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A business with big returns: Recycling shop gets a good green going in East Wenatchee

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In order to get the most money for a copper and aluminum air-conditioning coil, Greg Hoffman of Greater Wenatchee Recycling uses a saw to cutoff an iron bracket.

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For most of us, recycling means separating our plastics, aluminum cans and newspaper from our daily garbage, and either putting it on the curb in a recycle container for pick-up, or taking it to our local recycle center.

Recycling hasn’t always been as popular with the general public as it is today. Reducing our environmental footprint is politically correct and gives us a sense of doing something right for our planet. It makes us feel good.

But for life and business partners Greg Hoffman and Jennifer Newell, owners of Greater Wenatchee Recycling, 3741 Airport Way, East Wenatchee, recycling is their livelihood and their way of life.

Recycling is a great concept that pays people for various materials sitting around in garages,” Newell said. “We deal primarily in metals — copper, brass, stainless steel, iron, aluminum and lead. We also handle cardboard and any kind of paper.”

The business buys appliances, car batteries, catalytic converters, starters, lawnmowers, table saws –anything that has metal in it. It doesn’t buy plastic, tires or glass.

Paul Olsen, president of Simon Metals in Tacoma, said Greater Wenatchee Recycling is one of the best recycling yards in the business.

Greater Wenatchee Recycling is one of the most valued and committed feeder yards we work with,” Olsen said. “Greg and Jennifer are not only fair and honest with us, but with their customers as well. And they consistently provide high quality recyclable material.”

Simon Metals delivers steel containers, known as roll-offs, to Greater Wenatchee Recycling. When the roll-offs are full — some can hold up to 40,000 pounds of recyclable material — Simon Metals returns and hauls the roll-offs to Tacoma. The Simon Metals plant has giant shredders with huge teeth that grind material such as stoves, roofing, thin steel pipe, hot water tanks and even cars, into about 4-inch chunks. The material is sent down a conveyor belt and sorted by nonferrous (not magnetic) metal and steel (magnetic). A blower removes miscellaneous material such as insulation and plastic. The chunks of metal are loaded into shipping containers, and the majority, about 85 percent, is shipped by boat to overseas locations such as Japan, Taiwan, India and China.

Aluminum cans are one of the easiest and most popular items to recycle. At Greater Wenatchee Recycling, cans are compressed into cubes weighing about 20 pounds. The cubes are stacked to make a 3-foot-by-4-foot bale containing about 43,000 cans, and weighing up to 1,200 pounds. The business processes up to six bales of aluminum cans every week, depending on the season.

Newell and Hoffman have been together for 15 years. The couple’s family is a blend of two of her daughters and two of his daughters. Like many mom and pop operations, the successful business had humble beginnings.

Hoffman was a welder and fabricator at Wenatchee Tree Top for eight years. He was surprised at what the company was giving away as scrap. In 1999, Hoffman’s supervisor allowed him to start buying the scrap.

Our recycling business started as a family hobby working out of our garage,” Newell said. “We’d collect recyclables and store them in separate containers. Whenever we visited family in Montana, we’d load up our truck and sell the recyclables in Spokane.”

After a year of driving recyclables to Spokane, the family did an experiment. Newell ran a simple ad for two weeks that read, “We pay cash for copper, brass, stainless steel, aluminum and lead.” The family also hung a sign on the fence of its Grant Road cherry orchard.

The big response from the ad and sign took the family by surprise, and it had a difficult time keeping up with customers. Apple bins and barrels full of recyclables soon lined the driveway. Newell quit her job at the Wenatchee Eye and Ear Clinic and started working recyclables fulltime.

Business was so good the family knew it needed a bigger space. After considering several properties up and down the valley, the family in 2002 bought orchard property near Pangborn airport, and began building the recycle center. The couple paid for the construction out-of-pocket, and Greater Wenatchee Recycling began operating in October 2005. A year later the couple added living space, sold the Grant Road cherry orchard and moved.

Our business has exceeded our expectations,” Newell said.

Greater Wenatchee Recycling has a backhoe named Ida (as in Ida-hoe) that’s used for heavy lifting and crushing duties. Ida’s bucket has an impressive thumb Hoffman built that lets her grab and crush odd shaped material in the yard.

Ida likes to crush things,” Newell said. “We use her to crush items like water heaters so they don’t take up so much space in the roll-offs.”

The business also owns two forklifts, a can densifier, a wire stripper, two large scales and two balers for baling cardboard, aluminum sheets, irrigation pipes and radiators. And, offering 100,000 pounds of pressure per square inch, an alligator shear makes quick work reducing large pieces to reasonable proportions.

Greater Wenatchee Recycling’s shop is impressive for three reasons. First, all the materials for the conveyors, such as conveyor lines, controls and hoppers, are recycled from old fruit packing lines. Secondly, the couple’s ingenuity shines throughout the shop, such as the homemade separator on the aluminum can processing line that quickly tells the operator if any foreign material is present. And last, the recycle center is clean. Very clean.

I have been to many recycling plants, and Greater Wenatchee Recycling is the cleanest I’ve seen,” said Jex Whaley of East Wenatchee. “They are family-friendly and will host groups of children, such as Scouts, classrooms or clubs, for a tour. They also encourage recycling as a way to fundraise. And the staff is friendly and easy to work with.”

Greater Wenatchee Recycling isn’t limited to what people bring in. The couple also recycles what Mother Nature freely offers. Three banks of solar panels and a wind turbine provide enough electricity to power the home and business for nine months of the year. On low power producing days — little wind or sun — the business runs on Douglas County PUD power.

I know we have the cheapest energy rates in the nation here, but we wanted to be as self-sufficient as we could be,” Hoffman said. “The electricity we produce but don’t use is fed back into the grid and the PUD pays us for it.”

The couple’s solar and wind systems were tied to the PUD power grid in February of last year, and officially certified last August. Since tying into the power grid, the business’s solar and wind systems have generated about 7,900 kilowatt hours of power. The couple expects to recoup its investment in solar and wind power hardware by 2020.

We didn’t start out trying to be this green, it just evolved,” Hoffman said. “All my life I’ve tried to reuse and salvage things, and it just made sense to us to turn to solar and wind generated power for our business and home.”

Today the business processes over a million pounds of recyclables annually.

Recycling can be a profitable project the entire family can be involved with,” Newell said. “It’s a good way to teach kids organization, responsibility and money management.”

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