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The quest to keep Baxter County’s sole recycling center story is still on.
Baxter Day Service Center Executive Director Paul Neal is continuing to work with county and city officials to find a way to keep the service center open after a drop in recycling prices put the local non-profit into the red.
Mountain Home Mayor Hillrey Adams and City Council released $87,000 in funds raised by a 2017 deal with Methvin Sanitation to collect recycling materials for $2.50 per 95 gallon cart in June to assist with overhead for the day center. The money collected by the city through its Methvin deal was meant to be spent on advertising and recycling programs within city limits but went unspent for several years.
Future money raised from the deal is set to go towards the day center, though it will not be enough to keep the organization going.
The Baxter Day Service Center processes roughly 3 million pounds of recyclable goods from the Twin Lakes area each year.
“It’s tough times right now,” said Neal. “Recycling markets are really, really depressed and that’s why we went to the city and the county. Talking to them about ways of helping us. With recycling, people kind of got used to it being free, and the problem is that it’s not free in a rural area, especially like this. It’s got to be paid for somewhere. Sometimes, if you have enough cardboard volume and the price is right, it can cover everything, but that’s rare.”
Formed in the basement of United Methodist Church by six parents in 1971, Baxter Day Service Center has grown to encompass six acres of land that houses a 4,800 square foot development facility and a 33,000 square foot warehouse with the goal of providing steady jobs and onsite development for its roughly 50 clients with disabilities.
Equipment used by the service center is owned by Baxter County.
As a non-profit that assists clients with special needs, the service center is financially supported by the Arkansas Department of Human Services, Medicaid, donations and bequests/wills. These funds go towards providing each client with a paycheck for the work they perform.
The mission statement for the Baxter Day Service Center is to “provide developmentally disabled individuals with experiences which will enable them to develop to their maximum mental, physical, and emotional potential — to help them achieve the highest degree of independence.”
In addition to providing jobs to its clients, the service center also offers an adult development program that helps clients learn basic living skills while developing interpersonal relationships. Some of the courses offered include simple work skills, daily living skills, academic skills, personal hygiene, recreation and leisure skills, health and fitness, and money management.
Funding for the service center’s 13 staff members comes from money earned through processing recyclable goods.
“The clients do also get a check from the government, but several of them do need this money to live on,” Neal said. “If that job goes away, then at least currently, we don’t have nearly as much work to keep them all busy without recycling. Not to say that we couldn’t find another job, we’d have too.”
With most of its recycling products coming from local businesses like Baxter Health, the Baxter Day Service Center has maintained a steady supply of cardboard and plastics throughout the year. The service center’s top seller is usually cardboard, which makes up 80% of the service center’s volume.
A close second would milk jugs, though Neal said the county doesn’t drink enough milk to beat out the reliability of cardboard.
Problems arose during the last few years after the price of cardboard cratered to as low as $45 per ton of garbage. To financially break even on processing cardboard, prices need to be around $75 per ton. If prices fall below that $75 threshold, then the service center loses money on processing what it receives. A price range between $100 to $150 is needed to help supplement the cost of running the recycling plant.
At the time of writing, the cost of cardboard is hovering around $60 per ton.
“It’s a function of the economy starting to slow down a little bit too,” Neal said. “Cardboard actually is a commodity, just like oil, gold and a lot of other things. Sometimes it’s just speculation going back and forth, but right now, the main problem is just more supply than there is demand.”
While the city’s gift of $87,000 will keep the Baxter Day Service Center going for the rest of the year, Neal stressed that more support will be needed if local residents wish to keep recycling.
Neal said he is currently working on several options with Mayor Adams, ranging from potential grant writing for additional funds to striking a new deal with Methvin/Waste Connections receive a portion of its trash hauling fees or to being added as a utility fee to resident’s bills. A contract with the city has also been floated, but no option has been chosen at this time.
“We’re going to have to have some more support to keep going the way we’re going,” Neal said. “It could be done through the trash hauler. It’s done that way in some other places, and they could pay us a part of their fee or some of it could come on a utility bill. It’s done that way in some places. There’s all different sorts of ways to do it, but it’s got to come from somewhere.”