Recycling gets boost from weak economy

By: Gloria Young, Journal Staff Writer
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A steady stream of aluminum cans poured through the crusher Wednesday afternoon at the Auburn Community Recycling Center as car after car dropped off bulging plastic bags. The Sacramento Street facility processes about 1,000 to 1,500 pounds of aluminum cans a day and 3,000 pounds of glass, according to employee Jim Couk. Business has doubled in the past six or eight months, manager Kristin Cummins said. She attributes the increase to the troubled economy. Customers, who must have their items sorted and bundled, receive 96 cents a pound for plastic and $1.57 for cans. Payouts range from $5 to as much as $150, Cummins said. Her father, Roger Johnson, who owns a machine shop across the street, purchased the recycling facility about 20 years ago as a business investment. “It was way before recycling really caught on,” Cummins said. These days, it takes a crew of five to handle the volume. Outside, Auburn resident Traci Makinen was waiting her turn with four bags of plastic bottles and aluminum cans. She said she couldn’t guess how much she’d get for them. She visits the center once a month or so, she said. “It’s a little extra few bucks,” Makinen said. “Every little bit helps with the economy the way it is.” Auburn resident Gary Estes has been recycling there since he moved to the foothills in 1990. He makes the trip about every three months and has noticed an increase in customers lately. “I went to recycle Tuesday (morning) and I saw there were cars backed up onto Sacramento Street,” he said. Estes decided to avoid the line and come back a little later. When he returned, he found the line was shorter “but still more noticeable than in the past,” he said. “I got in line and it took about 20 minutes (to process the items),” he said. For his efforts, he earned $32. The facility doesn’t take paper products, so Estes takes his newspapers, cardboard and office paper waste to the city of Auburn’s recycle bins behind city hall, he said. But the recycling center does accept many other items, including copper, brass and pretty much anything made out of aluminum. This week, there was a stack of aluminum ladders beside the building and nearby bins were filled with scrap aluminum including even lawn chairs. Upstairs, bales of compacted plastic containers shared space with copper pipe and old radiators. The center is also a drop-off point for electronic waste such as computers and televisions, but there’s no payment for those. “We accept them as a courtesy to the community,” Cummins said. She also accepts milk jugs as a courtesy. The inside of the building has shelves reaching to the ceiling with old bottles and utensils customers have brought in over the years. “Some of the stuff has been there since my father brought the place,“ Cummins said. The vast collection includes a few dusty RC Cola and Dr. Pepper bottles and some old-fashioned medicine bottles. Recyclers sometimes drop off decorative items, too, including, recently, a large round brass tray and a copper ornamental water fountain. “I was thinking about how that would look in my yard,” Cummins said. Locally, Auburn Placer Disposal Service also has a recycling program. Company representatives did not return a call for comment Wednesday. At the Tomra Pacific’s Replanet recycling center in Meadow Vista, employee Deniel Hernandez said he hasn’t seen any change in volume since he began working there in December. Replanet only processes beverage container recyclables. “We have slow days and busy days,” Hernandez said. “It can take six, eight or even 10 days to fill the bin.” The Journal’s Gloria Young can be reached at