Spotlight: Gary Gilliam, Manager of our recycling facility, Resource Management

Have questions about the recycling process?

Meet Gary Gilliam!

Gary is the site manager of Resource Management in Earth City and has been in the waste business for 45 years.  Resource Management is known in the industry as a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF).  This is where all the recyclables collected in the St. Louis city get sent for sorting.  Resource Management is consistently ranked in the top 50 MRFs in the country!  Saint Louis City Recycles gets a lot of questions about what happens to our recycling, so we sat down with Gary to help shed some light on the recycling process.

What happens to my recycling?

Your recycling is collected in alley recycling dumpsters, along with some recycling rollcarts.  This material is then hauled to the transfer station where it is dumped on the tipping floor and stored until the material can be reloaded into a semi-truck and delivered to my processing facility.  It is then run through a presort where my employees capture large cardboard and remove any non-recyclable materials. After the presort, recyclables are run through a group of machines which sort newspaper, mixed paper, glass, and extract containers for further processing.  Once it has been processed and separated into individual products such as cardboard, newspaper, mixed paper, individual plastics, cans and bottles they are baled together and shipped to markets to be made into new products.

Why can’t I recycle everything?

Sharps are stick hazards when they spill out of a crushed container! Sharps are not recyclable and neither is the container when full of sharps.

Not everything has value once it’s been used.  There are many avenues for recycling, but no single place can process everything that is recyclable.  We are fortunate here in St. Louis to have so many different types of recycling places to take a lot of your things that cannot go in your regular single stream recycling.  (Check out the Saint Louis City Recycles’ database to find places to take items that cannot be recycled in your Blue Bin!)

Batteries can cause fires at the recycling facility!

What happens when people put the wrong thing in their recycling bin?

The material will be sent to the landfill as residual waste.  This is one of the biggest costs associated with this business.  Every day they have to bale the trash and pay to have it sent to the landfill.  So trash items coming through the facility has a greater carbon footprint and is more expensive than if residents threw them away themselves.

What are some of the weirdest things you’ve found?

Mounted Deer Heads (pictured above), Ammunition, Kitchen Sinks, balls from every sport (baseballs, footballs, soccer balls, basketballs, golf balls), Money (quite often),  Animals: turtles, snakes, cats, skunks, opossum, rats, raccoons, mink, owls and hawks (a red tail hawk actually lived in the plant for a couple weeks).

How many employees do you have?

Currently, we have around 60 staff.

If you could give everyone one piece of advice about recycling, what would it be?

“Recycle only the items you know can be recycled. Do not Wishcycle!”

‘Wishcycling’ is when you’re unsure whether an item is recyclable in your single stream system, so you toss it in your recycling bin in hopes that it can be processed.  That causes cascading problems throughout the recycling process.  Instead if you’re unsure just give us a call at 314-772-4646, email us at recycle@stlouis-mo.gov or ask us questions on any of our social media platforms: @STLCityRecycles on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and NextDoor.  Learn more about what items should go in which bin here.

How did you get into this work and why are you passionate about recycling?

While operating a waste company (Gilliam Sanitation INC) from 1972-1995 it was clear to me the amount of waste being landfilled contained high volumes of material which had value.  As recycling markets began to grow and develop into valued commodities, it was such a loss to see valuable products being buried in our landfills.  In 1989 I started the first mandated recycling program in the state of Missouri to change the nature of waste.  I met the owner of Resource Management Companies (RMC) in 1995 when we sold our company and here I am 22 years later.

I’m passionate about recycling because it’s important for so many reasons, like conserving our natural resources. Packaging has changed through the years; for example, before the mid 1960’s, drink containers were predominately made of glass, but then that changed to aluminum cans.  Aluminum is made from an ore called Bauxite and we had large Bauxite ore mines in Arkansas at the time.  But by the 1980’s, we had mined so much of our rich deposit of this precious ore that by the 1990’s we were importing all our Bauxite and we have ever since.  Recycling cans allows us to use the aluminum we already have which allows us to import less of this finite resource.

In the 1990’s federal law established landfill liabilities.  At that time, there were 149 landfills in Missouri and many owners of landfills took advantage of the option of getting out of the landfill business.  Today there are only 18 landfills operating in Missouri!  That makes recycling even more important because we have less space to put our trash.

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