TRICO Opportunities still hoping for post office recycling

CHERYL PODNER PREPARES edge protectors for a local manufacturer at TRICO Opportunities Inc. in Kingsford. The private not-for-profit company has been working since 1968 to arrange employment for persons with disabilities in the area. (Jim Paul/Daily News photo)

KINGSFORD — With potential changes to the way area mail is processed and handled, TRICO Opportunities Inc. is hoping the U.S. Postal Service will once again consider disposing of undeliverable mail at its recycling operations.

TRICO, a private not-for-profit company, has been working since 1968 to arrange employment for persons with disabilities. TRICO serves Dickinson and Iron counties in Michigan and Florence and Marinette counties in Wisconsin.

Services that TRICO provides include vocational evaluations, job development, students in transition program and placement sites. They partner with Michigan Rehabilitation Services, Wisconsin Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, Northpointe and the Dickinson-Iron Intermediate School District, among others.

TRICO also receives funds through fund drives and solicits businesses for donations.

TRICO started small, working out of a church on Brown Street in Iron Mountain. In those early years, participants performed tasks such as building bird houses and routed signs. Through the years, TRICO would grow and move several times, ending up at its present location at 610 N. Hooper St. in Kingsford.

NATHAN RAKE operates a document shredder at TRICO Opportunities in Kingsford. (Jim Paul/Daily News photo)

Production Manager Pete Rossato describes TRICO as growing and shrinking at the same time. In the past, TRICO had up to 100 participants and at one time a shop that built wooden pallets and a sewing operation that made filter bags for the Tilden and Empire mines.

Changes in the industry forced TRICO to cease its pallet operations, Rossato said.

“For the longest time we had a lot of contracts in the Milwaukee and Chicago areas which, of course, freeways make a world of difference and there a lot of companies making pallets in the areas of, like, St. Louis, things of that nature and we just couldn’t compete with the trucking, so we lost a lot of those contracts,” he said.

In 1995, TRICO began offering document destruction followed by general recycling of all fiber products in 2001.

TRICO now has about 30 people on the payroll and another 12 students. Along with recycling fiber products and document destruction, TRICO participants perform tasks such as lawn care, cleaning the Dickinson County courthouse and Ford Airport and contract work for local manufacturers.

Many area businesses use TRICO’s document destruction to dispose of sensitive materials. The general public can also drop off newspapers, magazines, hard- and soft-cover books, office paper, junk mail and cardboard.

TRICO is able to bale and sell the materials to paper mills, which helps offset the costs of programs and services offered.

In addition to the on-site tasks, TRICO does community-based work and some participants are placed with area businesses for job experience.

Rossato said while some of them are able to land a more permanent job, others stay with TRICO, where they can continue to earn a wage and be among their peers.

Rossato has been with TRICO since 1989, starting as a job coach. He said helping people with disabilities progress as far as they can is the most rewarding part of his job.

Since 2003, TRICO has had an off-and-on relationship with area post offices and the Kingsford processing facility. Though no formal contract was in place, TRICO has been available whenever needed to take undeliverable material at no cost.

Rossato said that TRICO used to receive up to six tons of material a month between the Iron Mountain post office and Kingsford processing facility, a significant amount of its volume at the time.

But TRICO last processed undeliverable mail in 2017. Despite TRICO being only blocks away from the processing center and willing to pick up materials for free, the Kingsford facility now ships undeliverable mail to Lower Michigan, Rossato said.

Rossato says other than a letter in 2021 saying the Postal Service did not require a recycling facility in Kingsford, no explanation has ever been offered on why USPS will not use TRICO’s services.

While getting the materials back may not result in TRICO hiring more participants, it would mean more work for current participants and help fund operations.

U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman, R-Watersmeet, along with U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., and local lawmakers have been called upon to possibly help get postal recycling restored.

The public, meanwhile, is invited to drop off paper and cardboard recycling 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. A fee is charged for document shredding.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $2.99/week.

Subscribe Today