By Madison McVan
BERTRAM — Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning, 77-year-old David Visser drives to the Bertram Recycling Center from the northern part of Burnet County.
He climbs over the side of a trailer filled with cardboard, flattens the boxes that have built up since his last visit and tosses out the items that don’t belong. When the trailer is full, which happens about every other week, he calls a recycling facility in Marble Falls to come pick it up.
Visser has volunteered with the Bertram Recycling Plant for eight or 10 years — he doesn’t know how long exactly. When he first started, there was a group of volunteers that helped with the sorting and cleaning of the facility. But most of those people have stopped volunteering for one reason or another, and now Visser is one of only two people that run the recycling center. The other volunteer sets out the trash on Tuesdays for city pickup, and Visser handles all of the sorting and breaking down of cardboard.
The center is in need of more volunteers to help with the sorting and maintenance of the facilities. Historically, many of the volunteers have been retirees.
“The challenge is when I go out of the county,” Visser said. “I don’t know many people who can do this job. I had one volunteer that wanted to do it, but he was out of the county the same two weeks that I was.”
Visser travels around the country with his wife throughout the year, in part to escape the summer heat. When he comes back from vacation, he often has to spend a few days catching up on work at the recycling center.
The center could also use someone to walk around the property and pick up loose trash.
“Someone to police the area, maybe an hour a week, and pick up the trash,” Visser said. “The paper blows out, and people don’t pick it up. So that’s the two things, is policing the area and having someone that could go through and mash down the cardboard so that it can be picked up.”
He estimates that the plant has been open for about 30 years. It was founded by Ken Odiorne, the first mayor of Bertram after its incorporation. Visser said that Odiorne officially announced his retirement three years ago, but didn’t actually stop volunteering until two and a half years later.
“We had a single fellow, Ken Odiorne, that did everything,” he said. “He was it. Somewhere around then is when I volunteered to help him. In some ways, there was more work then than there is now.”
Work is easier now because in the past, volunteers had to sort out the materials like paper, plastics and metals and place them in separate barrels. Eight months ago, the center acquired large receptacles that don’t require the materials to be sorted before pickup.
In past years, a group of older women sorted the different materials into barrels. But since the facility switched to the larger receptacles, the only sorting that needs to be done is removing plastic bags from the containers and separating the cardboard from other materials, since the cardboard is stored and recycled separately.
“The ladies that we had before, they can’t get up in [the cardboard trailer],” Visser said. “We have specific needs, which is someone that can crawl in there and break down the boxes and tromp it down and separate the plastic from the cardboard.”
The recycling center is located on the property of the old Bertram water storage tank, which was previously used as shelter and storage for the volunteers that hand-sorted the materials. Now, a sign inside the tank reads “Do not use tank for anything” and directs people to the containers outside.
Visser doesn’t have any immediate plans to retire from volunteering, but admits that with a little bit of help, he might reduce the number of days he drives down to the center.
“The reason I do it is because I just feel better about it as a person,” Visser said. “Our trash that goes to the landfill is one-third of what it was before we were using the recycling. And we’re not crazy-religious about it like some people are, using every little cap. We throw some stuff away that we could recycle. But the fact that we’ve reduced what goes to the landfill by two-thirds makes you really want to do this.”
The Bertram Recycling Center is located in downtown Bertram, at the end of N. West Street. It is always open for anyone to drop off recyclables.
Those interested in volunteering at the recycling center can call Visser at (512) 355-2509.