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Recycling Pro Beau Peck Pushes the “Zero Waste Envelope”

Recycling Pro Beau Peck Pushes the "Zero Waste Envelope"

The 2020 Waste360 40 Under 40 award recipient discusses what it takes to make zero waste programs work and shares insight for youth considering a career in solid waste.

Beau Peck started with The Pro Recycling Group in the Pro Baler Services division as a service technician but has since worked his way around the company, which provides recycling services to the manufacturing and warehouse industries across seven states and distributes waste and recycling equipment. 

Peck even had a short stint in college studying meteorology, but soon returned to his roots—he grew up in a family of waste management pros. Since his initial career entry, he’s rolled up his sleeves and dove in deep. 

Today, he is the director of marketing and zero waste services at Interwest Paper, Inc./The Pro Recycling Group. When he’s not at work or with his wife and kids, he’s typically supporting the Recycling Coalition of Utah as its president—or working events and doing marketing for the Wyoming Solid Waste & Recycling Association.

“To be president of the Recycling Coalition of Utah at 35 is a remarkable achievement. Beau has increased membership, increased sponsorship and has literally taken events and attendance at those events to an entirely new level. He has done all of this while raising a young family and putting in an average of 65 hours per week at his family's company,” says Brad Mertz, executive director of the Recycling Coalition of Utah.

“He is willing to help our nonprofit at any time, day or night. Our organization would provide a public expo on recycling every year. Beau would show up with a semi-load of materials of all types to help educate Utah residents about the importance of recycling. He would have signage explaining what the material was, why we should recycle it and how to recycle it. His willingness to teach the public about recycling and proper solid waste management is unprecedented,” adds Mertz.

The 2020 Waste360 40 Under 40 award recipient sat down with us to discuss what it takes to make zero waste programs work, as well as to describe the company’s business plan that has enabled it to grow exponentially. And he shares insight for youth considering a career in solid waste management.

Waste360: What is Interwest Paper, Inc./The Pro Recycling Group, and what is its role?

Beau Peck: Interwest Paper is under The Pro Recycling Group of companies and is a family-operated business. It is a materials broker and processor for many grades of paper, cardboard and plastics. We operate a large transloading facility in South Salt Lake, Utah, and have a fleet of semi-trucks to collect recycled goods from recycling centers and industrial customers. We also operate a large plastic regrind operation; an in-plant service division for recycling in commercial manufacturing centers for clients with zero landfill goals; and a sales division that sells and services waste and recycling equipment. In short, we operate our companies as one—providing our customers with a full-service solution for all their needs.

Waste360: What was your role prior to your current position as director of marketing and zero waste? And what do you do in your current position?

Beau Peck: Back when I started with the company, I was a service technician in our baler/compactor maintenance division, Pro Baler Services. I worked my way around the company. After about four years as a service technician, I moved into a dual role in sales [with sales being equipment], and I did marketing for both companies. 

Now, I also manage our Bridge to Zero team. I am moving away from traditional sales in my current role and fulfilling the need to grow this program. 

Recycling Pro Beau Peck Pushes the "Zero Waste Envelope"

Waste360: Tell us about your role as board president of the Recycling Coalition of Utah and about the main conversation topics among coalition members.

Beau Peck: The Recycling Coalition of Utah (RCU) is geared toward improving recycling quality and recycling services throughout the state. Our main focus is becoming a resource to the community by standardizing recycling messages and promoting cleaner recycling streams. We are an industry-sourced operation, mainly representing recycling in the commercial sector from curb to processor.

I have been very active with the Recycling Coalition of Utah for more than 10 years as a board member and participant. My main focus now, as president, is assisting with recycling collection events, as well as recycling conferences that RCU puts on yearly. The focus is educating members on changes in recycling markets and promoting outlets they can use to benefit operations.

I recently accepted a part-time position with another nonprofit. I am currently the executive assistant for the Wyoming Solid Waste & Recycling Association, helping the organization with events and marketing.

Waste360: Where did you see yourself headed after college?

Beau Peck: I started with the company when I was 21, about two years into college. At the time, I was unsure of where I wanted to go. Business management seemed like a good route, and a safe route. Though I started out studying meteorology, enjoyed the weather and really liked the possibility of a career where I could be wrong 50 percent of the time and still keep my job.  

I ended up sticking with the business route and not completing my degree. I felt that college was more of a money pit and that educating myself in the real world was a much better fit for me. With a few years already in the waste and recycling industry, I took a break from classes and focused on my career. I obtained a Class A CDL [a commercial driver’s license required to operate any combination of vehicles with a gross combination weight of 26,001 or more pounds] and assisted in growing our local collection routes and worked on growing our businesses.

Waste360: What were you up against in making zero waste programs work, and how did you go about it?

Beau Peck: Zero waste initiatives are the new direction many of our corporate clients are wanting to go. We first started diving into zero waste/zero landfill applications when our customers started to come to us for advice and help. Honestly, at the time, we did not want anything to do with zero waste programs. They can be expensive, difficult to handle and involve lots of research and followup. Financially, it just did not make sense when we put pen to paper with what we would have to charge to accomplish some of the goals we were asked to do. We honestly thought that corporations and businesses would just laugh at us if we started charging for these services. 

Our programs started out by finding new solutions, finding new markets and utilizing a few waste-to-energy facilities to handle the items that could not be recycled. Most of it was trial and error. 

The first time we dumped a roll-off of “trash” on our tipping floor, we thought it would be a simple “bale it and ship it” scenario. We quickly found out we had a long way to go in ensuring that zero landfill does not mean burn everything else that is hard to recycle and bill the customer. It entails segregating items that cause issues for some facilities and really diving in to the last 5 percent of a customer’s waste stream and figuring it out. It takes time and a lot of patience. 

Over the past five years, we have added several clients that are large manufacturers and started to convert operations to zero landfill facilities. 

In 2018, we started to go another route with the zero waste programs. Many of the facilities we work with did a horrible job at separating out items of value and keeping them out of the waste-to-energy streams. You generate a cardboard box and place it in the cardboard baler, not the trash bin—a simple philosophy, we thought. But with labor tight and temporary labor usage on the rise, communicating a zero waste lifestyle to many customers became very difficult. We got to the point where we were training our clients weekly, and even then, they were doing a poor job at recycling. We really felt that we could do better if we just did it ourselves, coming during the night and doing the processing with our own crew. 

In 2019, we launched our first in-plant sustainability crew at a large manufacturer in Utah. We provide 24/7 services, handling all recycling and waste stream items. We call it our Bridge to Zero program, completing the cycle of zero waste and closing the gap of having the right people staffed for the job. Our in-plant service team makes it work for large clients. Our crew handles everything—collection of items, baling and sorting, tracking and billing. Properly managing the whole stream and constantly finding cost-saving ways of doing business daily has made the program a great success. 

Waste360: How has Interwest become more than 99 percent landfill free?

Beau Peck: Reducing waste is completely a team effort. Everyone in the chain of the plant must efficiently do their job to ensure the chain remains unbroke. 

The main reason we are able to remain a 99 percent landfill-free facility is that we do not sort or accept any curbside single stream recycling. We only promote clean stream recycling primarily in the form of source separated materials. We will never go the route of sorting items. We saw this issue before it became a problem for many recyclers. 

We bale all of our floor residues and send them to a waste-to-energy plant. A majority of the materials we ship are mill-ready, with no processing needed. Therefore, the process does not generate much waste.

We do generate some wastes that are not ideal for waste-to-energy plants and send some items to the landfill. This volume is very small, under 1 percent of our total volume that we handle companywide.

Waste360: How has the company grown operations and gained new business?

Beau Peck: We had to change from a mill-direct brokerage company where we did not touch many materials we shipped to a full-scale service company. We had about 10 employees at the time, and we were missing huge growth opportunities. We added a flatbed route for the collection of cardboard bales. Mill-direct shipping was painful. Customers liked us but did not like loading bales on direct trucks—they wanted the bales picked up. Being able to send in a truck and load bales with our own forklift was a game changer for us.

Just over 10 years ago, our Salt Lake yard would only handle about 10 tons per week; currently, we do about 800 tons per week of finished goods out the door. Shortly after we built a flatbed route, customers wanted help with loose materials and plastics, and the rest is history. 

There was a time when we did not own a baler to process materials. So, we moved to a larger facility and installed our first 2-ram baler. Within a few months, our facility was maxed out, and we have grown to our current location, which is more than 5 acres and includes a 14-dock door transload facility, a 2-ram baler and four plastic grinders. We operate our own fleet with six full-time drivers and more than 90 trailers. We now employ more than 55 people and have a blast growing recycling in our area.

Waste360: What have been major advantages of your business plan for growth?

Beau Peck: Survival in our market. If we did not adapt and change, we would likely remain small. We can now handle most any request and do it better than our competition. Having the right team also has been critical in growing our businesses.

Waste360: What is key to launching effective advertising, education and outreach strategies?

Beau Peck: Education in any recycling program is key. And being in front of a customer is the best way we have dealt with any issues. We use more of a hands-on approach. We visit with a customer onsite to discuss issues and educate. It really makes it easy for the customer to get the correct services they need and see issues firsthand. 

Waste360: What would you tell someone just out of school who is thinking about going into solid waste management?

Beau Peck: My grandfather owned a waste hauling business. My father worked for Waste Management, and he started one of the first materials recovery facilities in Utah. So, I grew up around this industry. I also wanted to follow in these footsteps but socially was pushed in other directions. But, I went with my instinct and found what I would tell others that they will likely find, too: I could make a positive change.

Know that being in the waste and recycling industry can be a very good career. Speaking for myself, I thought you had to wrap chains around yourself and a tree and stand in front of a bulldozer to make a huge environmental impact. Not the case. I discovered great achievement in seeing a semi pull a full load of recyclables out of a new recycling center, and I experience satisfaction when I think that if I did not do my job that material would be buried forever. 

So, I would tell people out of school, the solid waste and recycling industry is large and very important to our economy and future. There are many opportunities, and the stigma of it being of a lesser class is just false. And if you are looking for a career that will always be here, choose the waste industry. Humans will continue to produce waste; it is an industry that will change and evolve but will always exist. Talk about job security. This is an industry that is growing in new ways that were never imaginable; opportunities are endless!

Waste360: What is your response to the folks who say recycling is hard and there’s often no money in it?

Beau Peck: In order to survive, you have to be creative in how you operate a business, and it involves a ton of resources. If you are wanting to get in recycling, it is extremely difficult to start up new operations. But don’t let it deter you. 

This is a hard industry, and there will be years that you are broke. Markets go up and down, but if you realize that recycling is not free and acknowledge that there is a cost to this business, you can make anything happen. There is money in recyclables, but know that labor and resources that go into processing and collecting commodities come at a high cost. Recycling is a service industry, and it costs money to operate services.

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