In 1980, just a couple years after Iowa’s Bottle Bill launched, a Burlington non-profit saw a unique opportunity. By opening a can-sorting center, Hope Haven – already in its 30th year of providing education, jobs and programming for disabled adults – set the stage for a remarkably successful recycling program that’s provided a business model for similar organizations in Iowa, and has helped Hope Haven meet its overall mission, as well as its commitment to sustainability.
Stephanie Cox, Hope Haven’s Work Services Production Administrator, says the original can-sorting center has expanded into a comprehensive recycling program. Corrugated cardboard, mixed paper, tin cans, shrink wrap and wide variety of textiles are collected, in addition to the redeemable cans and bottles. How many containers does Hope Haven collect? The state-approved redemption center occasionally hits the one-million-per-month mark. Last month, 1,173,920 containers were processed, with a monthly average of just over 958,000.
It’s a little overwhelming at times, Stephanie admits, but it’s a program the southeast Iowa region has come to rely on. Hope Haven’s Can Barn – which provides local employment for at least 40 disabled and nondisabled persons – is the area’s primary redemption center. In addition to taking containers from individuals, Hope Haven contracts with a number of businesses, sending a truck to collect containers from gas stations, bars and business like Hy-Vee and Wal-Mart. At a penny per can, Stephanie concedes the proceeds don’t go far. But the dollars help keep the program operational.
Through the 1990s, as Hope Haven’s container recycling program grew, its other waste diversion and recycling efforts expanded as well. In the early 2000s, a baler was added for paper products. Since then, a second and third baler have been added for textiles, which are sold by the semi-load. Some of the textiles – which include clothes and items like purses, shoes, belts and stuffed animals – arrive at Hope Haven as donations. The rest are obtained from resale shops, including Hope Haven’s own Hopefully Yours, a popular Burlington thrift store.
To expand its recycling programs even more, Hope Haven received a SWAP grant in 2012. The funds were used to purchase a truck which picks up recyclables from various sites throughout southeast Iowa. With the expanded collection, the organization’s annual waste-diversion numbers are impressive: 80 tons of textiles; 56 bales of cardboard; 44 bales of paper and 28, 13 and 7 gaylord boxes of mixed paper, magazines and newspapers respectively.
Some of these recyclables are delivered to Area Recyclers, a Des Moines County agency with which Hope Haven has a long-standing partnership. Darven Kendell, Education Coordinator with the Des Moines County Regional Waste Commission, values the relationship and Hope Haven’s contributions to the area’s waste diversion efforts. In 2008, the agency presented Hope Haven with a Sustainability Award for Waste Reduction.
An annual paper shredding event is a great example of the collaborative relationship between the agency and organization. “Stephanie and the employees of Hope Haven help us with our annual Clean Out Your Files Day,” Darven says. “They provide the shredding services, which we sincerely appreciate. We look forward to working with them for years to come.”
Hope Haven is committed to “going green,” which Stephanie cites as a reason for the organization’s long-time membership with the Iowa Recycling Association. Their sustainability program includes installation of time-of-day meters and energy-efficient light fixtures, plans for the addition of a solar array in 2018 and of course, extensive in-house recycling throughout their facilities.