When Bulloch County stopped taking plastics at its recycling convenience centers, Jon Cook refused to send his family’s accumulation of bottles and jugs to the landfill. The lifelong tinkerer, also a Marine and building contractor turned-church missions director, started experimenting in his home shop.
His startup company, Boro Recycling LLC, is now online at Bororecycling.com with garden stepping stones, ornamental wall hangers and even refrigerator magnets Cook has made from plastics – and in some products also glass – reduced to powders and fused together. His curbside recycling service for plastics, glass, aluminum cans and other metal cans began accepting subscribers in Statesboro and a few nearby subdivisions Thursday, and Cook started his weekly collection rounds Monday.
“Back in September I learned that the county wasn’t going to be accepting plastic recyclables anymore,” Cook said. “My family, we’ve always been avid recyclers from the perspective of we need to teach our kids conservation and stewardship, all those good things to instill in a child, and we had all our plastics saved up and I couldn’t in good conscience just go toss it in the bulk waste and hope for the best.”
He and his wife, Jill, who is a teacher in the Bulloch County Schools, and their three children live in a subdivision between Statesboro and Brooklet. Also a former engineering student, Cook was once accepted for Georgia Tech’s School of Aerospace Engineering, but joined the Marine Corps instead.
He came to Statesboro to attend what was then Georgia Tech’s civil engineering program at Georgia Southern University. But he started “working his way through college” with the building design and contracting firm Lavender & Associates and eventually left his college studies behind to work with Lavender full-time.
After becoming more involved with his church, Cook felt that his place was in the ministry, and eventually worked for his church part-time while operating his own carpentry-based contracting firm. Now he is full-time missions director for Grace Community Church. This role includes work in local mission efforts through organizations such as Fostering Bulloch, Safe Haven and ACTS, in addition to planning for some international missions.
So Cook readily seeks a local, hands-on approach to a larger problem. He has “always tinkered and built things” and “even dabbled in the patent process a time or two,” he said.
Considering how he could recycle plastics into something saleable, he went out to his shop.
“After several prototypes, even a trip to the emergency room, I came up with some machines to – at least on a small scale – process all of the plastic that we could produce and then started getting it from neighbors and friends and realizing that hey, maybe this could be a part of the solution to the plastic waste problem that we have,” Cook said.
The E.R. trip was for a gash to his hand. He is able to laugh, now, about being compared to Tim Allen’s fictional Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor – wife named Jill, three kids, and known to the E.R. staff.
Cook plans to use a building in Candler County for storage and processing of the materials. So far he has been unable to find a location in Bulloch County that would comply with the county’s zoning requirements for manufacturing facilities, he said.
For this story, he didn’t reveal much about the machines or processes he has developed, except to acknowledge that heat and, more obviously, molds are involved.
He showed the reporter jars of powders, coarse to fine, produced from plastics and glass. Some of the items he has made, such as decorative wall hangers and refrigerator magnets, are made from plastics alone. But Cook adds glass to the plastic to give weight to objects such as stepping stones, which are offered for sale via his website for local delivery, and bricks, which he has produced only as a prototype. In other experimental work, he has used grit made from the recycled materials to make a slip-resistant coating for wood, and as a coating for metal objects.
Hiring a patent attorney to explore patenting his machines and processes would also be in the future, he said.
Curbside for now
But for now, “Phase 1” consists of developing his curbside collection service into a sustainable business. He started a pilot program in mid-October, collecting recyclables from a few homes in a neighborhood off Fair Road. This let him work out some things, such as how much material to expect from an average family, he said.
Then Cook opened the service last week to anyone in the city limits, and some subdivisions, who is willing to pay. Offering a once-a-week pickup for a monthly fee of $28, he had signed up 30 to 40 households as of Friday, he said.
Each household is slated to receive a blue, plastic 25-gallon container, like a small garbage can, with the Boro Recycling logo.
After distributing “20-something” he ran out of these and ordered 50 more, which he expects to arrive this week, he said. Meanwhile, some customers will be getting bags with the logo on them until the containers arrive.
This is a single-stream service, meaning all of the accepted items go into the container together. Cook intends to sell the metal to another processor. He will not collect cardboard or paper.
Yes, he intends to take all recyclable plastics. The county service took only Number 1 and Number 2 plastics, the stuff of soft-drink bottles and milk jugs, respectively. But potentially recyclable plastics range from Number 1 to Number 7, and Cook said he can process all of these.
A further phase of his business development would be to expand to a larger processing facility so he could potentially accept the volume the county would collect if its convenience centers started accepting plastics again.
But that appears to be a long way off. So far Cook employs only himself and an occasional helper. As of last week he had collected and processed about 1,500 pounds of plastic. County officials told him the countywide volume would be about 50,000 pounds a year, he said.