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Helping a Small Indiana Community with Their Waste and Recycling Needs

Debbie Hackman, Solid Waste Specialist, IN- RCAP Rural Matters 8/21/2023 

Recycling is a staple in many communities.  Orange County in South-Central Indiana is not one of them. The county’s total population is less than 20,000. Orange County has no zoning, and 20% of the residents do not have internet access. There is no curbside recycling or drop bins dedicated solely to recyclable products. 

To accommodate the solid waste needs of the residents of this rural community, random trash bins are placed throughout the county, which residents can use with no limits or fees. 

With this information, the desire to preserve the natural resources in the county and provide recycling as an option for solid waste management, a group of residents formed the Orange County Recycling Cooperative (OCRC). Donated fees by the members helped with start-up costs. This group of residents began by collecting aluminum and fiber as easy-to-collect and easy-to-market products. They used the proceeds to fund their small collection facility. A small box truck was purchased to collect cardboard in the small communities of Paoli and French Lick. Evidentially, plastic collection was added to the program. A program manager was hired and proceeds from the sales of products funded the salary of the manager.  

To add to revenues and to reinforce the need to reuse and recycle products, the Co-op opened a “Reuse Store.” They accepted donations to resell. The generated revenue would help fund the recycling collection program.  

The recycling program grew as other community groups got involved. The Community Foundation awarded a grant to collect electronic devices that are prohibited in Indiana landfills.  

The Sheriff’s Department got involved by collecting and disposing of pharmaceuticals and keeping them out of the waste stream.  

The Orange County Solid Waste Management District granted the Co-op a yearly stipend to help supplement the income from recyclable aluminum, paper, cardboard, and plastic.  

With a drive-thru operation and a single vertical-stroke baler, the Co-op offered adequate, yet primitive, service to the residents. Participation was good. However, as is the problem with all well-used mechanical equipment, a need arose for equipment upgrades. 

With the help of the RCAP Solid Waste technical advisor, OCRC applied for and received a grant from the Indiana Recycle Market Development program. The grant was over $50,000. It was used to upgrade the slow, manual-load baler to an automated horizontal baler.  To maximize the use of the baler, grant money was used to put in a new conveyor and to purchase a skid loader and self-dumping hoppers. 

Another area of upgrades was to purchase a glass crusher. Until this time, the volume of glass was low and never recovered for recycling.  The members of OCRC saw an opportunity to collect glass bottles as the number of wineries and breweries increased in the tourist area of French Lick Resort in the western part of the county.  The collected glass was separated by color before the crushing process and given back to local artists in the county for their many projects. 

Although the community is small and funding is practically nonexistent, working together, the residents have found a way to provide a valuable service to the residents that will benefit the county for generations to come.  

About the author

Great Lakes Community Action Partnership

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