Recycling in Greene County has gone much further than keeping plastic, paper, metal and cardboard out of the landfill for the past 20 years.
The program has also supported job training and employment for clients of Genesis, a non-profit organization that helps people with disabilities learn the basics of employment, from being to work on time to staying on task and following directions.
Now even more jobs are being created as the Greene County Recycling Board moves to two-stream recycling instead of four-stream recycling. Until this month, Greene County residents were required to sort their recyclable materials into four types — paper, cardboard, metal and plastic.
This month people only need to sort recyclables into two separate groups. One is made up of plastic, metal and glass, and the other group is paper products, including cardboard.
When the recyclables reach Genesis, workers sort each type of product into separate bins that move along a conveyor belt at the facility in Jefferson.
Genesis officials aren’t at all upset about making the change, even though the two-stream recycling requires more workers and is more work-intensive, says Vocational Director Carrie Wilde.
“We have to adapt to meet what the customer wants,” she says. “That’s part of being in business.”
The additional jobs will mean more experience for Genesis clients such as Allen Folse, Angela Bane and Heath Meinicke, who currently work or have worked in the recycling center.
Folse, 26, who lives in a Genesis group home in Jefferson, has worked in both the recycling facility and the cardboard fabrication area.
“I’ve been here less than a year, but this jobs has helped me a lot,” he says. “I had never worked at a job before. This is a learning experience for me and allows me to earn my own money.”
Folse says he has also made a lot of friends. His goal is to one day find a job in the community on his own.
Bane, 38, has worked for Genesis for more than 11 years and also works part time at a job in the kitchen at Jefferson Elementary School.
“I work here four days a week in the recycling or doing labels, and I work at the elementary school,” she says.
An added bonus in coming to Genesis was meeting the man who became her husband, who also is a client at Genesis. Bane now owns her own home.
Heath Meincke, 35, of Jefferson has been with Genesis in Jefferson since July of 2011.
“This has given me the opportunity to work better and helps me stay focused and stuff,” he says. “I like it here, and sometimes I have good days and some bad days.”
Ashley Coil, Genesis contract supervisor smiled and added that everyone has good days and bad days at work.
Folse, Bane and Meinicke accompanied Wilde and Coil into the recycling area to show how the sorting and baling works.
Recycling material collected throughout Greene County is brought to the Genesis center. Workers then sort the various materials by throwing items into the correct bin. From there, the separated items are put through a baling machine to come out in large bales of recyclable material.
“The clients do all kinds of work in the recycling center. Some clients work the machines and even drive the fork lift,” Coil says.
Genesis processes 100,000 to 150,00 pounds of materials to recycle from Greene County each month.
Wilde and Coil explained the history and objectives of Genesis and how the recycling business, as well as a cardboard box factory and other work contracts, help their clients be productive, earn an income and, in many cases, progress to a job in or near the community. Genesis also has group homes in Jefferson.
Genesis was started in the 1970s to provide services to mentally disabled individuals through a sheltered workshop. Today, the organization has facilities in 12 communities in addition to Jefferson — Storm Lake, Boone, Winterset, Belle Plaine, Indianola, Perry, Adel, Toledo, Panora, Grinnell and Waukee.
These services assist more than 1,600 people and employ more than 380 staff members in Iowa.
Work centers in other communities include a promotional printing business in Storm Lake and a commercial laundry business in Indianola. The commercial laundry business processes items from such places as the VA Hospital in Iowa City, Skiff Medical Center in Newton and the Mariott in Des Moines.
Back in Jefferson, the business relationship between Greene County Recycling, the county-based recycling system, and Genesis has been positive for both.
Karen Pound, billing clerk at Jefferson City Hall, has served on the Greene County Recycling Board since its inception.
“We just celebrated 20 years, and we are now in our 21st year,” she says. “We have been with Genesis since the beginning, and it has been great. We get the recycling needs taken care of and provide jobs through Genesis.”
Pound explained that the county and city of Jefferson researched the options before turning to recycling and soon realized recycling was much more cost-effective than constructing a new landfill.
“The cost of creating a new landfill is astronomical,” Pound says. The recycling board and the partnership with Genesis was then created.
Recycling has been successful, but during the last few years there has been no growth in participation, she explained.
“Recycling participation has leveled off, and we know there are many more people who could participate,” Pound says.
The board sent surveys out to residents and learned the biggest deterrent to recycling is sorting materials into four different types. That led to a decision to go to two-stream recycling. Making the change also means the glass can be added to the recycling stream in Jefferson. Glass has been collected in bins around the county.
All metal cans and plastic containers must be rinsed before being placed in the recycle bins. While cardboard is recyclable, pizza boxes and other cardboard boxes contaminated by food cannot be.
Other items that can’t be recycled include Styrofoam, bubble wrap, packing peanuts, plastic TV trays, aerosol cans, flower pots, waxed milk and juice cartons, plastic toys, pop and beer cartons, baby formula containers, mixed nut/peanut containers and dog and cat food bags.
“We didn’t allow glass before because it was too easy to break and would become dangerous for the workers,” Pound says. The new system will better cushion the glass and decrease the chances for breakage.
Anyone with questions about recycling should call Jefferson City Hall at (515) 386-3111 or visit the city’s website at www.cityofjeffersoniow.org.
Once the recycling materials have been sorted and bailed, Genesis checks the market for the various materials, Wilde explained. If prices are low, there is enough space at the Genesis facility to store the material until prices go back up. If the prices are good, they go ahead and sell.
“We are a break-even operation,” Wilde says. “We are non-profit and exist to provide the jobs to clients and give them related services.”
She added a lot of the recyclables actually stay in Iowa, particularly the cardboard.
“All the cardboard goes to a broker in Cedar Rapids. From there, the cardboard is sold to International Paper, also located in Cedar Rapids,” she says.
Tin cans are taken to Hampton to be made into beverage cans. Plastics are recycled into car battery cases, paint containers, park benches, picnic tables, parking bump strips, parts for the auto industry, green strapping, Mohawk carpeting and plastic soda bottles.
White or clear plastic, such as milk jugs, is the most in demand because it is more pure than colored plastic. Mixed paper — made up of junk mail, boxboard, telephone books and similar items — goes to Norfolk, Neb., to be made into insulation.
The plastics usually go to Kentucky or Alabama. White paper often goes to Wisconsin.
Aside from the recycling materials, the cardboard boxes manufactured by Genesis go all over the United States; even to other countries. The boxes are custom-made for the clients according to size and shape.
Genesis also accepts contracts for work such as placing labels on products. Some clients, such as Bane, have even traveled to businesses to fulfill work contracts. She helped fulfill a contract by traveling to a business to put together care packages with toothpaste, toothbrushes and soap.
Wilde noted all of these activities help their clients. In Greene County the additional work created will add opportunities, not only for the clients, but also for the county. Pound believes the change will increase the recycling participation, which will mean fewer loads of trash headed to a landfill.
“We are doing everything we can to get the word out,” she says. “We really want people to take notice and participate.”