The story of MRN Patron Member Ford Schumann’s journey from environmental advocate to recycling business entrepreneur.

From its humble beginnings in the late 1980s picking up newspaper in a Volkswagen bus and an eight-foot trailer to a full-service, non-profit recycling facility, Infinity Recycling, Inc. has grown into a respected organization serving communities in Kent, Queen Anne’s, Caroline, and Talbot counties. And it all started with Ford Schumann who, after waging a successful fight against a trash incinerator as president of a local environmental watchdog organization, saw a need to turn the current volunteer-run recycling collection program into a comprehensive public service that would also be a job maker.

On Thursday, July 22, we talked with MRN Patron member Ford Schumann about his journey from president of a local Kent County conservation watchdog organization to the founder of Infinity Recycling, Inc.

Listen in below to the full conversation and see the recap for snippets of our conversation:

RECAP

There was a time when we thought resources will last forever but now it’s becoming obvious that we are running out of resources or they’re harder to get. We want to save our resources instead of throwing them in a hole or burning them up. For every pound of product you have, there are 52 pounds of waste created in the manufacturing process and you get to avoid all that by recycling your pure material.

The inspiration behind Infinity Recycling: Ford has always been interested in environmental issues and has been recycling and composting for years. After moving to Chestertown, MD with his wife in the 1970s, he joined a local conservation watchdog organization, where he was eventually elected president. Not long after he became president, the county commissioners invited a national firm to build a trash incinerator leading to a two-year fight against the plan which Ford’s conservation group feared would severely impact its own recycling efforts. It was also during this time that Ford started experimenting with curbside recycling: “We had a couple towns compete with each other to see who could recycle the most newspaper per capita and that gave me a taste of what a little more serious recycling would do. I realized that our volunteers really couldn’t do anything more. The county was recycling three percent and our volunteers were overwhelmed so that’s when I started up Infinity Recycling.”

The beginning and the process: Infinity started out of a backyard shed on Ford’s farm and included a Volkswagen bus and a little eight-foot trailer. By the next year, Infinity moved to pickup trucks and longer trailers eventually adding to its current fleet of several straight trucks, two compactor trucks for cardboard service and three split packer trucks for household curbside service. The non-profit is currently housed in two warehouses — once used to repair fire engines – and a separate shed built to house bottles and cans.

Infinity uses a dual stream system, separating paper from the bottles and cans. The material is brought back to the warehouse which is divided into two streams via a sorting machine by two crews and, with exception of glass, baled. Watch the process here.

Infinity’s services include residential curbside pickups, office paper and corrugated cardboard recycling, bars/restaurant recycling, school recycling, and event recycling. Infinity also offers a scrap buyback program, electronics recycling and compost bin sales.

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Getting the word out: Ford uses some simple tactics for his marketing strategy: “Word of mouth and seeing our containers out on the curb is pretty good. But lately I’ve just found that doing door hangers has been pretty good and it’s a great exercise for me go to a community get on my bicycle and drive all around.” Infinity also offers a range of educational opportunities for the community including contests, recycling lectures to schools and other organizations, workshops and more.

A cool idea and a not so-cool “yuk” problem: When Infinity started getting stacks of left-over pallets that in many cases weren’t reusable, they began to dismantle the broken pallets and put them on out by the gate inviting anyone to take them for free. It’s been amazing to see how fast the wood disappears. On the “yuk” side, they had to take away their collection stations at public landings because the bins were frequently used for discarded fish and other seafood remnants.

What’s next? Ford’s goal for the future is to get more customers interested in recycling as well as more towns involved in the process so he can continue to expand and deliver this valuable service to his community. And as always, Ford continues to look at ways to do things more efficiently. “Part of our deal is to try to keep the material being processed moving right along so we don’t have a great big build up there and we’re getting to the point where I have to rethink our baler. It’s not an automatic tie baler, therefore you almost spend as much time tying it up by hand as you do feeding it.”

Finally, Ford is always up to act as tour guide of his facility. “It’s really fun and people are kind of amazed at how pretty all the stuff looks especially when they think it’s all trash.” Send him an email and he’ll set you up.

Thank you again to Ford for sharing his story. If you’d like to tell us your story, let us know at info@marylandrecyclingnetwork.org.