Ray Peter Meyer, E-Z Recycling, Portland, Oregon. Interviewed March 1998. Courtesy of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries. Transcription by Speechpad.
Ray: Yes. I got into the industry in August 27th, 1947. I answered an ad in the paper for a clerk way master, not knowing what a way master was at that point. But I applied for the job and I was hired, so that got me started in the recycling business.
Interviewer: What was the company?
Ray: Independent Paper Stock company in Seattle.
Interviewer: In Seattle?
Ray: There was a West Coast operation and they had 11 plants on the West Coast. So it was a good place to start and I went on from there.
Interviewer: Now, had anyone in your family ever been involved in the paper recycling services?
Interviewer: This was brand new? What had you been doing before you applied for that job?
Ray: Well, I had gotten out of the service in 1946, World War II. And I went to business college for a year or so and then went to work for the veterans administration in the insurance department. But seeing some of the files had been at the same desk for 20 years, I decided this wasn’t for me, so that’s why I answered an ad in the paper.
Male: Let me pause you guys for one second. Can I get you to take your glasses off for a second? Are you comfortable with them off?
Ray: Yeah, I don’t have any problem with them off.
Male: I’m getting a glare. Why don’t you just go to the question you just answered and start there, about the…this last question.
Interviewer: Ask again?
Male: Yeah. And then we’ll keep going.
Interviewer: Okay. The last question was.
Ray: How’d I get started?
Interviewer: How did you get started?
Ray: I answered an ad in the “Seattle Times” paper. I was looking for another job and this was August 27, 1947. I answered an ad that asked for a clerk way master. I didn’t even know what a way master was at that point but I got the job.
Interviewer: Well, what is a way master?
Ray: Well, he’s a scale person. He weighs in the trucks, and at that time it was the old scale with a balancing beam and you weighed the truck and then you took an imprint of the ticket.
Interviewer: And who was the company?
Ray: That was Independent Paper Stock company, the Seattle branch. And they had 11 branches on the West coast, principally a West coast operation.
Interviewer: Now, how long were you a way master and then what did you do?
Ray: Well, I was up till 1951. And then I was made plant manager of the plant in Tacoma, Washington. It was a new plant that had just been built. And I took over that operation.
Interviewer: Now, what did they do in that plant?
Ray: It was basically just a paper processing. We called them paper stock plants in those days, not recycling. And it was…so we received mixed paper, a lot of it from commercial stores. And it was put on a belt that ran across a series of belts and it was sorted. Cardboard was sorted out. The rest of the paper was considered mixed paper and was baled separately. So really there were only two grades coming across the belt, cardboard or corrugated and the mixed paper.
Interviewer: And you were baling. Were you baling papers?
Ray: We were baling with the old 72-inch economy baler, pit baler, the upstroke baler. And…
Interviewer: Tell us a little bit about how that worked.
Ray: It dropped down into a 20-foot pit and then the platen would come in and…or the top platen would come in, platen would move up and squeeze the bale. And if you didn’t have enough, you had to open it up and give it another shot,
Interviewer: How did the paper get in? Did people push it in or did you use some kind of a piece of equipment?
Ray: No, it was coming from a conveyor on top. Yes. And so, there wasn’t any pushing done. The trucks dumped it onto their original receiving conveyor. And then it went across the sorting conveyor up to a high-level area and then dropped down into the pit baler.
Interviewer: Was safety a big concern then?
Ray: Not really. There wasn’t much to really be aware of. Of course, anytime you have a baler, you have to be careful with your hands and so forth. And the putting through a bale wire, you had to make sure the fella on the other side didn’t poke his eye out. But other than that, there wasn’t a lot of safety factors.
Interviewer: Thinking back over your years in the industry, which are 50 years. You started in 1951?
Ray: Fifty-plus, yeah.
Interviewer: Fifty one this year, 51 years. Could you single out some particular events that you think were particularly exciting or interesting significant to you over that 51-year career?
Ray: Well, it’s been a fun time. I move just often enough and changed jobs often enough that it created something new each time. But it’s always been fun to go to work. And there’s always something changing. And the whole industry has changed considerably. When I first started out, everything was sort of run across sorting belts and they had people sorting the different grades. And then in the ’60s, we went to source separation, where we tried to get the customer to do the sorting and purchase it that way. Now we’re back to sorting lines again.
