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Can carton recycling work in rural communities?

Recycling in Colorado’s 47 rural counties can be challenging. Resources are stretched thin, and distance barriers lead to expensive and often inefficient transportation costs. Considering these challenges, adding new items like milk and juice cartons to the recycling mix may seem unattainable.

The hub-and-spoke model, first championed by the airline industry, has proven to be an effective solution for recycling in rural communities. One recycling transfer station or materials recovery facility (MRF) acts as the “hub” accepting recyclable materials from the “spokes,” neighboring communities surrounding the hub location. By centralizing recycling collection, communities and private haulers can enjoy reduced recycling transportation costs and tipping fees.

Clean Valley Recycling understands the hub-and-spoke model. The mainly volunteer-powered recycling transfer station in Swink, acts as the hub, servicing six counties with source separated, drop-off recycling sites, the spokes. The clean materials are bailed and sold to end-markets.

Clean Valley Recycling wanted to add juice and milk cartons to their recycling program. Management was unsure where to begin, so they reached out to the Carton Council, a group of carton manufacturers that deliver long-term collaborative solutions in to divert valuable cartons from the landfill. The Carton Council gave Clean Valley Recycling an electronic tool kit with public education materials and provided them with a list of brokers and markets that accept cartons and educated them about the grants available through Carton Council, including equipment, public education and school grants.

Once Clean Valley Recycling made it possible for residents in all six counties to recycle cartons, they began partnering with an intermediate school in La Junta. Once they perfect the process at the intermediate school, Clean Valley Recycling plans to expand the program to other schools in La Junta and Rocky Ford.

During a webinar hosted by CAFR about carton recycling, Michele Wagner of the Carton Council cited Clean Valley Recycling as a success story, but said they were still looking for an economical way to move bailed cartons to market. Mick Barry of Angel of Shavano Recycling, a MRF in Chaffee County, contacted Wagner after the webinar. Angel of Shavano had been collecting cartons from a three-county area. After winning a Recycling Resources Economic Opportunity (RREO) grant, Barry was able to purchase a new bailer and sorting line. The improvements to his MRF allow him to begin offering carton recycling to several other counties and to Clean Valley Recycling. Barry had previously worked with Clean Valley to broker their plastics, so now he will broker both plastics and cartons. Mick could sort both commodities to further increase his carton volumes. Thus, another hub-and-spoke partnership was born.

“This is a perfect example of a hub and spoke model,” said Wagner. “It is actually a hub and spoke within a hub and spoke.”

Partnerships are key when using the hub-and-spoke model. Pinpointing available resources and reaching out to potential communities, processors, brokers and the private sector can help hub-and-spoke partners take advantage of shared resources, transportation efficiencies and consistent recycling messaging and education.

For further information on adding cartons to a new or existing program email info@recyclecartons.com or call Michele Wagner, Carton Council, at (303)710-5355.

This entry was posted on Friday, April 1st, 2016.