Marion Chamber hosts recycling expert at quarterly luncheon

Curran: ‘There are more markets now than I have ever seen’

By Mark Randall news@theeveningtimes.com

Before Virco Manufacturing started a recycling program, they were sending 245 cubic yards a day of waste to the landfill. That was about five trips to the landfill every day. In 1989 — long before recycling was cool — the company decided to start looking at ways to reduce their waste stream and implemented a recycling program. “When we first started a waste control program, we were out of control,” said Don Curran, facilities manager at Virco, a school furniture manufacturer located in Conway. “But recycling is like those guys on TV who hunt for gold up in Alaska. You’re going to find a little bit. But one of these days you’re going to find that big nugget and it is going to turn in to something of value. And people will take notice.” Curran was the guest speaker at the Marion Chamber of Commerce Quarterly luncheon, and spoke about the Arkansas Recycling Coalition, and his company’s successful efforts to be better stewards of the environment. ARC is a non-profit educational coalition of individual, community, government, nonprofit, and private enterprise members who share ideas and technical knowledge to encourage recycling and waste reduction. “When we first started we didn’t know at that time if there were even markets,” Curran said. “We just figured we had to do something.” Virco formed a committee, mapped out a strategy, got ideas from employees, identified all recyclable materials on hand at the plant, and started a pilot program to see how much waste they could eliminate. It started with simple Dumpster diving. By the time they went through the Dumpster, the pile on the outside of materials that could be reused or recycled was bigger than the trash side inside. Virco eventually even purchased a cardboard baler and its own roll off truck, which cut down on trips to the landfill. “I remember cringing when we went $3,000 in debt to buy a baler,” Curran said. “Now you can’t touch one for under $15,000 today.” Curran said unlike today, there weren’t very many markets for recycled materials when they first started and they were glad to take what they could get for them. “The market was just very poor,” Curran said. “If we could get a penny a pound, we were going to take it because that is better than nothing. Now, we can get the price we want for our recyclables. There are more markets now than I have ever seen.” Virco has since become an industry leader in recycling and has been recognized with numerous state and national awards including the Keep America Beautiful Award, and recognition from the National Recycling Coalition, the Discovery Channel, and even the Sierra Club. “Was it worth it? Yes. Would Virco do it again? Yes. Will Virco continue to be environmentally focused? Yes,” Curran said. “It is a part of business now. You can not put a price on this. We are in the school furniture business. If you build school furniture and make a bunch of waste doing it, what are you teaching those kids? I don’t think there is anything that man has made that you can’t recycle somewhere or another.” Mary Singer, a member of ARC and owner of Funkee’s Cafe, which hosted the event, said she is very conscious about recycling at her business. She has a Dumpster for cardboard behind the business and takes home the empty plastic milk jugs to Memphis to be recycled. “I don’t want our gelatto milk containers to be in the waste stream,” Singer said. “Everything we do here I try and recycle. And I try and buy as many recycled materials as can here. We need to be doing more in eastern Arkansas. So hopefully there is something you can do or products that you are using that can be recycled. We’ve got to start doing things differently.”

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