Interviewer: How did the customers do as far as sorting?
Ray: They did very well. A lot of the grocery chains put in compactors and occasionally you had to get on them about plastic, but they generally did a pretty fair job.
Interviewer: Why then do you think it changed from them separating it to coming back to the belts or to the lines again?
Ray: Well, because of colt mingling. A lot of the companies that were in the…particularly the waste haulers went to colt mingling. And so, they did that. So then the rest of the paper stock firms had to more or less go to sort systems.
Interviewer: You mentioned the upstroke baler and the use of conveyors. Has there been a big change in the kinds of equipment that are used in processing scrap paper?
Ray: Well, of course in the ’70s, the two-ram baler came into play and that’s been a great boon to the paper recycling industry, making our uniform bale and uniform weights. And so, that was a real significant change, I believe. Conveyors of course haven’t changed that much, other than we used to have the old metal receiving belts and now of course we’re back to a rubber or vinyl or they’ve got some nylon, I guess it would be, something heavy-duty. And they’re as strong as the old steel conveyors.
Interviewer: When you became the plant manager, were you responsible for the buying and selling of the scrap paper as well?
Ray: The buying, the selling, the total operation.
Interviewer: The total operation.
Ray: Right. And in fact, in the ’50s when there was a pretty poor market, I was the only one at the plant. I did ran the scale. I did the purchasing, answered the phones, loaded the trucks.
Interviewer: You were a one-man show?
Ray: I was one-man show. And…
Interviewer: Wow. How long did that last?
Ray: Oh, that lasted probably for about six months. And this was during a time when there just weren’t any markets. And in fact, the corrugated market at that particular time, I remember buying from the Heidelberg Brewery up in Tacoma, had a contract for $3 per ton for corrugated. And in order to keep the contract, I had my warehouse filled up, the outside yard filled up and I had to haul it to the landfill and still pay $3 and pay the hauling. So, but I kept the account.
Interviewer: Was that the worst market you’d ever seen?
Ray: That was the worst time, yes. That was about 1958, I believe.
Male: Let me pause you here a second. I want to come in a little closer, Ray. Can you, you know that thing where you talked about doing everything?
Male: I’m going to come in a little closer and if you could start that statement, talk about that, through that whole statement. Talk about that. I’m coming close. It’s going to be a bit of fact.
Ray: Where do I start?
Male: During the time where you were the one-man operation that [inaudible 00:10:22] bad markets.
Ray: Yeah. During…around 1958, there was a real bad market and I was a total operation. I answered the phones, weighed the trucks, did the sorting, loaded the trucks out and operated the whole plant by myself.
Interviewer: The one-man show?
Ray: One-man show.
Interviewer: And how long did that last?
Ray: That lasted for about six months. And that was a real bad time as far as the markets. We were buying corrugated from the Heidelberg brewery, was a contract, and I was paying them $3 per ton. And in order to keep the contract, I had to take…haul it to the landfill. And my warehouse was filled up, my outside yard was filled, but I kept the contract.
Interviewer: And what would corrugated be going for today?
Ray: In purchasing, bale corrugated would be around $40 per ton.
Interviewer: So, $3 to $40.
Interviewer: Wow. Big change.
Male: Can we do, well, why don’t you make a statement that I was paying in 19, whatever, I was paying $3 a ton. And today I’m getting…
Ray: Can we do that on price?
Male: Yeah. Go ahead. It’s historical.
Ray: Yeah. That’s historical. Okay. Yeah, we were paying a $3 a ton for bale, the corrugated, back in the late ’50s during these hard times. The market today we’re selling for a $90 a ton. And so that’s a kind of the difference. But the market has gone up and down over the years. And…
Interviewer: Would you say that that period in 1958 was the worst markets you’ve experienced in your career?
Ray: I would say yes.
Interviewer: And when was the best markets?
Ray: Well, about three or four years ago, when it was 1994, I believe ’95, when the corrugated market went up to close to $200 a ton. That’s been the best I’ve seen.
