When Martin NoRunner studied ecotourism at the University of Montana, he probably envisioned zip-lining through Central American rainforests, not touring Missoula neighborhoods in his in-laws' old van picking up discarded plastic and glass. But alas, that's what the 27-year-old finds himself doing as part of his budding recycling business.
Last November NoRunner started Intergenerational Equity Recycling, a one-man recycling venture intended to capitalize on Missoulians' desire to recycle despite the state's spotty track record.
"People are used to recycling in bigger cities," he says. "They come here from out of state to go to school, and it's a whole different way of life...They're used to recycling. They grew up recycling. And now they're just throwing everything away."
Business started slow last fall, but then NoRunner began going door-to-door in the university district offering to pick up residents' recyclables—including glass, which, in Montana, largely lands in landfills—for the promotional price of $30 for an entire year. People bit, giving NoRunner a foothold. Since then, he says he's signed up some 75 individual residences and an apartment complex. He's now courting the managers of various condo and apartment complexes around town.
The Great Falls native tosses recyclables in the trailer attached to his green '99 Dodge Caravan, sorts them and drops some off at either Allied Waste or Pacific Steel and Recycling. The glass goes to another new company GreenCrete, which will soon begin making concrete using glass and fly ash. Owner Gary Linton says NoRunner has provided him with some three tons of glass so far, "crucial" to Linton's business getting off the ground.
I.E. Recycling raised its price to a still-cheap $5 a month for the university, Rose Park and riverfront areas. Pickups elsewhere in Missoula cost between $8 and $10.
NoRunner acknowledges that he's not making a living yet, but he's convinced if he expands his client base enough, his business plan will pencil out—in Missoula and beyond.
"Once I get a good established route here and hire a couple people I'm going to try to leapfrog to other Montana cities," he says, "because Montana's pretty much open for recycling."