRISTIANSON; Staff Writer
Date: February 5, 2008

A local program has attracted the attention of recycling agencies and adult training centers across the state - and even a state representative. Adult Training and Habilitation Center in Hutchinson was recently in the spotlight for earning the Recycler of the Year Award and with that came interest in starting the program elsewhere throughout the state.

Representatives from Anoka County, cities of Ramsey, Columbus and Lexington, waste management agencies, Minnesota Beverage Association, Recycling Association of Minnesota, adult training centers and more came to Hutchinson this past Tuesday to learn more about the program and tour the facilities.

Spreading success

"We're looking at ways we can get more involved in recycling and give more employment opportunities for the people we serve," said Justina Courtier of Opportunity Partners in Minnetonka.

What started out in June 2007 as another simple job opportunity for adults with disabilities has exploded into a recycling system that is making waves. Grants from the Minnesota Beverage Association and the Petroleum Association helped jump-start the program by providing some start-up costs and recycling bins at McLeod and Carver county gas stations. "This has been very successful. It's a great example of how communities can work with these programs, and industry and business can work with these programs," said Jerry Miller of the Minnesota trade association for adult training centers.

How it works

With this "away-from-home" recycling program, residents can discard their plastic bottles and packaging in bins located at laundromats, golf courses and service stations. Employees at the center pick up the recyclables, sort them and the center sells them to McLeod County, Trex Decking in Virginia and Choice Plastics in Mound. The center also has partnerships with area industry to collect their shrinkwrap.

"The goal would be to just break even, but we are actually making a little off it," said the center's Executive Director Jason Telander.

The profits are running about $1,000 a month, and with shrinkwrap going for about 20 cents a pound, that's about 20,000 to 25,000 pounds of material. Telander said the center has been able to increase employee wages with the extra revenue.

"The program is pretty young, but it's been extremely successful," Telander said. "It's pretty exciting what volunteer recycling programs could achieve." Not only has the program been able to boost some employee wages, but it also provides more consistent work for the center's adults with disabilities. Assembly line and seasonal work isn't always stable, so in the off-times, about 15 employees set to work collecting and sorting plastic recyclables.

Demand has been so high for the program that Telander and his wife Ellen have made weekend trips to collect materials as the center's employees are weekday workers.

"We've had many strange Saturday nights going out to laundromats and golf courses picking up materials, but it's been great," Telander said.

So far, 50 business in McLeod and Carver counties have signed on with the program. By summer, Telander expects that number to grow to 75. While the grants helped pay for some initial costs, Ellen Telander said the center has made it work on a "shoe-string budget."

One innovative way to reduce costs was removing passenger seats from some of the center's vans that were close to retirement to use as collection vehicles. "It's surprising how much shrinkwrap you can get into a 15-passenger van," Jason Telander said, laughing.

"Make do with what you have," added Ellen Telander.

Helping hands

Everyone taking the tour of the recycling facilities listened and asked questions, hoping to gain insight on how this small center in small-town Minnesota has made such a difference - not only for the employees it serves, but the environment as well.

"It's great to see so much interest in this recycling program, and we'd like to see it throughout the state," said State Rep. Ron Shimanski. "I'll talk to Jason to get some more information to see how the state can help."

Others offered their help as well. Joan Archer of the Minnesota Beverage Association wanted to ease the fears of getting the program started in other cities and counties.

"We have a commitment to see this happen in other areas," Archer said. "We're trying to raise that money to help with the seed costs to take care of some of these fears of starting up."

Miller said MNDACA would throw its hat into the mix as well, offering any help he could.

Energized by the interest others have shown in their program, the Telanders were happy to share their success story with others and hope to see the away-from-home recycling bins pop up everywhere.

"We're just excited about making changes," Ellen Telander said. "In the process, we're helping the environment."

Copyright, 2008, Hutchinson Leader (MN). All Rights Reserved.