After 17 years as a sales rep for a California engineered wood products company, Andy Gale and his wife Cindy took a year off, hopped in an RV and toured the country.
“We criss-crossed the country a couple of times, looking for the perfect place to live,” Gale said.
In Southern California he missed the seasons. In Northern Michigan, he found them, and he and his wife fell in love with Traverse City and decided to settle here.
Next, Gale, now 46, had to find something to do.
In 2008, he decided to look for a green career. He decided he wanted to start a nonprofit that would encourage recycling and donate proceeds from the sale of collected material to charity.
“I knew nothing about starting a nonprofit. I knew nothing about recycling,” Gale said.
Gale’s first lucky break came through friends of his children. One of the friend’s parents happened to be the son-in-law of Ray Minervini, and Gale soon learned that Minervini wanted to use his development, the Grand Traverse Commons, as a sort-of small business incubator.
Gale gave Minervini a call. “He said, ‘You know, come over and talk to us, because we want to be greener, too,’” he recalls.
At first Gale had a modest proposal for the Commons, a massive mixed-use redevelopment of the former Traverse City State Hospital property west of downtown. He proposed to take care of a couple of recycling bins for $75 per month.
Minervini called him back and said he didn’t think that would work out.
SUPPORT FOR A START-UP
But what Gale first thought was a setback turned out to be a bigger opportunity.
Minervini wanted Gale to submit a bid to take care of recycling for the entire Grand Traverse Commons complex.
That led to an agreement to handle the job for $1,200 per month. Eventually, that led Gale to house the offices for Bay Area Recycling for Charities at the Commons.
And Minervini wasn’t just a landlord. He also served as consultant, guide and friend to the fledgling nonprofit.
“It was pretty cool to have that kind of support as a start-up,” he said.
And BARC was going to need support because, as Gale admits, when he started, he didn’t know what he was doing.
SETS UP A NONPROFIT
That was a long time ago. Now Gale oversees an operation with 10 employees that has branched beyond recycling. The nonprofit also supplies businesses and festivals with compostable dinnerware.
Gale set about establishing the business as a nonprofit. First he had to get a mission statement approved by the state, something that showed that in exchange for tax-exempt status, the organization would benefit the community.
That would be no problem -- BARC would focus on recycling and educating people about recycling.
Next the group became registered as a 501(c)3 tax-exempt nonprofit with the IRS.
It’s structured like this: money earned from contracts with businesses to take care of recycling goes to run the organization and pay salaries; income generated from profits earned from the sale of recycled materials like bales of shredded paper is donated to charity.
Gale said it took a while to get on sound financial footing.
“I didn’t take a paycheck for two years,” he said.
A PROBLEM WITH FOOD WASTE
Almost right away, in 2008, they had another big client -- the Traverse City Film Festival.
Also almost right away, Gale and others who started out with BARC in the early days, including his nephew, Calvin Remington, realized that offering to recycle waste from a festival which included lots of used plates, plastic silverware and plastic cups, proved to be a harrowing undertaking.
As they scraped food waste by hand from thousands of discarded paper plates, they thought, ‘There must be a better way.’ “To get food waste away from everything else is critical because the food waste is the contaminator,” Gale said.
They came upon a solution -- BARC would become a distributor of compostable paper plates, plastic cups and plastic spoons, knives and forks.
They found manufacturers of dinnerware that could be thrown into the compost pile and turn into topsoil with the rest of the stuff.
Currently BARC is working on a deal to take over Grand Traverse County’s Keystone Road yard waste drop-off site so they could compost festival and restaurant waste with yard waste at that location. “We hope this will work out, though it’s not a done deal,” Gale said.
BALES OF PAPER GOING CHEAP
One challenge with running such an operation is that the market for recyclables is volatile and it crashed along with the rest of the economy in 2008, just as BARC was getting going.
“I thought it would be a lot more lucrative than it is,” Gale said.
Prices have begun to creep up but they still fluctuate wildly and have not returned to 2008 levels.
For example, Gale said lately 40,000 pounds of shredded paper sells for around $800. Considering how much time and energy it takes to prepare that load, Gale said he barely breaks even.
He hopes the other part of the mission of the nonprofit -- education -- can stir up the market for recycled materials.
“We ask people to question the packaging when they get something and it seems ridiculous. Send a message to the company,” Gale said. “By inspiring people to buy more recycled content, you actually drive the market for recycled content.”
HOW MUCH DOES BAY AREA RECYCLING HANDLE?
• Cardboard: 1,560,000 lbs per year or 780 tons per year.
• Compost: 312,000 lbs per year or 156 tons per year.
Recycling (Plastic/Glass/Metal): 260,000 lbs per year or 130 tons per
• Paper: 480,000 lbs per year or 240 tons per year.
CFL Bulbs, Fluorescents, Electronic Waste would be Universal Waste at 10
tons per year.
• Everything else like clothing, styrofoam, latex paint would add another 3-4 tons per year.