After the Ravalli Services Corp. in Hamilton closed their recycling center last year, local businesses and citizens were left with only two choices: Take their recyclables to Missoula, or throw them away.
Now, a consortium of concerned citizens, government officials, volunteers and crafty entrepreneurs have taken matters into their own hands to give Bitterroot Valley residents more options.
Laurie Anne Wilkinson and her business partner Sean Seltzer started Recycling Solutions in Hamilton this past August. They pick up recyclable goods from local businesses and have plans to start a curbside-pickup option for residential customers.
Also, the Retired Seniors Volunteer Program (RSVP) has started a recycling pickup at the Ravalli County Fairgrounds on Monday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. at the north parking lot.
Together, these two operations have already reduced the volume of recyclable materials thrown away every week in the valley, but there is still work to do.
"There is a lot of potential for this to go well," said Wilkinson, who was busy picking up recyclables at Taco Del Sol on Wednesday. "People are very happy and appreciative of this service. It's about the environment and being good stewards of the land."
Right now, businesses pay a fee for Wilkinson to pick up scrap metals, cardboard, aluminum cans, batteries, paper, plastic bottles, phone books, magazines and other materials. She has to factor in fuel costs because she has to drive all her recyclables to Pacific Recycling in Missoula, and the prices they pay change on a daily basis.
The businesses save money by not having to pay for their waste to go to a landfill, but Wilkinson said making a profit isn't always easy.
"It's like the stock market," Wilkinson explained. "The prices that Pacific Recycling can pay for certain materials like copper, brass and steel varies on a day-to-day or weekly basis. But we are saving companies money and they are doing something good as well."
Wilkinson and Seltzer usually haul 1,000 to 1,500 pounds of cardboard every other week to Missoula, where they get paid only one penny for every pound.
"Our largest expense is gas," she said. "Hopefully, some day we can get a recycling center here in the valley again."
Wilkinson and Seltzer are currently taking a business plan course at the Ravalli County Entrepreneurship Center so they can take advantage of loans, grants or other funding to expand their business.
"We want to be able to service the entire county because it's a county problem," Wilkinson said. "A lot of people are interested in it, but there is definitely an educational curve. It would be great to have more education in the local schools about recycling and environmental issues. Stevensville High School did a recycling program and it was very well received. The more of the younger generation we can get involved in this the better."
Sharon Bladen of RSVP said that the pick-up program at the fairgrounds has been extremely successful.
"It's been going really well," she said. "Each week it grows. A lot of people have thanked us. There was no place to go with recycling."
Bladen said the purpose of the program is to give valley residents an option besides driving to Missoula.
"We didn't start it for businesses, we started it for homeowners who felt conscientious about recycling and didn't want to have to run to Missoula with a few soda cans and a milk bottle," she said. "And we want to keep it in people's minds that recycling is important. Even though we don't live in a big metropolitan area where the volume is gigantic.
"Recycling is mandatory in those places because there's so many people. And we get away with it here, not recycling at all because we don't have a lot of people. That doesn't mean its the right thing to do. That was our whole purpose was to give the homeowners a place to drop off."
Bladen said the Monday drop-off can't accept cardboard, so that is where Wilkinson and Recycling Solutions steps in.
County commissioners J.R. Iman and Carlotta Grandstaff, along with the support of commissioner Jim Rokosch and many other business owners, educators, concerned citizens and volunteers, have started a task force that aims to find more long-term solutions to recycling in the valley.
"We are not the long-term solution," Bladen said. "My only worry is it will get too big to handle. It has been very well received. I really hope that a long-term solution finally comes together. Everything takes time and money, so hopefully something will come together. People are doing what they can."
For more information on Recycling Solutions call 381-2822. For more information on RSVP and recycling drop-off services, call 363-1102.
Reporter David Erickson can be reached at 363-3300 or email@example.com.