Jack's Family Recycling"People that come into Jack's Family Recycling care about the environment." -Kathy Hodges, OWNER
By: Eric Morken, Alexandria Echo Press
Alexandria's Kathy Hodges has taken a passion that runs almost 70 years deep in her family and turned it into a business that is helping lead the way in responsible recycling.
Jack's Family Recycling got its roots in the 1940s. At that point, Hodges' grandfather, John Wetternach, was known as a guy who would buy cars and farm equipment to cut up and resell.
Her father, Jack, took the next step in the 1970s. He came up with the name Jack's Recycling and began purchasing ferrous and non-ferrous metals to recycle.
Hodges' father was not actively pursuing recyclables in the community anymore when she took over in 2003. She was a national project manager for an IT company at that time and used that experience to help the business reach its full potential.
"I treated this as a project that needed to get up off the ground," she said. "It needed to be revitalized."
Eight years later, it is safe to say she has accomplished that goal. What was a three-person operation when she took over now employs 30 people at four different locations in Alexandria, Evansville and Wheaton.
WHAT THEY DO
It may be quicker to list the recyclables that Jack's will not accept. From textiles, papers and plastics to almost all metals, electronics and household appliances, chances are Jack's can recycle what you want to get rid of.
The work begins once those items are dropped off. Appliances and electronics are not recyclable in the format they arrive in. They need to be broken down into their bare components.
The workers at Jack's tear apart those appliances and automobiles to make sure each individual entity can get to its proper destination.
"It all has to have its core components removed before it can go to its next stage," Hodges said. "And each component goes to a different market."
Jack's has its own equipment to help take care of bigger jobs. They do farm and building site cleanup. They remove unsold items after auctions and pick up junk cars or other large items that people cannot bring in themselves.
The drop-off stations in Evansville, Wheaton and the Alexandria location at 3511 Hazel Hill Road Southeast have workers ready to help the public. Many appliances cost a small amount of money to drop off because of the labor it takes to break them down. Those workers are also responsible for doling out the money for the many items that Jack's will buy from customers.
"We're trying to make it super easy for people to recycle," Hodges said, "and feel good about that material getting back into the proper stream and not going to a landfill."
Hodges knows the concern people have about that. She and her employees are frequently asked what the process is before items become reusable again. "People that come into Jack's Family Recycling care about the environment," she said. "They want to make sure that things are being properly recycled."
In response, Hodges has worked hard to get the accreditation that helps alleviate those concerns. Jack's has earned both Responsible Recycling (R2) and e-Stewards certification. Both help assure that highly toxic materials found in electronics (e-waste) are recycled responsibly and those working with them are doing so in a safe environment.
CBS's 60 Minutes aired an episode in November 2008 called "Following the Trail of Toxic e-Waste." In it, they featured a Denver recycling company that was secretly shipping e-waste overseas where it was dumped and burned, causing horrible health risks for residents.
A watchdog organization called the Basel Action Network (BAN) set out to stop the shipping of e-waste overseas. Companies have to pass a rigorous set of standards to become certified. It was almost a two-year process for Hodges to gain the accreditation. Jack's Family Recycling became the first recycler in Minnesota to earn e-Stewards certification.
"It was a big deal for us," Hodges said. "I think as the general public becomes more aware of the sophistication of recycling and all the different things that can happen with your electronics, they're going to demand that their recyclers have that level of accreditation so that they can have that peace of mind."
It also helps Hodges put her mind at ease. The certification requires yearly air-quality testing that has assured her that her workers are operating in a safe environment. Noise levels are also tested monthly around machines to make sure decibel levels do not reach an unsafe level.
"It's with great pride," Hodges said, "that I can let my people know that no, we're not doing anything that can be harmful to you."
ADJUSTING TO THE TIMES
Hodges' goal is to continue leading the way in responsible recycling. She has seen an increase in recycling as people become more aware of what they can recycle and how beneficial it can be. She wants to make sure it is easy for them to do that.
Recycling has run in Hodges' family for generations. That passion has taken Jack's Family Recycling to new levels in the last eight years, and will be the driving force moving it forward in the future.
"I have kids that go to school in this community, and my roots go back a long way," Hodges said. "I'm going to be in Alexandria a long time. I don't want to see any pollution as a result of what I do. So it's vitally important to me to have the knowledge to make sure I'm doing things properly."
Jack's Family Recycling saves approximately 250 tons of natural resources annually. The company will process about 11 million pounds of recyclables through its facilities this year, including:
• 1,320,000 plastic water bottles, saving enough energy to light 880,000 60-watt light bulbs for 24 hours.
• 500,000 pounds of paper, enough to power 250 average U.S. homes for five months.
• 1 million glass bottles, saving enough energy to power 500,000 computers for one hour.