Photo: Guiseppe Barranco/The Enterprise, Photo Editor
When Nickey Aycock set out to make recycling easier for Southeast Texas residents, she didn’t know how soon she’d become the only curbside recycling provider in the area.
The 49-year-old former phlebotomist started her company, NPB Recycling, after she had challenges dropping off her own recycling. She figured if she, as someone who prioritizes recycling, was having so much trouble, people who didn’t care as much likely would opt out instead of putting in more effort.
Nearly two years later, she’s the only person left in Southeast Texas who will pick up curbside recycling. But she says she’s just getting started.
“I thought to myself, ‘If I have to hunt this hard to recycle, the people who are on the edge of whether or not they’re going to recycle, they’re going to throw in the towel,’” she said.
Aycock and her wife and business partner, Stacy Wheeler, 43, always have considered how they can protect the environment in their daily lives, be it by spending days at the beach picking up garbage or making small changes in their daily life to reduce their footprint.
So it’s just an expected next step that the two would recycle. But in mid-2018, the recycling bins they used to take their items to had been moved behind a gate the vast majority of the time.
“My sister told me they’re moved behind a gate after 3:30 p.m.,” Aycock said. “If you work until 5 or you can only do stuff on weekends, it’s closed.”
So Aycock, who lives in Nederland, set out to get her curbside recycling business registered and focused on advertising to and serving Mid-County.
“We were focused on Mid-County but we said on our website we served the whole Golden Triangle,” said Wheeler, a former teacher. “We didn’t know if we would ever expand that far, though.”
They were expanding by a few new customers every couple of weeks until Waste Management announced it would close its Beaumont plant in early August.
Waste Management closed its Beaumont recycling center on Aug. 17, curtailing programs in Beaumont and Nederland, which had dropoff agreements with the national company. The decision to close the center, among others across the United States, was made because of plummeting commodity prices that has made many of its recycling programs unprofitable, representatives said at the time.
For more information:
Contact NPB Recycling at npbrecycling.com, 409-543-0165 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Since that announcement, NPB has expanded by five or 10 customers per day.
“Over the summer, when Beaumont closed, everyone wondered what they were going to do and there we were,” Aycock said.
Krista Dabel, 35, used to drop her recyclables off in Port Neches, then in Nederland when the Port Neches dropoff closed and finally at Target when the Nederland site closed.
“I decided I have too much to take and deliver to Target every week or two, so I was so excited when I saw their advertisement,” the Port Neches resident said.
Target launched its comprehensive guest-facing recycling program in 2010. The items are collected from the albeit small bins, sent to regional distribution centers and then picked up by a recycling vendor for processing.
NPB Recycling offers month-to-month Golden Triangle recycling pickup for $22.50. The company picks up from residential customers in houses and apartments, as well as small businesses.
Aycock and Wheeler start most days by checking their routes and determining if any new customers need a free 30-gallon bin. After dropping those off, they begin picking up their customers’ recycling, taking breaks to drop off what they’ve collected in the back of their pickup truck before beginning again.
“Tuesdays and Thursdays are our busiest and it takes a good eight or 10 hours,” Aycock said.
On the weekends, they take a truck filled with sorted recyclables, which totaled 2,100 pounds on a recent weekend, to Waste Management’s Houston recycling plant.
The closing of the Beaumont plant, where they used to take the items, has meant that the business now can accept a greater variety of items, including plastics 1-7 instead of just 1 and 2 as well as glass.
“Houston’s not that far really,” Aycock said. “It’s far for just one person to go there, but for a truckload it’s really not bad.”
Dabel said in the few weeks she’s used the service, being able to recycle that many more items has made a noticeable difference in the amount of trash she sends to the landfill each week.
“I just think it’s our responsibility as good citizens to take care of the environment and recycle,” she said.
Even though Waste Management said it wasn’t financially viable to keep the Beaumont recycling plant open, a growing number of Southeast Texans seem to be agreeing with Dabel enough that they’re willing to search out Aycock and Wheeler’s quietly expanding business.
As their business has grown — to at least 150 customers — the couple purchased a new cargo truck that they hope will allow them to make at least 50 stops before needing to take a break to empty the back. They also are considering hiring a third person. They’re not sure what that job will look like yet, because they originally anticipated remaining a two-person operation for several months.
But the expansion may come sooner rather than later.
Aycock said she recently spoke with a local chemical plant interested in the service, but their recycling needs were too big for the couple at the moment. They say they’ve also had conversations with Lamar University about possibly working together when the school’s contract with Waste Management runs out, and Aycock is working on a presentation for Sabine Pass public schools.
Even though they didn’t imagine their business would grow so big so quickly, they’re heartened to see the number of people in Southeast Texas who are committed to recycling, something that is so much more than a job to the two women.
That’s been a pervasive part of the business’s creation, so much so that it’s even clear in the name. The NPB in NPB Recycling stands for No Planet B.
“In every day life people’s plans change and they go to plan b,” Wheeler said. “Well, with the saying, there is no Planet B and we need to take care of the one we have, also it’s just a catchy little idea.”