Northern Recycling & Waste Services reduces waste-stream

Multiple-family-owned company works to keep things clean on the Ridge

Baled recyclables loom over three members of the families behind trash collection in Paradise: from left, Northern Recycling and Waste Services operations manager Tim Velikonia, controller Al Guidi and general manager Doug Speicher.

Baled recyclables loom over three members of the families behind trash collection in Paradise: from left, Northern Recycling and Waste Services operations manager Tim Velikonia, controller Al Guidi and general manager Doug Speicher.

photo by Evan Tuchinsky

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One family’s trash is another family’s treasure. In the case of Northern Recycling & Waste Services, make that families’.

NRWS has the garbage-removal franchise for Paradise and also serves unincorporated areas around the Ridge. The company launched four years ago, when a group of Bay Area and Napa Valley families successfully bid for the town’s solid waste contract, but its history goes further back in time yet closer to home, with local families that have been in the business for decades.

Doug Speicher, general manager of NRWS, is the grandson of a Paradise hog farmer who 60 years ago began picking up food waste from his neighbors. “He said, ‘Hey, a guy can make some money doing this,’” Speicher said, “and he began picking up solid waste from the houses and ran the local dump.” Paradise Garbage passed on to Speicher’s father, who ran it for a quarter-century, until 1990.

That was the year AB 939 took effect, ushering in the era of landfill diversion and recycling. Paradise Garbage merged with OK Sanitation—owned by Allan Guidi, Bill Mannel and Tim Velikonia—to form Paradise Solid Waste. United Waste, which ran the Neal Road Landfill, bought their company six years later; Speicher, Guidi and Velikonia stayed with it, while Mannel moved on to Butte County Public Works. (Guidi later became a minority owner of the Chico Heat baseball team.) They subsequently came under the umbrella of Waste Management.

Speicher still works with Velikonia and Guidi, who happen to be brothers-in-law. Guidi is NRWS’s controller; Velikonia, the operations manager. The ownership may reside out of town, but NRWS is a free-standing company with local management, local employees and, under terms of its franchise contract, local purchasing agreements.

NRWS employees sort through mixed recycling. All material is separated by type and sold to manufacturers to make new products.

photo courtesy of Jennifer Arbuckle

With a business model geared toward spurring reuse and recycling, NRWS diverts nearly 60 percent of Paradise’s waste from the landfill. That’s the best rate for any municipality in the county. (Speicher says the figure is even higher among customers in unincorporated areas, who have a choice of solid-waste haulers and choose NRWS.)

In 2006, when Paradise awarded the franchise to what was to become NRWS, the decision was met with vocal opposition. The mandate for recycling and an increase in rates did not sit well with all residents. But now, Town Councilman Steve “Woody” Culleton says, public opinion has turned “180 degrees,” and he sees numerous benefits from the consolidated, coordinated recycling and waste service.

“We’ve reduced our carbon footprint, because instead of having six trucks running around town, now we just have one company driving through town and on our streets,” Culleton said. “And before, we had no one picking up our recycling. With single-stream recycling, it’s just a really easy operation, so everyone is participating. It’s a win-win for everybody.”

What is single-stream recycling? Rather than having to separate recyclables themselves, customers simply put their cans, bottles, paper and plastics into a single container. NRWS provides its customers three types of cans: blue for recyclables, brown for yard waste (i.e., leaves and grass), and gray for the remaining garbage. On “trash day,” one truck comes to empty the gray can and another comes to empty the brown or blue can, depending on the week.

The garbage truck offloads its hauls at the landfill. The yard-waste truck goes across Neal Road to the Earthworm Soil Factory for composting, while the recyclables truck returns directly to NRWS, located off Clark Road near the town’s lower border. There, employees offload and bale the material for transport to a sorting plant in Napa. “To build a [local] material-recovery facility,” Speicher said, “you’re talking multimillions of dollars,” and NRWS alone does not have the volume to justify that investment.

At the Napa facility, one of four operated by NRWS’s owners, machines and people sort through the recycle stream from various communities as it heads down a series of conveyor belts. The “residual” goes to the newest facility in the East Bay city of Pittsburg for a finer-tooth sort, further reducing the amount of material that winds up in landfills.

While the Paradise-to-Napa trucking does increase the company’s carbon footprint, NRWS mitigates it on the return trip by transporting wood fuel to a biomass power plant in Oroville.

“We’ve connected the loop,” Speicher said. “We don’t have a lot of dead hauls.”

The Paradise facility not only houses the transfer station and company office but also an intake center where residents can drop off items that are illegal to place in garbage cans. NRWS accepts appliances, electronics, building materials, CFL bulbs, even syringes.

Reusable items get donated to local nonprofits, including Habitat for Humanity and Computers for Classrooms. Others get picked up by firms that refurbish or safely dispose of them. Speicher says NRWS monitors such vendors to ensure they are truly green.

More specifically, Jennifer Arbuckle monitors them. Arbuckle is the public-outreach coordinator for NRWS, and “downstream” inspections fall under her auspices.

“I spend a lot of time making sure things get to the right place,” she said.

The bulk of her job, though, consists of education. Arbuckle speaks to local groups and local schools about recycling and reuse.

A more tangible motivator for customers is financial. NRWS charges for removing solid waste (i.e., the gray can) but not for hauling recyclable materials (blue and brown cans). The larger the gray can, the higher the fee. Therefore, the more customers recycle, the less they pay.

“Contrary to what people may think, we don’t make money off of a lot of the things [in the recycling that’s collected or dropped off],” Speicher said. “I have people ask, ‘Then why do you do it?’ One, it’s the right thing to do. Two, it introduces people to our facility … and it opens doors for us. So it’s a concept that’s working well for our group.”