Roanoke, Va., Feed Mill Receives Award for Innovative Recycling Program

A few employees at the Southern States Roanoke Feed Mill kid their boss about being a recycling fanatic. He takes it in stride, knowing his grandchildren will one day thank him for doing his part to protect the environment.

Oct. 29—A few employees at the Southern States Roanoke Feed Mill kid their boss about being a recycling fanatic. He takes it in stride, knowing his grandchildren will one day thank him for doing his part to protect the environment.

"My grandchildren will not have to answer to the community about why their grandfather was not a good steward," he says.

That thought — not to mention the financial benefits to the company — makes Dave Jones, mill manager, recycle in greater quantities, recycle better and recycle smarter.

Nearly everything at the feed mill gets recycled. Office paper. Bags. Metals.Printer toner cartridges. Wood products and waste. Plastic. Steel drums.Waste oil. Just to name a few.

"That's a penny," Jones said, as he mechanically squashed a soda can.

Recently, the mill received the Governor's Silver Environmental Excellence Award for Manufacturers. Environmental impact and social significance, efficiency and cost-effectiveness, and originality and innovativeness are among the criteria used to judge the manufacturers.

"We look for companies that go beyond what's required in environmental protection," said Rick Weeks, deputy director at the Department of Environmental Quality.

Filling three huge Dumpsters a month and paying high fees to empty them at landfills, called tipping fees, ignited Jones' passion for recycling. That was about 12 years ago. Also, the American Feed Industry Association wanted to reduce the amount of trash its members were generating within the industry.

A Southern States' representative piqued Jones' interest in a pilot project.

The rest is history.

Today, the mill manufactures about 90,000 tons of feed a year. That's about 1,700 tons a week and about 350 tons per workday. Most of the feed is consumed by dairy cows, beef cattle and horses.

Last year, the feed mill recycled more than 80 tons of stuff and reused 1,200 tons of feed material inside the mill.

Originally, the mill sewed its feed bags across the top. That didn't have much packaging appeal, which could have hurt sales at a time when the feed bag business was beginning to boom.

The mill changed its ways.

A machine cuts off at least 1 1/2 inches from the top and applies a white tape to sew and seal the bag, giving the bag a more tidy appearance.

The cut-off pieces resulted in many more trips to the Dumpster.

"We jumped to three Dumpsters in one month," Jones said. "A huge, huge increase.

"That was my wake-up call, a real kick in the seat of my pants."

Jones didn't relish the thought of paying more at the landfill, either.

Tipping fees are $55 a ton.

The feed industry association told its members they had to get environmentally friendly.

No one at the Southern States corporate office, however, told members what to do.

"I just knew recycling was the right thing to do," Jones said.

And "we couldn't afford not to."

The feed mill rents its baler from VIM Recyclers in Glen Ellyn, Ill., and trucks its 1,100-pound bales to VIM, which, in turn, ships them to Third World countries where the plastic is separated from the paper. The plastic is reused, and the paper is used as corrugated fill.

This process reduces waste that would otherwise go to the local landfill by 46 tons a year.

The rental fee plus the shipping costs are still less than the $55 per ton tipping fee. The feed mill saves about $3,000 a year.

"Not big money," said Jones. "But it's the right thing to do."

But recycling wasn't always easy.

When Jones started to recycle he sent the cardboard products to then Montcalm Co. in Buena Vista, which made paper cubes. Montcalm then sent the cubes to Georgia Pacific in Big Island, which burned the cubes for fuel.

When Montcalm went belly up, Jones said, he could have easily thrown his hands up and stopped his recycling efforts.

But he didn't. Instead, he returned to VIM's original plan, which is in place today. The plan costs more because Jones had to pay more to ship the products to Illinois than to Buena Vista. But he wanted to keep recycling.

Some of Jones' employees bale all day long, making about 1.6 bales a week.

"It wasn't about saving money on tipping fees," said Ann Masters, executive director of the Clean Valley Council. "It's about doing the right thing."

"They never made a great big deal of it. They just did it. It's like fastening your seat belts. It's habitual."

And, she said, "It saved them dollars."

The company also won praise from Vinton officials.

"I'm glad at least one company in the town of Vinton is environmentally concerned," said Anita McMillan, planning and zoning director. "They're very passionate about that. I hope it stays that way."

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