Sunday, February 18, 2001

Businessman got sour taste from recycling effort

The Associated Press

        SHELBYVILLE, Ky. — Tommy Pontrich got into the recycling business with the best of intentions.

        In 1996, he opened a recycling center in a building donated by the county.

        At first business was so good that workers could hardly keep up, Mr. Pontrich said. The recycling center took in 14,000 pounds of aluminum cans the first two weeks, he said. So many people showed up to make drop offs that sheriff's officers directed traffic on the busiest days.

        Once the newness wore off, business began lagging, he said.

        But the costs of renting equipment and paying employees were a constant financial drag.

        Mr. Pontrich had to shift money from his flooring business to keep the recycling center afloat. He closed the center in 1999 after three years, weary from all the difficulties.

        “It was a losing deal,” he recalled sadly. He figures he lost $7,000.

        The last remnants of his recycling business disappeared last month when Shelby County trucks hauled off 37,000 pounds of glass to a recycling center in Frankfort. Mr. Pontrich said he did not get any money for the glass.

        It was a grim finale for what had once been a promising venture.

        The recycling center accepted an assortment of items — glass, plastics, metal and paper. Mr. Pontrich paid no rent on the building, next to the county animal shelter, and the county picked up the utility bill.

        But other costs piled up. He paid a $150 monthly rental fee for equipment to smash and separate the items. He paid for the use of trailers to stockpile recyclables before shipping. There were shipping costs to get the items to recycling centers in the region.

        And there were three part-time employees on his payroll. Mr. Pontrich himself spent close to half his time on the recycling venture, time that he needed to focus on his flooring business in town.

        The biggest frustration, though, was the speculative nature of the business. The market for recyclable items went up and down like a yo-yo, Mr. Pontrich said. Sometimes the expense to haul off glass or plastics exceeded the amount he received from recyclers, he said.

        The problem was that he didn't generate enough volume to make it profitable, Mr. Pontrich said.

        In hindsight, he said he thinks state and local governments should take a more active role in offering incentives for recycling.

        Despite the setbacks, he said there is still a desire among many Shelby County residents for recycling.

        “When we closed up, I was having people begging me to open back up,” he said.


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