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Recycling and Job Creation, Chattanooga
USA

Keywords: Social Exclusion/Integration
Poverty Eradication

Background

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 attention.


Narrative

History

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 area,.

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.

Partnership

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.


Impact

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 landfills.

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 cities.


Sustainability

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.

Systemic Changes

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 Center's exposure.

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.


Contact

    Orange Grove Center Inc.
    615 Derby Street
    Chattanooga
    Tennessee
    USA
    37404
    423 629-1451

Sponsor

    Orange Grove Center, Inc.
    Orange Grove Center Inc.
    615 Derby Street
    Chattanooga
    Tennessee
    USA
    37404
    423 629-1451

Partners

    Chattanooga Public Works Department
    Sawyer, Claire
    615 Derby Street
    Chattanooga
    Tennessee
    USA
    37404
    423 629-1451

    Baker, Hal
    615 Derby Street
    Chattanooga
    Tennessee
    USA
    37404
    423 629-1451

    Penn, Bill
    City Hall
    Chattanooga
    Tennessee
    USA
    37402
    423 757-5464


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