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A&P closes, owner looks back

Recycling goal was a better Earth

Paul Lepinski, owner and operator of A&P Recycling in The Dalles for 35 years, was working with his eye to a better earth for future generations and has now retired at age 78.

Mark Gibson and Emily Fitzgerald photos
Paul Lepinski, owner and operator of A&P Recycling in The Dalles for 35 years, was working with his eye to a better earth for future generations and has now retired at age 78.

After serving The Dalles for 35 years, A&P Recycling closes its doors as founder and owner Paul Lepinski retires at the age of 78.

“I feel that I did a good community service over the years,” Lepinski said.

Lepinski’s son, Rick, said that his father got into the recycling business solely because he wanted to help the environment.

“He’s done a lot of great stuff for the community,” Rick Lepinski said.

He recalled a childhood memory of his father pointing to a newspaper and saying that when Rick was older, he’d wish they had more trees. He recalled his father saying the community would have been “’really screwed over if no one recycled’, and we would have been.” Rick Lepinksi said.

“We’re borrowing [the earth] from our offspring who have to live with what we leave them,” Lepinski said.

Lepinski first became interested in recycling work as a child when he helped his father scrap metal after WWII. His career in recycling started after the enactment of the Beverage Container Act, also called the Oregon Bottle Bill, which was implemented in 1972.

The bill was the first of its kind in the United States and provided monetary incentive to recycle cans and bottles, with the goal of reducing litter in Oregon’s public areas.

In 1976, Lepinksi was working as a driver for a beer company, which constantly had bottles and cans in need of disposal. Lepinksi went to his boss and offered to recycle them and his boss agreed on the condition that Lepinski take care of disposing the containers every day.

He worked out of his garage, eventually partnering with then owner of The Dalles Disposal Art Brown, until his business outgrew it in 1981. The business then moved to the old consolidated freight building on Second Street and eventually to A&P’s current location on Webber Street.

“There were some hard times, but we all made it through it.” Lepiski said about his years working in the industry. “If it was easy and profitable, then everyone would do it,” he said. Lepinski retires amidst a lull in the recycling industry, partially caused by China’s decision to halt importation of recyclables on grounds of receiving too much contaminated product. Contaminants most commonly included food waste and non-permitted materials like garden hoses and plastic lawn chairs.

China will now only accept recyclable product with a contaminant level in the 1.5 percent range—and the materials shipped from the West Coast typically had contaminants in the 15-20 percent range, The Chronicle reported in November. The ban, called “Operation Green Fence,” goes into full effect Jan 1st.

“We [the recycling industry] were too lazy to do what was right,” Lepinski says about the contaminated recyclables, adding that the materials being shipped to China were “glorified garbage.”

Another factor in the industry’s current low is that, right now, it is cheaper to make new plastic than it is to clean and repurpose recyclables, so there is little to no value in recycled plastic, Lepinski said.

“Plastic is here to stay,” Lepinski said, noting that it and other recyclable materials are “good products” but that the public needs to be responsible with how they use and dispose of them.

A “perfect storm” paved Lepinski’s path to retirement, his son said, citing the industry lull, an issue with the city, the Eagle Creek fire and his father’s old age as contributing factors.

Part of that storm was literal, as last year’s record-breaking winter was physically difficult on Lepinski. The 72 days of snow “killed me,” Lepinski said, adding that the harsh winter finalized his decision to retire. “My body couldn’t take it no more,” he said.

He put A&P’s building at 280 Webber Street up for sale in Spring with the intention of being out before this winter. He quickly found a buyer, Fun Country Powersports, and A&P intends to be fully out of the space by the end of the month, Lepinski said.

While there are several other recycling depots in The Dalles, the city loses a longstanding community business with Lepinski’s retirement.

“It isn’t me being gone, it’s the industry changing” Lepinski said, adding that the recycling industry is in a place where its processes need to be fine-tuned before it can succeed. And, Lepinski said, it must succeed.

“It’s not what you’re getting in your hand today, it’s what you save for tomorrow,” he said.

The Dalles Disposal offers curbside recycling to their customers and there are several self-haul recycling depots in the area: The Dalles Transfer Station at 1317 West First Street is open 9a.m.-5p.m. and accepts co-mingled, glass and cardboard; Maupin City Park is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and accepts comingled (including cardboard,) colored and clear glass; and Dufur Lions City Park Depot accepts recycling Saturdays 10 a.m. to noon.


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