Beaverton employee helps Portland business in refrigerator-recycling efforts

While many of the old, energy guzzling refrigerators residents surrender for more efficient models travel to Portland for dismantling, a Beaverton company plays a key role in the recycling chain that keeps toxic, non-biodegradable materials from reaching the landfill.

Since 2006, JACO Environmental, a Northeast Portland company that specializes in breaking down and recycling refrigerator and freezer components, has worked with International Paper Co.'s Beaverton operation to take away and recycle the brittle plastic interior shells from the discarded appliances.

JACO partners with the nonprofit EnergyTrust of Oregon, which offers $50 to residents willing to recycle their old refrigerators for newer, energy efficient models.

Herman Marioth, facility manager at JACO, had vendors taking everything from metals and foam to toxic refrigerants and oil from the refrigerators and freezers he and fellow staff members break down each day.

But finding a green-friendly channel for plastics - particularly those brittle, bulky interior shells - was a challenge in a saturated and less-stable recycling market.

When Marioth came across Rick Kroenwitter, recycling coordinator at the former Weyerhaeuser Corp., he found a solution.

Kroenwitter, who retained his role when International Paper bought out Weyerhaeuser in 2008, said he was impressed with JACO and Marioth's tenacity in making sure the waste plastic was handled in an environmentally friendly manner.

'It was amazing to me when Herman brought the opportunity forward to recycle the plastic refrigerator components,' the West Slope resident said. 'I hadn't heard of anybody else trying to recover (those plastics).

'It was a new opportunity for us. It was really wonderful to be partnering with a startup company that was really doing something unique in the recycling business.'

At its sorting and bailing facility at 5505 S.W. Western Ave., International Paper takes in two to three 26-foot-long trucks - about 2,000 pounds - of plastic each week from JACO.

'It's pretty big and cumbersome,' Kronewitter said of the deliveries. 'There's a large degree of timing. We know when Herman's team is coming. We're prepared to bail plastic when he gets here.'

The 57-employee operation focuses primarily on collecting, packaging and selling scrap paper to recycle at its manufacturing plants and sell to other vendors. But as part of its mission to lessen the waste stream, International Paper also collects other materials.

'We're one of the nation's largest recyclers,' Kroenwitter said. 'Recovered paper, scrap paper is the biggest part of what we do. We also handle glass, plastic and metal. When I'm out in the field, I'm looking for more things to recycle. We have a number of different markets we sell to.'

That commitment is such that Kronewitter continues to take in JACO's plastics even though the market has been stagnant for the past two years or so.

'In the beginning, they paid a minimum about of $20 to $30 per truckload,' Marioth said of International Paper. 'Now they don't pay (JACO) anything. We just want to make sure we're taking the materials to a reputable place that's going to recycle.'

A previous vendor, Denton Plastics in Northeast Portland, stopped taking JACO's discarded plastic when it was no longer profitable.

'They were taking it for awhile, but realized it was not worth it for them,' Marioth said, praising Kronewitter for his ongoing commitment to the process.

'If it wasn't for (International Paper), I'd have to chase down more and more local plastic dealers,' Marioth said. 'They can sell it for something. They're making something on it. It's definitely a big help to us.

'If we have a drop that falls on a Friday or a holiday, Rick always makes sure he squeezes us in. He's very helpful.'

Kronewitter said he's impressed with JACO and the lengths its employees go to reduce even the oldest, bulkiest refrigerators to parts that can be processed and recycled in a sustainable way.

'It stuns me how they recover every last component of the refrigerators,' he said. 'It's always amazing what I see and learn over there.'

International Paper's commitment to green practices goes beyond profits, he noted, and extends to its employees.

'It's a business decision, but the company and individual employees support environmental and sustainable practices,' he said. 'The more things we can divert from the landfill, the better off we are.'

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