Interviewer: You had mentioned in your first job or in your job as plant manager and you were handling the mixed rates and the corrugated. There was a lot of newspaper drives and all during the war, what happened to newspaper scrap after the war? Was there still a demand for that?
Ray: Oh yeah. In the Seattle area, when I was there, in fact in Tacoma also, schools would have paper drives and we’d put a trailer out. And they would bundle the newspaper and load it into the trailers. And the schools would go on a project if they needed $1,100, depending upon the price. If the price was $10 a ton, they’d get 110 ton. If the price was $40 a ton, I don’t think it was that high in those days, but the $30, then they’d collect maybe 40 tons. So depending upon what they needed for their project as to how much work they did and how excited the kids got about collecting newspaper.
Interviewer: Has there been any significant change in the way newspapers are cycled then compared to now?
Ray: Yes. In those days it was mainly organizations, schools, churches, Boy Scouts, did the newspaper drives. It was all bundled, had to be bundled because that’s the way it went to the mills. Later years we started baling newspaper. Today, most newspaper for the mills that we supply, they want it loose. And trailers that they dump out at the mill, they use a dumper to dump out these trailers.
Interviewer: Why do they want it loose? Excuse me.
Ray: Mainly because they run it through their system and depends on which mill, but when it’s loose, it goes right into the beater. And there’s no storage. There’s a labor-saving.
Interviewer: Being on the West coast, did you get involved in any export markets for scrap paper?
Ray: The first export market that we experienced was in the 1950s in the Portland area. We were exporting a hundred-pound bales of newspaper. And we used a small baler, was made probably from an old barber’s chair. It was a hydraulic cylinder and you’d stack the newspaper in there and crank up the cylinder and make a hundred-pound bale and tie it with wire. And that was the first export that I experienced as well as tab cards. Tabulating cards were big in those days.
Interviewer: Where was the paper going?
Ray: It was going to Japan.
Interviewer: To Japan?
Ray: That was the only market.
Interviewer: The only market? And did you…was it a direct deal for you or did you go through a broker?
Ray: No, we went through a broker. In those days we always felt there was much less trouble going through a broker. You didn’t have to…if there was a rejection somewhere you didn’t have to go to the far east to reconcile it. So even today, we deal mainly with a broker just for that reason.
Interviewer: Has there been much change in the way paper is exported during your career?
Ray: Well, in those days also with a hundred-pound bales, you had to put them on a cargo Paluch for the steamship companies and you stacked it on the cargo board. And then there was breakbulk, what they call breakbulk loading into the ships. Of course, today everything is containers, and it’s a much easier operation. We had a lot of broken bales in the longshoreman or too agile at picking up bales and they were not too careful and they would knock them off the cargo board loading them. And so we had a lot of damaged paper that we would have to go pick up
Interviewer: The bales today are generally, there’s automatic wire tie equipment on the balers.
Ray: Oh yeah.
Interviewer: And in those earlier times, was the wire done by hand?
Ray: It was, yeah. It was what we call a bale tie. There were different lengths and they had a loop on one end and you put the wire around the bale, tied it off. And so it was all done by hand.
Interviewer: All done by hand? Have you seen much change in the brokerage function in the scrap paper business over the years?
Ray: There’s always…ever since I’ve been at it, there’s been a brokerage. There was very limited years ago and mainly from container box plants that had excess clippings from making the boxes. And so that was the main brokerage in those days. Today, of course, you broker everything directly from the customer to the mill. And so there’s a lot more brokerage today.
Interviewer: Do the consumers of scrap paper, the mills and whatnot, have they ever…has there ever been much of an effort on their part to integrate backwards into the scrap paper business as we’ve seen in some of the steel mills? For example, getting into the scrap business with shredders, is that been something that’s ever taken off at all in the paper industry?
Ray: Yes. There has been some mills that have gotten into the recycling plants, processing plants. I can name a few, Smurfit, the Jefferson Smurfit for one. That’s a mill. They have mills and they also have their recycling division. And there’s some of the other larger mills that have purchased paper plants to guarantee their supply.
Interviewer: Is that something that will continue or it just happens occasionally to meet a particular need?
