The term “junk removal” leaves little to the imagination.
Junk haulers clean out homes, businesses and commercial properties, loading up whatever items or materials the customer no longer has a use for, and take it all to the landfill. Most services throw everything in altogether, not sorting recyclables or items that are still in good condition — it all goes into the landfill.
Quentez Hodge started junk hauling as a side business in college and, after a successful career in sales, decided to open his own junk removal service in Athens. He opened A-Z Junk Removal in February of 2020, and after a year of frequent trips to the Athens-Clarke County landfill, Hodge was taken aback by how rapidly it was growing.
“I’ve learned; I was very wasteful my first year doing junk removal, because someone would say it’s junk, we’d throw it on the back of the truck; it’s dirty, so we’d just take it,” Hodge said. “We moved around that landfill so much.”
As one area would fill up and his truck would be directed to a new one, Hodge quickly decided that he wanted to help slow the growth of the landfill. Along with this new goal came the opportunity of giving back to the community, something that Hodge has always felt called to do.
Now, Hodge and his team sort through every item they haul, recycling what can be recycled, and donating good condition items to Bigger Vision of Athens, a nonprofit homeless shelter in Athens, keeping usable items out of the landfill.
Hodge said he and his team sort items into four categories. First, they determine if the item can be donated by checking its condition and calling local shelters and donation centers. If the item is not needed there, they advertise it on Facebook and give the item away to whoever has a need for it. If it cannot be donated or given away, items or materials are recycled, and everything else is then taken to the landfill.
“Hopefully, we can decrease the amount we take to recycling and also what we take into the landfill,” Hodge said.
Hodge said by sorting through the materials as they clear out a room or building, the team is able to cut down the amount of waste going into the landfill by about 20%. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, 292.4 million tons of municipal solid waste, or trash, were generated in 2018, the most recent year data is available. Of that waste, only 69 million tons were recycled, with the rest ending up in landfills.
From a young age, Hodge’s mother instilled a passion in him for helping others. Hodge said his family was poor, but his mother always went out of her way to help people experiencing homelessness in Athens.
“When we were struggling to get by, like in elementary and middle school, my mom would always go by McDonald’s… and she would feed the homeless,” Hodge said. “So once I got to a point where I was making money, and able to make a change, it was like, ‘Okay, where are the homeless now?’”
Hodge came across Bigger Vision on social media and reached out to them about how he could help. He toured their facility and met executive director Ryan Hersh, who said Hodge was very interested in the shelter’s mission and has given everything from meals to a free repair job on a shed to the shelter.
“He’s a very, very genuinely wonderful man who wants to help his community, and help people and wants to make the world a better place,” Hersh said. “Whenever we’re in need, I can shoot him a text, and he’s just quick and happy to help. He’s one of those rare people who is just genuinely good.”
One day, Hodge hopes to be able to do more than give items and food to Bigger Vision. He has dreams of expanding his business and purchasing a van or large vehicle for the shelter to provide transportation to people looking for work and trying to get back on their feet. He is in the process of opening a stump grinding business and hopes that all of the profits from that business will be put toward Bigger Vision and helping those experiencing homelessness.
“I said ‘if I can have another side business and I can just donate that money to [Bigger Vision,] I would like that.’ And so that’s the real reason why we did it,” Hodge said.
Hodge donates all earnings that come from recycling materials, and never sells the usable items he collects on jobs. Everything is given away in an effort to get the item into the hands of someone who needs it and can put it to good use.
“We’d rather just donate to help out somebody else rather than always looking at money, money, money,” Hodge said. “The more we can recycle, the less goes to the recycling facility and less goes to the landfill.”
Denise Plemmons, waste reduction coordinator for the Athens-Clarke County Solid Waste Department, said although there is a sorting station available where employees and inmates working at the landfill help people sort recyclables from trash, Plemmons said people are not required to stop there before they dump a load of trash into the landfill.
Plemmons said some other junk hauling services sort items before they come to the landfill, but she does not think the majority of companies do.
“My suspicion would be that most companies that are junk removal probably do not go to that much effort to separate hard to recycle [materials], like mattresses, electronics, scrap metals, from everything else.” Plemmons said. “Probably, mostly it goes through to the trash.”
With the current rate of disposal in Clarke County, Plemmons said the landfill will be completely filled in about 43 years. Plemmons said there is no space in Athens to put another landfill, so once this one is filled, a transfer station would have to be created, and the waste transported to other facilities.
Hodge said he wants to do as much as he can to help ensure that the next generation is not left with the burden of a full landfill and other issues that come along with overproduction of waste.
“Do I like how long it takes sometimes…no, but it’s better for the environment’s future,” Hodge said. “You might not be here when it hits full, but your kids might, your kid’s kids might, so you might want to give them a nice hand off, not so much ‘oh, wow, I didn’t do all that I could do.’”
Ireland Hayes is a senior studying journalism with a minor in music.
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