At Lenoir warehouse, trash begins transition to raw materials

Jul. 14, 2013 @ 08:12 AM

A lot of trash passes through a giant warehouse at the corner of Morganton Boulevard and Virginia Street in Lenoir.

Every day trucks pull up and unload piles of used cardboard, Styrofoam packaging, drink bottles, upholstery fabric, and many other kinds of trash. Each kind has its own pile in the warehouse, and alongside the pile men feed the trash into machines that chew it up and pack it down, the better for shipping it off to be reused.

This has been Earthway Global’s steadily growing work since it was founded in late 2011: taking waste that industries in this region otherwise would be sending to landfills and getting that material to companies that will recycle it, said Tim Moore, the company’s vice president of sales and operations.

“Anybody that produces large quantities of waste, we try to help them out,” he said.

Earthway Global currently is diverting about 1 million pounds of trash a month into the recycling stream instead of landfills, he said. That saves companies a lot of money in waste fees, and it saves taxpayers money because the landfills don’t fill up as quickly.

The idea for the company grew out of the Enhancing Furniture's Environmental Culture program of the American Home Furnishings Alliance, a program to help furniture companies become more efficient and environmentally friendly and reduce waste. AHFA was encouraging furniture companies to sign up.

“At the time there wasn’t any recycling company in the area that could handle the mix of materials coming from the furniture companies,” Moore said.

Industrial-level recycling is itself a relatively young field.

“Ten years ago nobody hardly ever thought about industrial recycling,” he said.

But it’s now a rapidly growing field. Earthway Global doubled the volume of waste it handled during 2012, and company officials expect it will have doubled again by the end of 2013, Moore said.

Clients range from large companies such as Apple, Furniture Brands and Fairfield Chair to some mom-and-pop businesses, he said. The company does not collect residential recyclables.

The company currently has 13 employees, 10 of them in Lenoir and three in Hickory.

Earthway Global keeps careful track of exactly what kind of waste the companies send and the total volume. Moore said the client companies generally want extremely detailed monthly reports.

At the warehouse, the waste may be chewed up and compressed – as with cardboard and Styrofoam – or just clean, compressed (or “densified”) and baled, all of which is needed to make it more efficient for shipping.

Some of the baled waste is shipped to other companies in the U.S. or overseas, and some is used by companies owned by Earthway Global to make products ranging from plastic freight pallets and packaging to the kinds of mats sold at Home Depot for you to kneel on while doing your gardening.

Moore said that probably only a fifth of his time is spent managing the Lenoir plant, and the rest is either finding new products Earthway can make or finding new sources of waste material.

And there’s a lot of territory for potential growth in the latter – currently almost all of the company’s clients are within 100 miles of Lenoir.