Ray: I would say it’s probably something that happens occasionally. Some of the mills, that’s the way they like to do it. Other mills would rather buy from brokers and kind of, they rely on them to supply for their supply.
Interviewer: Are there as many companies in the scrap paper business today as there were when you began?
Ray: There’s many more. The Portland area alone, we have about 14 two ram-balers in the area. Back in, when I first came to Portland in 1967, Independent Paper was the main paper recycling plant. There was one other, Missile Bag who used to buy some newspaper, and that was it. That was our competition. So, we pretty much had the market cornered. And that was pretty much that way on the whole West coast.
Interviewer: So the number of companies has expanded. Do you expect that to continue?
Ray: Well, it seems like in our particular area there’s always a new one on around the block, but we’re getting pretty well saturated in our area and I would think there’s not too many more that are going to come in.
Interviewer: Are you seeing any of consolidation or mergers or acquisition for companies to get larger?
Ray: Well, that’s been going on of course. And it just happened again the other day with USA Waste and Waste Management coming together. And that’s a big merger. And I would anticipate there’ll be more mergers. There’s not too many little individual independence around anymore.
Interviewer: What do you see as the future in the scrap paper industry?
Ray: There’s definitely a future for the paper scrap business. We’re always going to need fiber. At different times there’s shortages of fiber worldwide. And so, I think there’s a definite market there and we’re going to be around for a while. The government is requiring a certain percentage of recycled paper to be used and that’s going to continue. And so, I expect it to be a great market.
Interviewer: Would you do it again?
Ray: Oh, yes, very definitely. I love the business.
Interviewer: You’re never going to retire?
Ray: Well, I’m supposedly semi-retired right now but I’m still at work every day and we just took on another facility that I’m responsible for. So, besides my wife doesn’t want me to retire. I’d interrupt her schedule.
Interviewer: When did you first become involved with the Paper Stock Industry organization?
Ray: The old Paper Stock Institute, I had gone to several of the meetings and in the 70 Northwest when they had their summer outings, I was invited. The Independent Paper Stock was a member of the ordinary. And I was invited to several of the outings with golf. However, I joined in 1980 when I set up the E-Z Recycling business, at that point decided that we should be in the Paper Stock Institute. And so we joined at that point. And my first convention was 1981 and it was down in Scottsdale. And so I’ve been going ever since.
Interviewer: Do you think the association provides a good function for the industry?
Ray: Oh, I definitely do. Because now that we’ve become a part of Israel, we have so many more services available to us and it’s just I think every business should be a member. Because you have the Washington DC association there, they are able to take and contact our governmental agencies or senators and keep us in tune with what’s going on.
Interviewer: Just thinking back over your career, right? Think of stories, interesting things that might’ve happened that were kind of an unusual or different that you might want to share with us?
Ray: Well, the only…right off the top I can think of, something that happened in the old Independent Paper Stock plant in Portland. A fellow came in one day with newspaper in the trunk of his car and his wife was in the car with him. And so he weighed in and then he went around the other side of the building, unloaded the newspaper and had his wife get out and she was not in the car when they came back on. So he got double pay that day. But we figured that out real quick.
Interviewer: So, is that something he tried on a regular basis?
Ray: That was the first time that I know about it. He may have used that before.
Male: Ray, I wanna do that on the close up. When did that happen? What year?
Ray: Oh, I would say that happened about 1972, ’73.
Male: How about if you started out with a statement about interesting ways of dealing with customers back in 1972 to tell the story. Go ahead. I’m sorry.
Ray: Interesting ways that you deal with customers, of course, the customer is always right, but I can remember one time back in ’72 or ’73, a young fellow came in with his carload of newspapers in the trunk, he had his wife sitting alongside of him. He came in on the scale, weighed in, then went around, we unloaded the newspapers kind of around the corner. So he went around there, unloaded the newspaper, had his wife walk up the street and came back on the scale to weigh out. So he weighed out a lot lighter and so he got double pay that day. I’m not sure how many times he did that, but he didn’t do it after that. So, there was a lot of interesting things that happen around a wastepaper plant.
Interviewer: Did your children ever have interest in entering the business or are they in the business?
