Weather forecasters promised rain and there was plenty of it arriving last Thursday afternoon at the tip of a cold front that sent temperatures for our hometown down to freezing. A rude awakening for November.
Fred Myers Jr. has not been sleeping because I caught him at work Thursday during the cold downpour. He was at his recycling business in Newport just off Highway 25/70. Don’t confuse him with my other friend, Newport attorney Fred Myers, who in his 70s still comes to work also.
Last week I promised to revisit Myers Diversified, which Fred and his family including wife Beverly and their son-in-law Robert Thacker opened a couple of years ago: October 2017. I like the fact the venture is a family one and also good for Newport and Cocke County. It’s a natural partnership.
You recall I reported Fred could only handle two weeks off the job. He is in his young 70s. After ending years of travel helping a leading Mexico businessman establish a gasket business, Fred, who formerly ran the Newport Detroit Gasket plant, did work for about six months at Miller recycling.
Then came the couch. “I’m not going to retire anymore,” he complained. He does have diabetes but it doesn’t slow his thinking down. He relies on the younger energy of Robert and the family.
Maggie Thacker is the youngest daughter, married to Robert. They both are professionals and left their other careers for the recycling venture. Robert, a production manager, worked 10 years with the Mullaneys at Eastern Plating, Mike Mullaney ably operates the plating plant. Maggie worked as a pharmacy manager for Morristown-Hamblen Hospital.
They all could make more money doing something else. Fred does not take a salary. The reward: “We feel healthier, happier, stronger and have time for family.” Oh yes, key is “We are helping the environment.”
Daughter Chasity McCarter left Howmet industries. Beverly you recall started and managed East Tennessee Coffee, still brewing and cooking in Newport. It is now operated by son Rodney.
There are other Fred and Beverly children: Randy Myers, a maintenance dept. employee at ConAgra, and Blake Beason, driver for TMC. He transports loads of aluminum from Alcoa to buyers in the northeast. And there are 14 grandchildren.
During the summers some of the grandchildren pitch in at the recycling plant.
You might not know but Fred graduated in 1968 from Cocke County High School and then helped the US Army fight in Vietnam. He was glad to be a short timer and then joined DG learning on the job and soon ran the total operation.
Robert and Fred agree, “We are just scratching the surface” of the work that could be done in recycling. For instance in this year alone they sent 1.75 million pounds of cardboard to Newport Sonoco to be reused. Imagine the reduction that meant for the local landfill.
Fred brags on Johnny Parks. “He does all my trucking.” And it takes a lot of trailers to keep up with the plastic waste and cardboard. There is virtually no money to be made in picking up paper to recycle but they do it anyway for free.
Myers Diversified has set out bins in a multi-county area and also schools to collect all those water and soft drink bottles. Most end up at the City of Newport recycling center.
Not only does Myers Diversified collect the plastic bottles, it brings the tons of plastic to the city center for baling. “We then buy them.” Crushed milk jugs bring 5.5 cents per pound and all the others 1.5 cents. Money that goes to the city.
Myers Diversified hand sorts and keeps clear plastics as these are the most valuable to recycle. Not everything is a profit for them. But it’s the right thing to do to recycle cardboard which is mostly a break-even deal at current prices a fraction above two cents per pound.
“I’m willing to work with the city and county to help educate people on the value of recycling,” said Fred. They also value their partnership with Keep Cocke County Beautiful. Meka Henderson is executive director.
Soon she will again be asking schools to designate a jug drive week so children can bring plastic jugs to school. Myers Diversified stocks the schools with huge white plastic bags and then picks up the recyclables.
“Our workers feel good about what they are doing.” Fred also sees the benefit of not putting newspapers, magazines, loose papers in the landfill. These are collected at cost to Myers Diversified and sent to WestRock by the 11 cubic feet cardboard Gaylord containers. In six months they sent over 5,100 cubic feet of loose paper to the Knoxville recycler.
The little goal is to make a buck but the real big goal is to keep waste out of the landfill. “It takes a week to collect and load a truck of cardboard to send to Sonoco and we break even.”
Phoenix Closures supplies enough high quality plastic waste from its container lid manufacturing that this waste stream “helps keep us afloat,” said Fred Myers.
Where does all the plastic go? Mohawk carpet manufacturer of Dalton buys certain plastics to be used in carpet backing.
There is a large North Carolina buyer of ground plastics and these are compressed or molded into other forms for reuse.
Bromley Plastics buys specific types of plastic that are used to manufacture composite flooring. That is where a lot of shrink-wrap ends up.
Currently Myers Diversified is getting everything under roof. You see those piles of giant white bags outside. These are filled with strapping and other plastics. Robert hopes to eventually have another structure such as a pole barn to cover and protect. They don’t want any runoff water that might be contaminated.
If you are old enough, like the fellow I will feature next week, Tom Sutton, you might recall when the recycling site was the Wood Products wood turning plant opening about 1953. It became part of Newport through an annexation. After closing, the plant for a time hosted flea markets but its current reuse as Myers Diversified a recycler of others’ paper, cardboard and plastic waste looks determined to last.