February 4, 2013

Hatteras Recycle: Green business is good business


If you’ve followed the news at all this past decade, chances are you’ve heard something about global warming.

There seems to be some confusion about exactly what global warming is. Is it a naturally occurring climatic phenomenon? Is it the scourge of human civilization? Is it an elaborate hoax orchestrated by Al Gore because he’s still angry about the 2000 election? One thing most people seem to agree on is that the health of our environment is critical, and we should all be pitching in to take better care of it.

The good news is that, if Todd Phillips’ Rodanthe-based recycling business, Hatteras Recycle, is any indication, the residents of and visitors to Hatteras Island are ramping up their efforts to help.

This year, more people than ever before have signed up for Hatteras Recycle’s services, and Phillips is making some big changes to his company in order to meet the large increase in demand.

“This year,” he said, “things have to change—everything from the method of collection to what we do with it.”

When Phillips started Hatteras Recycle in 2007, it was a small, home-based, one-truck operation, born out of a genuine spirit of service and stewardship. Phillips was just walking through his neighborhood one day, and he noticed that every garbage can he saw was brimming with recyclable items.

He contacted the county for information about recycling collection programs, and when he learned that there weren’t any, he began working with the county officials to create one.

Eventually, he got a grant from the North Carolina Department of Pollution Prevention and Environmental Assistance (DPPEA), and he launched the project, targeting the island’s rental-home market by lobbying property management companies and rental home owners to pay for curbside pick-up.

A few of them agreed, and in its inaugural season, Hatteras Recycle serviced about 150 rental homes in the tri-village area. Phillips and his crew provided the bins and collected the items, and the Dare County Recycling Program hauled off the collected recyclables.

The results were promising.

The company collected a staggering amount of recycled goods—more than the average tonnage for a 1,000-home residential area—with plastic and aluminum beverage containers comprising most of the waste.

In other words, they collected a massive amount of empty water bottles and beer cans.

At one point, Phillips said they collected more than 500 beverage containers from a single house, which had accrued for just one week.

By the end of that first year, Phillips was starting to think bigger. He had always hoped the service would eventually encompass all the villages, and he began working toward a goal of mass rental-home participation and curb service for the entire island.
It didn’t take him long to get there.

The rental market was really the driving force behind the expansion. Guests and homeowners from towns and cities that offered comprehensive recycling programs—who were already used to recycling their goods—wanted to have the same opportunity while on vacation.

More and more homeowners decided to “opt-in,” and within two years, Hatteras Recycle was servicing all of Midgett Realty’s homes, island-wide, and was regularly getting requests from other property management companies.

And it wasn’t just out-of-town homeowners. Between the increased visibility of the company’s recycling bins outside rental homes and Phillips’s attempt to provide free recycling services at all the island’s major community events, local residents and homeowners had started requesting the service as well.

By the end of 2009, Hatteras Recycle was servicing more than 700 homes, all over the island, with new requests coming in so fast that the company literally couldn’t keep up.

Phillips added more trucks and more employees to keep up with the increase in demand, but aside from that, much of Hatteras Recycle remained the same. Phillips still ran the business from his home, he still used flat-bed trucks for collection, and the material collected was still hauled off by the county.

“We’ve just been coasting along these past three years,” Phillips said, “just managing with what we have.”

But that’s all about to change.

This year, Hatteras Recycle was awarded a contract to service all of Hatteras Realty’s rental properties—all 560 of them. On top of that, he’s going to start collecting recycling from restaurants, which are required to recycle by state law, and he’s expanding his business to include condo units and some additional private residences.

In order to accommodate the new demands, Hatteras Recycle is getting a facelift.

“[We’re] incurring $200,000 worth of infrastructure costs to retrofit the next phase of growth,” Phillips said.

Those new developments include the purchase of 1,100 new bins and 550 new roll carts, the construction a large warehouse facility in Salvo that will serve as both a depot for collected material and the new headquarters for the business, and a new compacting truck—which will essentially be able to do the work of two or three regular trucks.

“It’s a different type of recycling when you’re dealing with large rental homes,” he said. “One of our challenges has been dealing with that kind of volume.”

Phillips estimates that the additional contracts will increase the company’s weekly tonnage by about 35 to 40 per cent, which means that, in addition to finding new ways to collect that much material, he will have to find new ways to get rid of it.

“We will continue to work with Dare County, but we can’t give them everything we’re collecting,” he said. “There’s no county infrastructure to deal with the tonnage we’ve got.”

Phillips said they would likely end up storing much of the recycling at the warehouse facility and working directly with a materials processor to come and pick it up.

Another change Phillips would like to implement is an expanded season. Currently, Hatteras Recycle operates more or less in sync with the peak tourist season, running on a six-month schedule with service from May 1 to Oct 30. Phillips said that by 2014, he would like to get closer to an eight-month season, extending service from Easter through Thanksgiving.

And though the bulk of Hatteras Recycle’s revenue (and recyclables) come from rental houses, their services are available to island residents. In fact, the large realty company contracts mean that Phillips is able to work with locals directly, offering recycling pick-up for a nominal fee and on a flexible schedule.

And when it comes to his business, that’s one of Phillips’s biggest points of pride—that, and the fact that he is able to employ 12 Hatteras Island residents and pay them a good wage.

And in the end, it’s nice to know that, even if we can’t save the world from the inevitability/threat/hoax of global warming, we can at least preserve our local environment and bolster our local economy—just by putting some of our garbage in a different can.
For more information, contact Todd Phillips at (252) 987-2810 or [email protected].

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