Ray: No, I had one son that worked with us for a while. He was a fork truck driver, our equipment operator, and he worked for me for four or five years, but that wasn’t something he wanted to continue on. So he’s in the computers now and my other son is in real estate, so he had no desire to be in the business.
Interviewer: Now, you formed E-Z Recycling when?
Interviewer: 1980, you formed E-Z Recycling.
Ray: I formed that for the Fred Meyer grocery chain. They wanted to be in the business of recycling. They had a large number of tons, corrugated tons. And so, I started the business for them and after a year we lost so much money, they decided they wanted to sell. So I put a deal together and formed Fred Meyer. And so, we’ve gone on from there.
Interviewer: Now you sold E-Z Recycling when?
Ray: I didn’t actually sell it. I just put it together with another company, Far West Fibers and we joined together and became one.
Interviewer: It was a merger?
Ray: It was basically a merger, yes. And so, that was a purchase. I didn’t sell individually. But…
Interviewer: And that happened…?
Ray: That happened in 1982.
Interviewer: 1982. Other things you can think of you’d like to share with us?
Ray: Well, just a…
Male: Right. Think of a funny story. Anything…
Ray: I was just trying to think of, something happened back in…there’s all kinds of, I’m trying to think of it this big time. Drawing a blank.
Male: Any tragedies that have happened over the years?
Ray: No, tried to stay away from the tragedies. In fact, we never had a fire knock on wood.
Interviewer: Do you get involved in other commodities beyond paper? Cans, for example?
Ray: Yeah. We were always strictly a paper operation. Independent paper was, and even E-Z Recycling was up until 1993 when we moved from our operation in Swan Island out to a nine and a half-acre plot off of 122nd. And at that point we got into, not purchasing but supplying an area for the public to drop off their tin cans or plastic, glass, ferrous, non-ferrous. And it was just a service to the community. And of course now we do market those materials, but we still don’t purchase, it is just strictly a convenience thing for the neighborhood and people in the area. But we are involved now with those other non-metallics.
Interviewer: Anything else you can think of?
Ray: Nothing else I can…So, it’s been a joy going to work in the recycling business. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it and look forward to doing many more years. So, provided my health stays on
Interviewer: As soon as the convention is over, you’ll take over the reigns as a president of the Paper Stock Industries chapter.
Interviewer: And that’s a two-year commitment.
Ray: That’s right.
Interviewer: What do you see happening over those two years? What particular goals do you have?
Ray: We want to concentrate on new members. We’ve lost a number of members due to mergers, and so, that’s one of my goals is to increase our membership. There’s probably 3000 paper stock dealers in the United States and we have about, maybe 90. So there’s a large area that we want to work on plus those…a lot of the Israeli members handle paper now and they do not belong to the Paper Stock Industries chapter. So we think there’s a real benefit for them to become a member. So those are the areas that we’d like to target or I want to target.
Male: Before you go, Ray, for about a minute, give an overview of your career from the heart, tell me about, you know, the ups and downs, just…
Ray: Well, my career in the paper stock business, there’s been ups and downs. There has been times when I’ve been discouraged in the old company about moving on to a different level. But it seemed like about the time I got the most discouraged, something would happen and I’d move on. And becoming a manager in Tacoma was a breakthrough for me. And then becoming manager of the Independent down in Portland, then as a buyer of the Northwest covering Oregon, Washington, Idaho. And then moving on to the Bay area as a regional manager. So it’s been a progression and I’ve enjoyed that part of it. And then when you’re able to start a company, that’s always an incentive to move up the ladder. And it’s not a fun, just a fun time and I have no regrets and would do it again.
Interviewer: Thank you, sir.
Ray: Oh, there was a, back in the ’60s, we used to do magazines. They had to what they call the number one magazine and number two magazine. Number one magazine were your life look, Colliers. And we had people bundling magazines and selling those as number one, and it was a replacement for pulp. And that was a large market. Then in 1960s that market fell out altogether. So, magazines haven’t been recycled up until just recently. Now, there is a magazine market again for all types of magazines. So it’s, let’s say a whole new area.
Interviewer: What was the number two magazine?
