The clothes on your back, the house above your head, the phone in your hand — it’s all trash.
And that’s a good thing. It means the tax dollars in Hall County, the free market and the work of people like Bobby Purdum are being put to good use.
For those marking Earth Day this Saturday, it also means that Hall County is keeping 8,600 tons of garbage (17.2 million dirty, gross pounds) out of Georgia landfills and the environment.
Purdum is the resource recovery superintendent of the Hall County Recycling Center on Chestnut Street. The center and its 12 satellite compactors collect the paper, plastic, electronics and even clothing that are either immediately reused or ground into their raw materials.
Either way, they end up back into the supply stream as recycled materials and components that, even if just a little bit, reduce the need to drill, mine and saw through natural resources while also cutting down on waste.
Plastic bottles become the polyester that’s woven into huge amounts of clothing. Paper becomes part of the sheetrock in your home. The gold, platinum and copper in old electronics become the new bits and blood of your iPhone.
“In Georgia, we’re known for a major manufacturer and industry, which is carpet,” Purdum said at the recycling center on Friday. “People don’t understand that those (plastic) bottles are actually imported back from around the surrounding states back into carpets of Dalton, that area, for polyester carpet.”
That same spirit motivates the Hall County recycling program. The center is a nexus for a slew of private companies big and small that are recycling not only to keep the area clean, but to make some cash.
“My goal is to try to find an avenue for everything that we have,” Purdum said.
The center works with private businesses like Stacey Rutherford’s Preferred Plastics, which collects waste plastic from local industry to sell as a commodity, and Pratt Industries, a packaging company (of egg cartons, among other things) that uses only recycled paper in its products.
Gainesville-based Preferred Plastics is a relatively small, six-person company that collected more than 3 million pounds of plastic from other companies in 2016, keeping it out of local landfills.
“We’ll set up a program for them basically to help them capture their (waste) materials,” Rutherford said. “… If I can’t pay them for it, they’re still getting it out of their waste stream. In some cases I can pay them for it. It’s a win-win either way.”
Purdum put the issue of plastic another way.
“You’re not just throwing away plastic. You’re throwing away oil,” he said. “You’re throwing away resources.”
Preferred Plastics doesn’t charge its customers. The same model works for the county and Pratt Industries.
With no money changing hands between it and the county, Pratt pays for the trucks and the labor that collects all of the waste paper at Hall County’s dozen recycling sites. In return, Pratt buys the baled paper back from the center at a deep discount.
It keeps the county from investing in trucks, paychecks and maintenance, allowing the center to operate on a budget of about $1 million that’s funded 45 percent by its own income. The rest comes from a fixed $10 property tax and the center also keeps costs down by using prison labor.
With the price of oil, and therefore plastic, still way down, the majority of the center’s revenue comes from Pratt and paper. The paper boom is largely fueled by the surge in online shopping, Purdum said.
“We send out two truckloads a day of paper. Each truck weighs 15-18 tons,” Purdum said.
That comes out to between $30,000 and $50,000 a month in paper sales depending on the commodities market.
All the while, the center is keeping those tons of garbage from entering the landfill, which is the reason the recycling center was created in the first place. When the center opened in 1992, the county charged it with diverting as much material as possible away from the county landfill.
One county resident using the center on Friday said that’s exactly why he was there.
“I try not to waste. I try not to use plastic, things like that,” said Drew Wexel while unloading cardboard boxes from his pickup. “I just figure it’s going to go to the landfill if I don’t put it here, right? We’re (about) to run out of landfill space.”
The few things that the center on Chestnut Street doesn’t accept — tires, appliances with Freon and tube televisions — can be taken to the county’s landfill and recycled there, but often at a price.
A list of recyclables taken by the center is available on its website, www.hallcounty.org/326/What-You-Can-Recycle.