For more than 80 years, Asheville Waste Paper Co. Inc. has offered recycling services from its location in Asheville, North Carolina.
The family-owned business launched in 1941 after Carl McMahan, a garbage truck driver for the city of Asheville, noticed the city was sending what he believed was too much paper and aluminum to landfills that could be recycled. McMahan started collecting cans and paper at his home, and he eventually opened a recycling facility in Asheville.
Over the years, the company has stayed in McMahan’s family. He retired in 1962 and passed the business on to his son, Paul McMahan, and Paul eventually passed the business on to his daughter, Annette McMahan Pace, and her husband, Cam Pace. In 2020, Trey Pace and his wife, Gabe, became the fourth generation of the family to manage the recycling business.
Carl started the business by operating a hand-press baler out of a small storefront in town. Today, the company runs a recycling facility on a 2-acre site with two industrial-sized balers, an industrial-sized shredder, several trucks, a truck scale and a team of 13 employees.
Gabe describes the business as “a staple for recycling” in the Asheville community, and the company offers what she calls double-sorted recycling. In 2021, Asheville Waste Paper processed more than 15.3 million pounds of old corrugated containers (OCC) and other paper grades.
“We are one of the only non-single-stream recyclers in western North Carolina,” she says. “We offer shredding services to the public and accept recycling materials from businesses, offices and local families who will drop off their household recycling. We also handle the maintenance and installation of balers for local businesses.”
She continues, “Customer service and strong family values set us apart, and that’s what people find memorable about our company and what keeps them coming to us for their recycling needs.”
Asheville Waste Paper is focused on processing OCC and other paper grades. Gabe says the company is always navigating the ever-changing market dynamics for recovered paper.
“Some months are really good and we have a lot go out. In months where prices drop, we hold material,” she says. “But even in the good times and the bad times, we’re still shipping material. We constantly find outlets to keep revenue coming in.”
The company has two balers it uses on-site as well as an industrial shredder, two guillotines and forklifts. About three years ago, Asheville Waste Paper decided to invest in an 8043HS-10T75 single-ram horizontal autotie baler from American Baler Corp., Bellevue, Ohio, to replace one of its balers, which made operations run much more smoothly with fewer maintenance demands.
In more recent years, Gabe adds that Asheville Waste Paper has seen increased demand for the company’s shredding services. She attributes the increased demand to the pandemic.
“With COVID, everyone was stuck at home. In 2020 when everyone was under quarantine, I feel that’s when a lot of households and businesses used that opportunity to do some spring cleaning,” she says. “We saw a nice influx of documents brought in for our shredding services.”
She says the shredding business has stayed consistently busy the past three years. The company operates a top-feed shredder from St. Louis-based Williams Patent Crusher and Pulverizer Co. Inc. to serve that business segment.
Keeping the family feel
Even though Asheville Waste Paper has grown in size over the years and invested in equipment upgrades, Gabe says the company has continued to sort material by hand rather than rely on equipment such as screens and optical sorters to help with processing.
“We are considered a double-sorted facility, meaning that when the material is brought to us, it is already sorted and then we pick through it by hand to ensure there [are] no contaminants, plastic or waxed coatings,” she says. “All materials we handle are sorted by hand even after they are brought in to us sorted to begin with. This allows us to only process and ship the cleanest materials possible.”
Gabe adds that Asheville Waste Paper clearly communicates what materials it can and can’t process to ensure lower contamination to make it easier on the company’s employees. She says, “We’ve started to get really strict about what’s accepted here. We have a huge sign posted on our yard fence that describes what can and cannot be left on the property. That in itself has really helped us.”
Although it can be particularly challenging for recycling businesses to find and keep workers to hand sort materials, especially in today’s tight labor market, Gabe says Asheville Waste Paper has retained most of its sorters for the past decade.
“We take amazing care of them,” she says. “These guys are the backbone of this company. We provide all their safety gear, OSHA [Occupational Safety & Health Administration] vests and new steel-toed boots each Christmas. We take care of them, making sure everything they need is provided as far as making their jobs safer and easier.”
Since becoming an owner of the company about two years ago, Gabe says she and her husband, Trey, have focused on finding unique ways to support the company’s sorters.
“For instance, in winter if it’s super cold, we make our guys come inside every hour to take a 10-minute break,” Gabe says. “We give them hand warmers and try to really make sure they have anything they need. They are in sun, rain, snow and wind. These people are the backbone of this company, so they are our top priority.
“We maintain a family feeling every day. We have a really close, tightknit group, and I think that is why some of [these sorters] have been here for 20 years or longer.”