Ray: That was your pop magazines. The murder mysteries and all the ground wood type magazines, was called the number two. Those bundles were loaded into rail cars by hand. And so, it was labor intensive for us, excuse me, but it was also labor intensive for the mill and that’s why they decided to discontinue that and probably at that particular time pulp might’ve been cheap. So they eliminated that market.
Interviewer: So those magazines that had been recycled at that time, suddenly were for the landfill.
Ray: They went to the landfill. A few of them perhaps got into the mixed scrap, but that was a lost market for many years.
Interviewer: You had mentioned when we were talking earlier about exports, the computer cards or…
Ray: Tabulating cards.
Interviewer: Tabulating cards. When the computer technology changed, then those cards just weren’t anymore. Did that create a problem, the loss of that particular grade of material?
Ray: No, it just, there wasn’t really a loss. We just moved on into the computer paper. And the tabulating cards, of course, that was a real substitute for pulp over in the far East. And that was a very clean substitute. There wasn’t a lot of contamination, and a tab card was a tab card. So you knew what you were getting. But after that, the computer paper came along and I suppose at some point that will be eliminated also with the microfilm and so forth. New technology.
Interviewer: Has the printing industry always been a big source of paper for the industry?
Ray: Yes, it has. It always has been. It’s been recycled. And as long as I can remember, there’s the print shops sold their scrap.
Interviewer: Is that usually done on a contract basis with the company?
Ray: Quite often it is because they have large volumes. And so, many times that has been a contract.
Interviewer: Has anything in that part of the business changed through the years or is it pretty much the same as it’s always stressed?
Ray: It’s pretty much the same. They’ve had some problems time to time with different inks, but they’ve pretty well eliminated that. And so, that’s been a pretty constant market.
Interviewer: You know, I guess we always kind of laugh about the amount of paper the government generates. Do you have experience or knowledge of what kind of job that government has ever done in terms of recycling their own waste paper or scrap paper?
Ray: Well, they didn’t for many years, but I know they’re pretty much recycling everything that they have, I understand. We’re not involved in any of their contracts, but knowing some of the people that do have those, they’re doing a pretty fair job of recycling. One new area that I forgot to mention that we’re getting into now is a book cutting, hardback books has been a real, not something that we’ve been into. But that’s kind of a new area now that we have some machines and we’re cutting the backs off of the hardback books. And so it’s another source of a quite ledger and office pack, and classification that a lot of the mills are using now. Color ledger is kind of a lost grade right now. And office pack has become the NeuLion in grade.
Interviewer: What’s the source for the books?
Ray: That comes from libraries, schools, law firms. Some of the charity, goodwill, salvation army, they all have hardback books that they get in from their customers. So, we’re, bringing in books now from the whole Northwest.
Interviewer: And is that a mechanized way or is that have to be done by hand?
Ray: It’s done by hand. Yeah, they’re shoved through a saw. And safety is a factor there that we’ve pretty much have all the regards in place, and that’s just a new operation just starting up this week. So, I’m not sure yet how it’s going to go, but we’re looking to hopefully make a good profit on those because we’re taking it out of the landfill.
Interviewer: Is there any markets in the hardbound portion of the book that you’re cutting off or does that…?
Ray: That’s basically used for hog fuel. Some of the mills in the area use it too for their furnaces and they’re able to utilize that along with the wood waste.
Interviewer: So that’s a new aspect of recycling that I get that we’ve not seen before.
Ray: No. There’s companies that have been doing that before. It’s just new for us.
Interviewer: New for you.
Interviewer: Anything else you can think of?
Ray: No, I think that’s…I think we’ve covered everything. Oh. When my 50 years of recycling, there’s been a number of funny stories, but I think the best one was one day a fellow drove in with his car newspapers in the backseat, drove in on the scale and the way master weighed in. He backed out, went around to the other side of the building where he was supposed to dump the newspapers and he unloaded the newspaper but also opened up the trunk and out popped his either girlfriend or his wife. She was all dressed with nylons high heels. She jumped out and went up the street. Then he came back on the scale and weighed out. So he got an extra 120 pounds probably of payment for newspapers. So I don’t know how many times he did that, but we did catch him on that one. He never came back.