News 12 Special Assignment: Aiken recycler recycles the workforce, too

Norman Dunagan runs Dumpster Depot in Aiken. (WRDW-TV / June 4, 2012)

Norman Dunagan runs Dumpster Depot in Aiken. (WRDW-TV / June 4, 2012)

News 12 at 6 o'clock / Monday, June 4, 2012

AIKEN, S.C. -- What was once was an old beer warehouse is now a bustling city of crates crammed with beer cans. There's also plastic strawberry containers and industrial hydraulic fluid buckets, too.

Overall, they're just a couple samples from a potpourri of garbage that's stacking up ready to be recycled. But what's unusual about this recycling facility is its workforce that zips around all day on forklifts. They are recyclers who have been recycled themselves.

"We've got guys that came in that hadn't been given a lot of opportunity and to watch them grow is an amazing thing," said Norman Dunagan, who runs the 14-man operation off York Street in North Aiken.

It's a start-up recycling company cleverly named Dumpster Depot.

Dunagan was, by all accounts, a Fortune 500 guy.

"We thought that I would never leave Frito Lay. I was successful with Frito Lay -- one of the top districts within Frito Lay," Dunagan told News 12.

But in an unexpected money-saving maneuver, Frito-Lay laid Dunagan off.

"So, I decided that, at that point, that we would be looking to own our own business," he recalled.

He finally collected the capital to establish Dumpster Depot around 2002. The recycling business took off two years ago, despite the recession.

"We feel like we've taken advantage of a downed market. We came in to recycling at the same time that companies were looking for ways to save money," Dunagan said.

What Dumpster Depot does is an intricate process. It hauls in waste from businesses and manufacturers, reprocesses and bales the waste and then sells the recycled material back to other manufacturers for profit.

That's the reason piles of industrial rubber at the facility is so valuable. Old, dirty carpet might as well be lined with gold.

Ultimately, it’s ton after ton of waste that won't end up in a landfill for eternity. Dunagan says Dumpster Depot kept 8,000,000,000 pounds of waste out of landfills this year.

It's all made possible by workers like Elijah Pontoon.

"I like it a whole lot. It gives me a different insight on recycling," Pontoon said.

Pontoon has lived in Aiken most of his life. He says he's been through hard times, but now, has stability.

"We pull people in, you know, they might have a little record, you know. Norman, he's open-hearted. He doesn’t look at it as far as their past history. He just does as far as what they do in here for Dumpster Depot," Pontoon said.

Some of the workers even have criminal records.

"We've got people that we hired here that were having trouble getting a job because of things that were in their past, and we're not looking toward the past, we're looking toward the future. This whole recycling that we're doing is all about looking toward the future," Dunagan said.

Workers without cars can walk to work. Current employees can refer others to stop in and meet Dunagan and land a job, as long as they're ready to work hard.

"You can't teach passion. You have to hire passion and that is the truth. I feel like if you give people the opportunity and give them the leeway to succeed, they'll out-perform your expectations," Dunagan said.

Pontoon says he's gained valuable management skills that could easily land him a job higher up the totem pole somewhere else, but without question, he says his future is at Dumpster Depot.

And Dunagan says the future of Dumpster Depot looks bright.

Additionally, he says large manufacturers and big-box stores already recycle through big contractors. That's why Dumpster Depot goes for the small and middle-sized businesses and manufacturers -- from a yogurt shop in Evans to a carpet store in Augusta.

His plan is to expand to Augusta, so his company can have a job impact there, too. All the while, he says the environmental impact is purely a bonus.


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