It's been a busy summer at the NoCoMo Industries sheltered workshop in Maryville where a new conveyor/sorting line and other improvements have enabled the plant, which embraces a growing recycling operation, to dramatically increase production.
The equipment was installed this spring after the workshop, which provides employment for workers with developmental and cognitive disabilities, received a $100,000 grant issued jointly through the state departments of Elementary & Secondary Education and Natural Resources.
Workshop General Manager Nicki Samson said a second recycling line, along with two additional vertical bailing machines and a new skid loader, have allowed the workshop to triple its processing capacity.
The added productivity, she said, became necessary in the wake of an agreement with Nodaway County's Porter Trash Service, which is now supplying the workshop with large volumes of recyclable waste, including paper, cardboard, tin, aluminum and several grades of plastic embracing everything from milk jugs to bubble wrap.
Two things NoCoMo does not recycle are fabric and glass. For a while the workshop tried collecting used clothing for sale to fabric mills, but Samson said many donors wanted their used clothes given away to people who needed them to wear.
In addition, she said, the operation competed somewhat with a similar collection effort by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Nodaway County, which Samson urged the community to support.
As for glass, Samson said broken bottles simply create too many hazards for workers who may lack the requisite physical skills for handling such items.
In addition to recycling, workshop employees also perform piecework fabrication and build wooden transport pallets for area manufacturing plants.
According to Samson, ramping up recycling volume has allowed the state-assisted workshop to boost revenues despite a steep decline in prices, which she said are down about 60 percent from last year.
In the first six months since partnering with Porter in January, NoCoMo separated, processed, bailed and sold more than 629 tons of material — 291 tons during the first quarter of 2012 and 338 tons during the second quarter.
Additional cash flow, Samson said, has allowed the workshop to invest $9,500 of its own money in still more equipment, including industrial scales and material bins. Other recent improvements include new lighting throughout the Newton Street plant and safety guard rails paid for with a $28,000 grant from the Gladys Rickard Charitable Trust.
Adding a second line for recyclables means there is currently plenty of work for NoCoMo's 45 "certified" employees (those with disabilities).
Recent departures have created vacancies, said Samson, who is seeking as many as six eligible full-time or part-time workers in order to bring the workforce up to full strength.
"We could all have four arms and not be able to catch up right now," she said.
Besides increasing production, Samson said the new line has improved the workshop environment by giving employees a "dignified way" to sort materials. Instead of hand- sorting paper, plastic and metal from vast piles of waste, workers now simply place items in the appropriate bin as they move by on a conveyor belt.
Page 2 of 2 - After sorting, paper, metal and plastic are crushed into large, rectangular bales and moved by forklift to a loading dock. Samson said NoCoMo currently markets material to ten different brokers who, in turn, sell it to processing mills. The bales are carried away from the workshop by 18-wheelers that each carry a load weighing 40,000 pounds or more.
Though the deal with Porter has significantly increased the amount of material coming into the workshop, Samson said she is looking for more.
She said she is hopeful that a School Recycling Challenge currently being organized by the Northwest Missouri Regional Solid Waste Management District will add additional volume.
"Our goal is to be the biggest recycler in northwest Missouri," she said.