Two people putting recyclables into a trailer

Keep Alliance Beautiful

G.O. Thompson turned left onto U.S. Highway 385, leaving Chadron on May 20 with a green Keep Alliance Beautiful (KAB) trailer filled to the brim. The northwest Nebraska community, for the first time since the Covid 19 pandemic, had found a dependable outlet for its recycling.

Materials collected during the initial public event this spring had been handled by SWANN (Solid Waste Agency of NW Nebraska). Interest in resuming public recycling services simmered the past three years as Chadron, Crawford and others along the Pine Ridge have instead driven as far as Alliance, Neb. and Rapid City, S.D. With roll-off containers unavailable, Keep Chadron Beautiful maintained efforts to collect corrugated cardboard and white/office paper.

The current arrangement between KAB, KCB and invested community members gelled at a packed public meeting in Chadron April 25 hosted by KCB Director Susan Hucke, KAB Executive Director Kathy Worley and Chadron State College student Joe Talley of Vermillion, S.D. Talley’s concern proved to be the missing catalyst to seriously address hometown recycling. As Chadron missed its roll-off containers, campus recycling trailers were untended.

Grass roots commitment, expressed as nearly 50 people (equivalent to 1 percent of the town’s population) filled the Platte Valley Companies community center, was evident weeks later as a steady stream of vehicles arrived for the first collection. A man who had attended the meeting  brought his baler that makes 25-pound bricks from aluminum cans for more efficient transport.

On Monday morning, May 22, KAB processed about 3,000 pounds, according to employee estimates, from the enclosed trailer in the Keep America Beautiful affiliate’s recycling center. Keep Chadron Beautiful had already delivered two weekly loads of cardboard. The KCB driver and KAB staff baled corrugated and fiberboard cardboard that filled the trailer and his pickup bed, representing about 30 cubic yards (pre-compaction) on each trip.

“The Nebraska Bank parking lot was the perfect place to hold the event,” Worley said, “visible to passersby, with plenty of room for the participants, and lots of shade for volunteers. Thank you Chadron for bringing your recycling.”

During the week of May 21, KAB began receiving loads from a Chadron business. Ace Hardware, who bales its own cardboard, made two round trips – a bit over 200 miles – to contribute more than a ton to the center’s inventory.

Keep Alliance Beautiful is no stranger to out-of-county visitors. Located at the nexus of three highways between high plains farming and Sandhills ranching, the recycling center often unloads packed vehicles from an hour or more away. A Rushville family even made two trips on a recent Wednesday. Horse trailers are seen as a convenient way to bring recyclables to town in this part of the state. A lack of recycling along the west end of U.S. Highway 20, which runs through Crawford, Chadron and Hay Springs, served to expand KAB’s service area. 

Alliance operates on a “hub and spoke” arrangement. While Box Butte County accounts for the majority of KAB’s annual recycling volume, the eastern Sandhills and central and northern Panhandle are significant contributors. KAB sends processed/baled materials to the Kimball Recycling Center and Western Resources Group (WRC) at Ogallala for destinations in Colorado, Omaha and elsewhere.

As Chadron becomes a spoke in the KAB hub, the recycling center has adjusted, in part, by reducing time spent sorting cardboard and paper as WRC accepts different material blends. Judging by the initial collection, upcoming events are expected every two weeks this summer. Residents were encouraged to choose from categories KAB accepts with everything bagged. Going forward, recycling center staff hope to promote education and encourage pre-sorting for a more streamlined process.

There was no overt opposition to resuming recycling, at the Chadron meeting. However, an audience member did help flesh out details, including questioning whether it would be wise to spend time and fuel to recycle in Alliance. Like questions of a collection site and transport, people quickly brainstormed ways to secure funding, especially to pay for fuel costs initially. 

Chadron area residents are in the driver’s seat with KAB’s recycling center the destination. This summer is a prime opportunity to establish recycling options that fit the community and its college.