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East Texas recycling plant aims to help area economy, environment

By Mike Elswick
Oct. 1, 2011 at 10 p.m.

Cash for others' trash - that could be the motto for upstart business Rivers Recycling.

The firm has been open for several weeks on FM 1252 between Longview and Kilgore. Its owners hope to fill a niche in a world ever more focused on going green. Todd Lucas, Rivers vice president and general manager, said he is hopeful that the green movement in East Texas and Longview will gain steam and get up to speed with the push in major metro areas.

He said removing as many recyclable items from East Texas landfills should extend the lives of the dump sites. In an ever-more stringent environmental atmosphere where permits for landfills are increasing tougher and more expensive to obtain, that can be important, he said.

"Recycling is good for our cities; it's good for the environment; it's good for us," Lucas said. The cost of developing new landfills can run into the billions of dollars, he said.

Rivers Recycling is strategically located close to Longview and to a regional landfill, and has easy access to other smaller communities such as Kilgore, Marshall, Henderson and Mount Pleasant that are served by an established disposal company, Lucas said.

"Allied Waste is our largest supplier," Lucas said. "We think we're well poised and centrally located."

Single-stream recycling

The plant is taking in what Lucas referred to as single-stream recycling loads. Truckloads of materials are brought into the facility just as consumers place them in their curbside recycling boxes.

That means various grades of plastics, aluminum, newsprint and cardboard will be brought into the facility, dumped, sorted, cleaned, processed, bundled and made ready for shipping to other recycling plants that will convert the trash into usable items.

"We don't take glass, and we prefer materials not be bagged when they come in as that just slows things down," Lucas said.

He said glass going through the process is similar to sandpaper rubbing on bearings - it wears the equipment out.

From the concrete floor, the recycled material is placed on a slow-moving, upward-bound conveyor. Lucas said gravity starts the process of sorting out the various types of materials.

"You just can't speed up the process or it won't work," he said. A series of screens, cleats and then the human touch along with magnets to pull any tin cans that might be mixed in with aluminum all are part of the sorting process, Lucas said.

"Already, every week we're getting enough paper to fill several truckloads," he said. While the Gregg County plant of Rivers Recycling is the first for the new company, Lucas said it shouldn't be the last.

President and CEO of the Fort Worth-based company is Jeff Craine, while his brother, Matt Craine, serves as vice president and operations manager. Lucas said the Craine family owned a Miller Beer distributorship in the Fort Worth area for years before selling it.

"We already have about 15 employees here," Jeff Craine said. "And we use temps as needed.

Lucas, who is a 1986 Longview High School graduate, met Jeff Craine while they were in the same fraternity at Texas Christian University.

The future

"This is the first of many plants we plan to do," Lucas said. "And, like Longview, we plan to go into smaller mid-sized communities rather than big cities like DFW."

Lucas said the firm is just touching the tip of the potential in recycling materials.

He said there is a steep public education curve that includes getting more East Texas cities to buy into recycling and to get those that are participating to do so at a greater level.

"In Longview, for example, we estimate that only about 1-1/2 percent of the potential recyclable materials are being recovered," Lucas said.

The Rivers Recycling staff plans to market its services to let the public know there are viable options locally for moving items that can be recycled through the process.

And while Longview and some other East Texas cities encourage residents to use curbside recycling, many communities are not even participating at that level, Lucas said.

Gene Keenon, manager of government affairs for Allied Waste Services, which serves Longview and many other East Texas cities with disposal services, said his company had considered building such a plant. But working in partnership with Rivers Recycling is a better option, he said.

Allied officials see taking the recycling items it picks up to the Rivers plant as a big plus. In the past, Allied has trucked the recycling items it picks up to plants out of the area.

"Having this plant this close is going to save us a lot of money we were paying for mileage," Keenon said.

"This is going to finally launch East Texas recycling to the same level as the Metroplex; we'll have the same capabilities."

Keenon said he has been hoping for such a plant close by for the past 20 years.

"We need to do what we can to keep it here and in operation," he said.

"This is a first-class facility, but they're going to need a huge volume to keep it in business."

Lucas said the firm's business plan is based on achieving that volume - not just to keep the doors open, but to operate profitably while making East Texas just a little greener.



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