Ann Hansen said the recycling efforts by the Washington County Recycling Association are unique for Nebraska.
"There are no recycling centers of our size that we know, that the Nebraska Recycling Council (NRC) knows of, in Nebraska that is all volunteer," said Hansen, who is secretary for WCRA.
Hansen said she'd reached out to the NRC to see if they knew of any other recycling organization in the state that was all volunteer. Through those conversations, she said an NRC member encouraged her to submit applications for WCRA for awards the council gives each year at its fall conference.
On Oct. 5, the NRC awarded WCRA "Waste Diversion Project of the Year" because of its 100 percent volunteer recycling process and community involvement.
WCRA was formed in 1990. At its facility on Third and Colfax streets in Blair, the organization recycles a variety of materials such as water bottles, soap jugs, newspaper, cardboard, tin, aluminum, glass and paper. Through its nearly three decades of recycling, the organization has processed more than 15,000 tons of material through about 240,000 volunteer hours.
Each type of material must be sorted and baled according to its type, such as different kinds of plastics and metals, to be processed by recycling centers correctly. Hansen said relying on volunteer work rather than machine sorting ensures each piece of material is sorted, then bound and baled, in the correct spot.
She said Firstar Fiber Corporation's recycling center in Omaha, where WCRA takes a large portion of its recyclables, often charges other waste management companies to send their materials there. But because of WCRA's quality control, she said the company pays WCRA for its bales.
"Everything is hand sorted by us and handled meticulously," Hansen said.
Hansen said the majority of the money WCRA receives is given back to the community. By the end of 2018, the organization had donated over $275,000 to county churches, civic groups, school clubs, the Washington County Food Pantry, fire departments and more.
In 2012, WCRA began a scholarship program, which awarded $50,000 to Washington County high school seniors. One of the scholarship requirements is 70 hours of service at the recycling center.
The reciprocal relationship between community volunteers and WCRA donations, Hansen said, is a significant reason the organization received the NRC project of the year award.
"The WCRA is, and has always been, a 100 percent volunteer organization," she wrote in the application. "Comprised of individuals happily and selflessly giving their time and energy, committed to environmentalism and community."