The Orange Grove Recycling Center (OGRC) was created in 1988 when the community
realized the pressing need to establish a local recycling network. Born of a unique
contractual partnership with the City of Chattanooga, the Center has become the home for
recycling in a three-state region, and is very successful in the sale of recyclable raw
materials. The ORGC has provided a place to take reusable products, created a recycling
education program, and has given jobs to over 100 mentally-disabled citizens who would not
otherwise be able to work. The Orange Grove Recycling Center also successfully diverts
1,000,000 pounds (5,000 tons) of waste from landfills per month, and adds to the overall
quality of life for thousands in the Chattanooga region. Needless to say, the Center has
become a national model for recycling centers and is gaining regional and national
Orange Grove Center was created in 1953 as a school for 25 students by a group of
parents who were unable to find services for their mentally-handicapped children. It has
grown into a much larger non-profit organization that operates with public and private
support. Since 1970, Orange Grove Center has occupied its present facility which provides
state-of-the-art assistance for 700 children and adults who are developmentally disabled.
While the Center provided comprehensive industrial and vocational education, no"real
world" training was available on a large scale.
In 1988, a market-niche opportunity was seized--Orange Grove could provide Chattanooga
with a regional recycling center while allowing its members to be employed and productive
citizens. During the same year, a two million dollar recycling facility was built from
public/private funds which has become increasingly successful each year.
How It Works
The Orange Grove Recycling Center handles recyclable materials from about 55,000
Chattanooga homes, from 13 counties in Southeastern Tennessee, and collections from up to
15 neighboring Georgia municipalities. In addition to the municipalities, Orange Grove
also takes recyclables from large accounts, such as the Tennessee Valley Authority's large
office complex in downtown Chattanooga. The complex is served with drop-off centers and
in-house, station-to-station pickup of white and mixed office paper products, four kinds
of plastics, three types of glass, tin and aluminum cans. Orange Grove also takes
recyclables from Chattanooga'a 500-bed Memorial Hospital, the region's second largest.
Several other corporate and community drop-offs are located throughout the metropolitan
Many truckloads of used consumer products arrive daily for processing by the Center. The
facility is designed to have the capacity and capability to handle materials being
delivered to it in several ways. Two "tipping" areas adjacent to the building
allow trucks from local drop-off programs, loaded with separate materials as well as
trucks from curbside pickup with non-separated materials, to unload onto a conveyor system
that feeds directly into the facility. Many industries in various markets are interested
in buying glass, food and beverage containers, metals, plastic and paper products to be
reused or recycled.
The project is truly unique in several ways, especially in the often overlooked
recognition of human capital. Not only has Orange Grove Recycling Center provided over 100
mentally-handicapped persons with jobs, it has given them an ideal working and learning
environment which meets each employee's individual needs. Repetitiveness is a particularly
effective vocational tool for people who are mentally retarded, and this concept is
implemented into the work program. Orange Grove gives these individuals the responsibility
for the labor-intensive duty of picking and sorting like materials into large piles for
future sale. The job repetitiveness allows for the mastery of a marketable skill, and adds
valuable work experience and a sense of pride that few schools or mainstream employers
could hope to match. The jobs at the Orange Grove Recycling Center thus train employees
for later work in other work places.
In a world where high-tech jobs are replacing human beings by the millions, Orange Grove
maintains that low-tech jobs such as those found in their recycling center are worthwhile
to the community. These low-tech jobs have been proven to be cost effective while
providing worth and hope to many individuals and families in the Chattanooga area. This
"low-tech" strategy, in this case, has kept operating costs approximately
one-tenth of the amount spent in other mid-sized cities and has proven to be an
intelligent management decision.
The Center is supported through a partnership with the City of Chattanooga to recover
waste materials that could be reused or recycled. The Chattanooga Public Works Department
picks up and delivers recyclables to the Center. Several other local municipalities and
private corporations have contracts with Orange Grove for recycling services. Informal
partnerships are also established through churches, neighborhood associations, area
"ecoteams," and other civic groups throughout the area.
Reduce over 5,000 tons of solid waste per month.
Helped Chattanooga to comply with a 1991 state law mandating a 25% diversion of waste from
Provided jobs and training to over 100 mentally challenged adults.
Increased environmental awareness in the community through providing a speakers' service
for civic groups, neighborhoods, and churches.
Became a national example in waste recycling, with over 10,000 visitors per year.
Changed people's attitude toward individuals with disability.
Kept operating costs approximately one-tenth of the amount spent in other mid-sized
Several impacts from the Recycling Center have positively affected the quality of life
in the Chattanooga area. Toward environmental sustainability, the recycled goods from
Orange Grove are purchased by local businesses and made into products that are used
regionally. As a result, a "cradle to cradle" manufacturing system has been
created from the municipal waste, in keeping with the City's sustainable development
theme. In fact, the success of the Recycling Center has diverted 1,000,000 (5,000 tons) of
solid waste from the local landfill which is nearing its capacity. This accomplishment has
helped the Chattanooga area comply with a 1991 State Law mandating a 25% diversion of
waste from landfills by 1996. The Center has also provided jobs and training to over 100
mentally-challenged adults who otherwise may not be able to work at all.
Toward environmental awareness, the facility recently received regional and national
attention and has become an example for several visiting municipalities throughout the
United States. Toward education, Orange Grove employees are learning valuable and
marketable skills which can help them enter the job force. The community at large benefits
as well. The Center teaches basic concepts of sustainable living through an educational
speakers' service that is available for churches, neighborhoods, and civic groups.
Finally, Orange Grove Recycling Center has realized that when low-tech jobs are
implemented into a high-demand service, benefits to the community will be produced that
cannot be measured in monetary value alone.
The Orange Grove Recycling Center is sustainable from all angles. It is a winning
situation for the community, the environment, and for the mentally disabled and their
families. Since 1988, environmental awareness has been heightened, thanks in large part to
the efforts of Orange Grove Recycling Center. The Center has provided myriad opportunitie
for increased public perception and awareness of environmental issues, especially through
a new observation deck that overlooks the entire recycling process. Approximately 10,000
visitors per year, including school children, business groups and visiting municipalities
are now able to witness sustainability in action.
Society often does not recognize the value of people with disabilities, and very seldom
are these citizens singled out in appreciation. The Orange Grove Recycling Center is a
dramatic demonstration that people with handicaps can contribute to society, and these
employees are well respected citizens of the community. Through witnessing the uniqueness
and success of the Recycling Center, many people's attitudes toward those with
disabilities have changed. In the Chattanooga area, disabled individuals are looked upon
as vital, contributing, and productive members of society because of the Recycling
For Orange Grove Center's decision makers, it was just a matter of finding the right
opportunity to grasp. As other cities have spent millions of dollars to create recycling
centers that employ fewer people, Orange Grove believed that the human spirit could
produce more than big machines. All the while, the program's architects were forewarned
that the markets for recycled materials would be sluggish at best. However, the high
quality of the Orange Grove product, with its personal attention to detail, demands
premium prices at time of sale. The result was in keeping with the Center's mission of
developing each person's maximum potential. Low tech employment opportunities, in this
case, have proven to be much more effective than any high tech solution.
Orange Grove Center, Inc.
Orange Grove Center Inc.
615 Derby Street
Chattanooga Public Works Department
615 Derby Street
615 Derby Street