Corporations Step Up to Support Community Ewaste Recycling Collections

Published November 2016

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In northern Minnesota, a stone’s throw from the Canadian border, is the town of Warroad. This unassuming small town is home to Marvin Windows and Doors, the world’s largest manufacturer of made-to-order wood window and door products. While the town has a population just under two thousand people, the business employs more than 5,200 people at their ten nationwide locations. The company has been recognized widely for its ethical and responsible practices and was named The Most Ethical Large Company in America in 2014. At the core of their values you find environmental stewardship activities ranging from conservation, sustainability programs, and recycling efforts.

Given its rural location and the fact that it is a community anchor, there is something distinctive about the location of the headquarters and their sense of community in the workplace. As I learned about the company, this fact shone through and continued to when I interviewed Wayne Pearson. Wayne is a Waste Management Supervisor, and we met to talk about a program that was founded at Marvin Windows and Doors to help alleviate a recycling issue he noticed as a result of the town’s somewhat remote location and lack of recycling outlets. The company has a strong commitment to environmental stewardship and Pearson was in a unique position to address this lack-of-recycling problem in a way that perhaps others may not have been able to do. He understood the importance of recycling, and naturally he felt the same importance applied to individuals, as well. He explains, “Up here, we’re so far away from any recycling markets, and the employees needed these services. We did not have the avenues to recycle electronics and glass like more populated areas.” He suggested the company hold a recycling event specifically for employees, sponsored by Marvin Windows and Doors. “The company is proactive. It’s very evident with programs like this. They supported the idea and the financial aspects of it, too. They are the ones that get this. Their support to the employees is tremendous.”

The first ewaste recycling collection event was held in 2012 with great success. Just over 23,000 pounds of electronics were recycled; all of these items brought to the collection by employees at the headquarters location! In 2013 the event peaked at 25,477 pounds of electronics, plus another 10,552 pounds of appliances. By 2014, Pearson was seeing the amount of waste drop: roughly 18,000 pounds of electronics and 4,000 pounds of appliances were recycled at that event. In 2015, another drop to 15,573 pounds of electronics, but with the most recent event in October 2016, something surprising happened – the collection event generated just over 19,000 pounds of electronics. “I’m not sure what to say on the 2016 results, I’m a little bit disappointed. I’d rather have it continue to decline! Word is getting out there more, and I know there are a certain amount of new people taking advantage of the program,” Pearson said.

Wayne and I talked a bit about the growth and future of the program, and the support offered by Marvin Windows and Doors. “The first two years, when we started the electronics recycling program, there was no charge to anyone to do this because the commodity markets for recycling were great. We had an appliance recycling event, too. The markets were so good that there was no cost to the company. Now the last three years, the markets have declined and we have lost some of our recycling avenues,” he says, referring to another program in the county that recycled glass, but ended up leaving the market and leaving residents with no glass recycling option. Parenthetically, Marvin Windows and Doors now offers a glass recycling program to its employees since the county doesn’t offer that type of recycling program anymore.

“The local transfer station will take [electronic] items, but they charge $5 a piece for them. We’re offering these services to the employees now. During the collection event we say, ‘Yes! Bring your items to recycle, there’s no charge!’ We also have internal support for these activities and it’s a pretty amazing thing for the company to do. Marvin Windows and Doors is progressive, and I want to support that by doing the best thing I can do for the company.”

The two-day event is held once a year, and employees are invited to bring their electronic waste in to be collected by Pearson and his team. I asked him about the effort it takes to organize an event like this, and Wayne said, “It’s outside of the facilities’ normal activities, so we take two days for the collection. There is a lot of work and preparation for it, and then during the collection we’re actually kept pretty busy. We don’t staff it full time, but we try to make it so that someone is there if people bring heavier items.” At the end of the event, waste is shipped to The Retrofit Companies’ location in Little Canada, MN to be sorted and delivered for recycling.

Over the span of just ten days, over the course of 5 years, in a town with less than 1,800 residents, one company was able to collect more than 115,000 pounds of waste electronics and appliances as a service to its employees. This waste was diverted from improper disposal or landfilling, and was responsibly recycled. The community collection model has been a staggering success for the worker community at Marvin Windows and Doors.

So, what do employees who take advantage of the recycling collection think of it and would Pearson recommend this for other organizations? In short, resounding positivity. He says, “Yes, it’s a morale booster and a service. It’s well worth the effort to get this type of program going. I’ve been working with Jake [TRC Environmental Sales Director] for two years on this, and it is awesome working together. Planning this out, the support of our company, the many individuals coming together to communicate these efforts. It’s a huge opportunity for Marvin Windows and Doors employees to clean out basements, garages, and storage areas for no charge. The employees are grateful and appreciative that this is a possibility. This is something a company can do that is beneficial to employees. It is a big effort, but well worth it.” •

Looking for additional information to plan community recycling collection programs? Read this: