As the COVID-19 pandemic forced Puebloans to stay home more than they used to, residents have steadily generated plenty of cardboard boxes from online ordering sprees.
"We've had an uptick in business since the pandemic," said Roots Recycling Owner Nathan Harper. "People were getting mail orders and drinking more at home instead of going out so we got a lot of cardboard, glass and aluminum."
Roots Recycling diverted more than 2,000 tons of reusable items from the landfill in 2020 and is on pace to top that amount this year. Almost 1,000 tons of that was cardboard, Harper said, which is the easiest material to recycle.
Most of the business' cardboard goes to a company that transforms it into huge rolls of brown paper. Other cardboard is made into paper to back sheet rock.
All materials are recycled in the U.S.
As one of the only recyclers to take glass in Pueblo County, Roots Recycling has a growing niche. All the glass and other materials collected, from plastics and paper to steel cans, are recycled domestically and do not go overseas.
The closest recycler is Applegate Insulation in Penrose which reuses paper for blow-in insulation used in attics.
"A lot of our fibrous materials are reused in new construction," Harper said.
Puebloans are coming around to recycling more and more. In the four years that Harper has been owner, the business' residential customers have grown from 1,200 to 1,800 and commercial clients have increased from 60 to about 100.
The company got its start in 2009 as We Recycle in Pueblo West. Founder Justin Parker moved the company to its current location at 20 Environmental Drive in Pueblo in 2015.
Harper, who has dabbled in business ownership as a part-owner in the Gypsy Java coffee shop, has also worked in the cannabis industry. He took over Roots in 2018 because he was ready to be his own boss again.
"I really saw this as something the community really needed. We serve customers all over Pueblo West, the Pueblo city limits and out on the Mesa," Harper explained.
Rural drop-off locations are set up in Beulah and Colorado City. A plastic-only drop-off is available in Westcliffe.
The company employs 10 workers and Harper does everything from drive trucks to sorting, some office work and supervising.
"I wear all the hats," he said with a laugh.
Harper said Roots is a bit of a different kind of company. Instead of giving customers a bin to fill, they get two bags. The orange bag holds small cardboard, paper and plastic, while the green bag holds aluminum, metal and glass.
"We've got our customers trained to do half the sorting for us. In efficient countries like Japan or the Scandanavian countries of Finland, Norway and Sweden, people are sorting recyclables into 23 different bins.
"Unfortunately, Americans are lazy and want to throw everything in one bin. Our goal is to divert as much from the landfill as we can and we can reduce the amount of trash an average residential customer generates by 50% or more," he explained.
Customers can schedule pickups weekly, every two weeks, or once a month. Cost ranges from $27 to $57 every three months.
Those who wish to sign up for both recycling and trash collection can set up an account through Roots and the company's partners with Waste Connections will pick up the remaining trash once a week or twice a month for an additional fee.
To find out more, visit rootsrecycling.com or call 719-542-6327.
Chieftain reporter Tracy Harmon covers business news. She can be reached by email at email@example.com or via Twitter at twitter.com/tracywumps.
This article originally appeared on The Pueblo Chieftain: Pueblo's Roots Recycling puts pandemic waste to use