Asheville Waste Paper Co. Inc.
Asheville Company Was Pioneer In Recyclying Business
By Paul Johnson
Fifty years ago Carl V. McMahan notices the bits of paper and metal he was picking up as a garbage truck driver for city of Asheville and saw the markings of a novel business.
So McMahan traded in the Model A Ford for a 2-ton truck and spent $150 on a hand press that would crush scraps into bales. When McMahan launched Asheville Waste Paper Co. in July 1941, his idea of taking trash and putting it to a productive use struck many as far fetched.
"When my father started the business, if you asked the average man on the street what recycling was, he wouldn't know," said 63-year old Paul McMahan, son of the company founder and now president of Asheville Waste Paper.
Today, the elder McMahan is considered a visionary, a man who predated an age when recycling would become a common practice in the family kitchen and corporate mill.
The small operation McMahan started in a shop alone Depot Street has evolved into a company with a 30,000-square-foot facility along Riverside Drive where mammoth machines crush and bale paper, aluminum cans and cardboard just a stone's throw from the French Broad River.
As the ecology movement has made in-roads into people's awareness of the environment, Asheville Waste Paper has turned into a nerve center for recycling.
Asheville Waste Paper's main customers are mills that take the recycled paper and turn it back into pulp, a demand that should continue to increase.
"All new mills are being built as recycling mills," McMahan said.
Environmental awareness on the part of average citizens also has helped Asheville Waste Paper prosper.
"I'd say it has caused our business to grow more in the past two years than it had in the previous 10 years," McMahan said.
Asheville Waste Paper has adjusted by expanding its services, such as having a 24-hour drop-off point for newspaper, to make recycling more convenient. The company also plans to expand into plastic recycling, McMahan said.
But while environmental awareness has boosted the company's markets, it has also diminished the price for it's main product, recycled paper.
The price has dropped because of a glut; as more waste material has been recycled, McMahan said, it has outpaced the amount being used in mills.
The average 1,700-pound bale now brings $25. Two years ago a similare-sized bale brought $35.
"But the market is always adjusting to supply and demand. It will turn around in a couple of years." McMahan said.
The younger McMahan was by his fathers's side from the business' first day, helping load bales as a 13 year old.
In 1949 he became a partner in his father's business and took over the operation when his fater retired in 1962. The elder McMahan died in 1967.
When Asheville Waste Paper began, workers had to manually compress bales, turning out about 2 tons an hour. Now mechanized machines can bale up to 20 tons an hour.
"We didn' even have a forklift until the 1950's" McMahan said. "We loaded everything with a hand truck."
Asheville Waste Paper remains a family business. McMahan's wife, Thelma "Buzz" McMahan and daughter Annette Pace, are both vice presidents.
The company will mark its anniversary with an open house from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 20. The timing is significant, McMahan said -- Earth Day, the annual celebration of the environment that emphasizes the importance of recycling.