There’s a strong market for secondhand brass giraffes in Spokane. At least that’s what Jim Schrock discovered when his company, Earthworks Recycling, opened its Too Good to Recycle store nearby on Napa Street about a year ago.
“Every single brass giraffe sells as soon as we put it out,” Schrock said as he walked through the store Monday morning. “And ducks. Ducks are good, too.”
The store is a new addition to Earthworks Recycling, which Schrock opened on April 1, 1980.
Although he may have opened his original business to the strains of the theme from “Sanford and Son” – a sitcom about a widowed junk dealer, his son and the salvage business they run – that wasn’t his experience.
“No, I never worked with my dad,” Schrock said, “but my mom and dad did give me some money to get started.”
As a child, Schrock said he often stopped by the dump near his hometown of Hartline, Wash., to scrounge for reusable stuff together with his dad and uncles.
“It was just something we did on the way home,” Schrock said.
Earthworks Recycling has been at Broadway Avenue and Napa Street from the beginning; Schrock even lived at the site at one point.
From its humble beginning – mainly recycling pop cans and newspapers – Earthworks now recycles pretty much anything it can, from flat-screen televisions to bicycle parts, to metals, batteries and plastics.
The recycling lot may look unorganized at first glance, but there’s a system to the madness.
Copper and other nonferrous metals are sorted into huge containers by type.
Computers and TVs are stacked high on pallets, wrapped in plastic and stuffed into a semi trailer.
Printers are packed separately.
Iron and sheet metal are squeezed together and baled, just like cardboard and plastic bottles.
“Every week we ship five semi loads of recyclable materials out of here,” Schrock said. “And we only generated about two cubic feet of trash.”
Schrock got into the recycling business for environmental reasons and to make a living.
At one point, before curbside recycling, Earthworks offered to pick up and recycle newspaper for $2 a year.
“Would you believe people thought that was too much?” Schrock said, laughing. “They didn’t want to pay that when they could just put the papers in the garbage.”
Electronics are processed through the state’s E-Cycle program, which Schrock said manufacturers pay for.
“It’s a way to make sure components are disposed of in the proper manner,” Schrock said as he watched one of his staff stack TVs and computers onto a pallet.
Earthworks employs 15 full-time workers, including some with disabilities hired through the organization The Artisans.
Thinking and acting local is at the top of Schrock’s list of priorities, even when the recyclables move off the lot.
“We can get rid of most of it here in Spokane,” Schrock said, “except for steel. We have to haul that away.”
The Too Good to Recycle store holds hundreds of license plates, barrels for composting and rainwater collection, plastic buckets, household goods and decorative items, and gardening equipment, among many other things.
“We have the start of Spalding Auto Parts for lawn mowers,” Schrock said, gesturing at a smaller electric model. “We think that’s the world’s oldest electric lawn mower.”
A typical day brings a steady trickle of people dropping off microwaves, pop cans and all kinds of cardboard, as well as a few less-savory types trying to pull a fast one.
“They are always looking for the newest person on the staff if they are trying to pull something funny,” Schrock said.
People show up with metal items stolen from cemeteries, copper wire and other things they can’t quite explain how they acquired.
“We recognize many of them by now and we’ve gotten rid of the sketchiest types,” Schrock said. “Anything we can do wrong we’ve already done wrong. It’s hard to sneak something by us by now.”