Tom DeVivo is part of the third generation of the DeVivo family in the waste industry, and Tom’s son, John, is the fourth generation working for the company.
It all started in 1937 when Tom’s grandfather, Patrick DeVivo, founded Willimantic Waste Paper in Connecticut. He focused on recycling metal, rags and paper, as well as tires and glass.
Patrick passed the business on to his son James in 1970. Now James’ wife, Mary Lou, is the company president, while Tom and his brother, Tim, are vice president and treasurer. The company operates with about 250 full time employees and another 15 to 20 part time college students who work during the summer.
Tom said that working in a family business has been interesting. When they were younger, both he and his brother occasionally quit their jobs – or their father fired them – but they always came back. Now, he said they all cross-train so they all know each other’s jobs in case someone needs time off, but “we try not to step on each other’s toes.”
“Tim and I moved the company more broadly into waste,” Tom said. Willi-Waste, as the company is familiarly known, is now a full service solid waste recycling facility that is constantly looking forward to see what new products are on the market that might be recyclable.
“Now it’s laundry detergent bottles,” Tom said. In the future, he thinks mattresses might become more recyclable, if it becomes cost effective for the company through stewardship programs. According to Tom, while the recyclable materials in a mattress probably won’t pay for the labor involved in recovering them, stewardship programs might make recycling them viable for Willimantic.
“We are trying very diligently to be on top of the next technology and product packaging, and be ready to recycle it.” Not that long ago, computer cards were desirable as a recyclable product, but as those disappeared, recyclers had to find other materials to take the place of those cards.
“We’re always looking,” Tom said. He thinks that Willimantic may be able to recycle carpets in the future, but one problem is that not all carpet material is desirable. Nylon carpets could be recycled, but right now Tom isn’t aware of any buyers for the recovered materials from polyester or blended carpets.
“If the cost is negative, you’re better off looking at disposal,” he said. “It has to have at times a positive market.” There might be a charge to the consumer, as is the case for single-stream recycling, “but it has to have value to process.”
Willi-Waste used to run two dual-stream facilities, but that was recently combined into one single-stream facility. Tom explained that the dual-stream facilities were functioning as single-stream because the material sometimes became mixed in the trucks, and people weren’t always careful about which material went into which bin.
“You have to make it easy for the consumer and for the business,” he said.
Another upside to converting to single stream is that the auto-load trucks used for picking up single-stream containers are much safer for the workers.
However, one problem with single-stream recycling is the quality of the incoming material, and he’s been seeing a higher percentage of waste material being picked up with recyclables.
Willi-Waste specializes in working with residential customers and municipalities, servicing 75,000 homes, as well as small business. But the company also picks up C&D material – as much as 200 to 300 tons per day, 5 or 6 days per week. Tom noted that while C&D is very busy at this time of year, that business slows down considerably over the winter.
Tom said that the one thing he doesn’t like about the business is when they lose a customer because that customer has gone out of business, “because you’ve lost them forever.” On the other hand, when a customer is lost to a competitor, “you can work on getting them back.”
One of the recent challenges was the change in the standards for fiber and plastic materials imposed by the Chinese government. Since China is a big player in the market, those changes caught recyclers off-guard since they had all been complying with established industry standards.
“We strive every day to make quality products,” Tom said, and they’ve adapted to the new standards. “If you make consistent products, people come and shop at your store.”
While he enjoys the business, Tom said that one of the best things about the job was that, “you meet a lot of interesting folks,” and that he gets “a lot of satisfaction that we are helping to create jobs in the environmental sector.”
And of course, he enjoys finding that next new thing in recycling. “Composting is right around the corner,” he said. “There are opportunities there.”
Published in the June 2014 Edition of American Recycler News