By Anne Stanton
A skeptical friend of mine strongly suggested that I follow the area recycling trucks back to their plants to see if the bottles, paper and cans were really recycled—or if the trash companies just threw the stuff in the landfill — ha, ha, and the joke’s on all of us.
She wasn’t going to recycle, she said, until I did an in-depth investigation.
Andy Gale, the owner of Bay Area Recycling for Charities, said that he absolutely guarantees that all the stuff he gets is recycled. And people can actually save money by doing the right thing (meaning I’m off the hook). Gale admitted that when he moved here in 2007, he originally wanted to form a nonprofit to help heal and release injured birds. He has fond memories of walking to school with a pet crow on his shoulder. But he soon discovered that Rebecca Lessard of Empire was already doing that with her nonprofit, Wings of Wonder. He decided he wanted to help her in some way.
His next big idea was to collect recyclable materials, sell them and funnel some of the proceeds to needy nonprofits. The motto of his recycling service became: “Waste not. Give a lot.” He bought a trailer and set up a recycling center in Maple City near M-72.
His nonprofit business became a reality last spring and is quickly ramping up. He services the Pathfinder School and the Montessori Children’s House, where kids are recycling, re-using, and composting. He picks up stuff at Building 50 in Traverse City, residential homes and several businesses in the five-county area of Antrim, Benzie, Leelanau, Kalkaska and Grand Traverse. He also hauls away food and paper waste from area restaurants, such as Oryana, the Dish, and Cuppa Joe. And he just worked out an agreement with the State Theatre to pick up all the uneaten popcorn at the end of every night.
Admittedly, Bay Area Recycling did not make a ton of money its first year. But hey, it was the first year, and the group recycled many tons of material.
Gale admits he was not an expert on recycling a year ago and could not confidently give an interview. That’s all changed. Here’s what he has to say:
NE: How does your service work? I’m thinking for a residence.
Gale: We have a 96-gallon rolling can. Just put all your stuff inside. All you need to sort is the paper. We’ll come to your house as often as you need—usually once a month—and pick it up in an open trailer. We can recycle or re-use just about everything except for food, which you can compost in your backyard.
NE: What about clothes?
Gale: We take them. If they’re worn out — I’m talking an old pair of socks — they’ll go into our compost. You can compost cottons and linens. You can’t compost polyester, but we’ll take those kinds of clothes to the Resource Center. If they can’t sell them, they’ll get shipped to Africa. We can re-use most anything. We take books to the local libraries and glass jars to a mushroom grower. He needs them for the mycelium, the first root structure of the mushroom.
NE: Does he pay you?
Gale: Not yet, but he will as soon as he starts making money.
NE: What would you say to my friend who wants to know if traditional waste haulers really do recycle?
Gale: If you follow the Waste Management truck, you’ll see they do have a recycling plant. I think all of the haulers recycle. But not all of them accept all the plastics—they might accept #1 and #2, but the others ones—3 through 7—those might end up in the landfill. You have to remember, at the end of they day, they’re waste haulers. If they don’t want to deal with something, it’s in the landfill. With us, it’s guaranteed—it will be recycled, re-used, or composted.
NE: How do you get paid?
Gale: We charge by the cubic yard—for residents, it works out to about $10 to $15 a month.
NE: I’ve considered going by the bag with our trash hauler, but it’s hard to let go of our trusty black bin.
Gale: It’s a little scary, a little daunting. You never know when you’re going to clean up your basement or garage and need to throw stuff out. But you could start with us, and when you see your garbage has dwindled to nothing, then you can opt into the “throw as you go” program.
NE: How many garbage bags are used by your family a month?
Gale: We fill up one bag about every three weeks. And we have two kids.
NE: No way.
Gale: Well we have a kitchen compost container—now that’s a tongue twister—it’s a little bin in the kitchen where we put bones, meat, coffee grounds, anything organic. And then we take it out to our backyard to compost, and we turn it with a pitchfork every few days. It’s basically a four-foot barrel with a screen on top. You can compost or recycle most everything, although people don’t realize that.
NE: Like what?
Gale: You can recycle Styrofoam cups. They’re made of oil.
NE: I’m shocked, I really am.
Gale: You cannot recycle dirty paper plates, but you can compost them. Same with tissues. You can even compost Q-tips but you have to make sure they’re paper. But at the house, we’re trying to do more with re-use. Instead of buying paper plates for a picnic, we use real plates and wash them.
NE: When you’re asked at the grocery store, paper or plastic, what should you answer?
Gale: They’re both bad. You should use reusable bags. But if you don’t have them handy, second place goes to paper because they’re easier to recycle. We take the grocery bags to Trinity Lutheran food bank. There’s no market for plastic bags, but we’re accepting them and bailing them up.
NE: What about recycling metal stuff?
Gale: Aluminum foil is great. There’s so much energy that goes into making aluminum. We also recycle hangars, plastic and metal. Part of this whole thing is being careful about the packaging. I just found this oatmeal that comes in a cardboard box that you can recycle so you don’t have the plastic rings to deal with. We don’t buy juice boxes anymore. We bought a glass with a lid and a straw and fill it up with organic juice.
NE: Is there anything you can’t recycle?
Gale: Cigarette butts and chewing gum comes to mind.
NE: I heard you’re making little wrappers for lunch bags that you can use over and over again.
Gale: That’s not me. But I know the Traverse City woman you’re talking about. Go to www.ecolunchgear.com.
NE: What’s the quickest way to reduce your trash?
Gale: Go to your computer and Google “Stop junk mail.” And then do it.
NE: Have you given any money to Wings of Wonder yet?
Gale: No, but we will. We made $1,500 on the backside last year and I sent letters out asking people where they wanted their money to go. People came up with great ideas—Food Rescue, Habitat for Humanity. And Wings of Wonder—we’ll be sure to fling her a few bucks.
NE: Any parting words?
Gale: Okay, here’s a great line that should go into the article (pauses for effect) ‘I always wanted to be a philanthropist, but I never had the money to do so.’ By recycling, you can help your favorite charity.’
To contact Bay Area Recycling, click here.
231-884-3417 or email
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