When Madeleine Edwards considered returning to the workforce in 2008 following time as a stay-at-home mom, she said she wanted to do “something that I felt like made a difference.” She was looking for a “green job.”
What she ended up doing would satisfy her environmental soft spot as well as the first rule of entrepreneurship – she found a niche and filled it.
It was a niche she didn’t even know existed. In her spare time she had been helping her brother-in-law collect plastic water bottles from Presbyterian Day School, where he worked, and hauling them to a recycling center. He suggested the school might be able to pay her for her time.
Madeleine Edwards of Get Green Recycling has a list of clients that include restaurants, bars, schools, offices, churches and retailers.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
From these altruistic beginnings grew Get Green Recycleworks. Edwards has a list of clients that include restaurants, bars, schools, offices, churches and retailers who contract with her to pick up and haul away recyclable items. The city of Memphis does not provide such services to businesses and the larger waste management firms won’t typically accommodate the smaller organizations that Edwards counts as customers.
The business foundation was built after reading an article on Margot McNeeley and her nonprofit startup Project Green Fork, which helps restaurants reduce their environmental impact.
“At the end of the interview I put a plea out there and I said, ‘If there is anyone out there that wants to start a recycling business, that’s the missing piece to making this whole Project Green Fork thing happen,’” McNeeley said.
Edwards responded and the two women came together with McNeeley helping Edwards formulate a business plan.
“All along the way, we’ve grown together and kind of been unofficial partners,” Edwards said.
People tend to confuse her operation with Project Green Fork, or think the two entities are intertwined. They are not.
Get Green’s collection trailer is wrapped in the Project Green Fork logo because McNeeley won a grant to buy the trailer, which Edwards leases from her. It’s a win-win, providing McNeeley’s nonprofit with regular income and Edwards with a large enough conveyance to handle her workload.
Her startup costs were minimal, saying, “My approach was just to do it with the least overhead possible.”
She stayed in touch with the city’s Public Works Department throughout the process to make sure she wasn’t crossing any boundaries and that each step was handled correctly.
Working alongside Project Green Fork gave Edwards an in to like-minded restaurants and from there, word of mouth has helped her grow to nearly 70 clients, all within the Interstate 240 loop.
“That’s one way that I’m really blessed, I’ve never had to really sell it,” she said. “If people are interested in my service, they call me and I talk to them about it. Basically, they’re coming to me because they want to do it and they need help doing it.”
Get Green provides bins and collects “anything the city picks up for residents,” Edwards says, including glass, paper, plastic, aluminum and cardboard, which is then taken directly to recycling companies such as ReCommunity Recycling, Memphis Recycling Services or Dixie Recycling Co.
Business has grown at a pace she can handle. With two contract employees, she makes weekly or monthly visits to pick-up locations where she says she’s gotten to know the people who work there, people she might not have met any other way such as back-of-the-house restaurant employees.
She considers it a perk of the job, as is the flexibility of setting her own schedule. She counts among her clients Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous, Presbyterian Day School, Tsunami, the Waterford Condominiums, the Soulsville Charter School and Miss Cordelia’s, which is an everyday pick-up.
McNeeley sings the praises of Edwards and the operation she has built.
“Project Green Fork would have a hard time existing if it weren’t for Madeleine Edwards; she really is the unsung hero,” McNeeley said. “She’s behind the scenes, but her role in what we do and in the sustainability effort in Memphis, it’s just huge.”
For Edwards, recycling is just a “no-brainer” and something she did “before it was cool” and before she filled its niche.
“I remember the dark years when nobody around here was doing it, before the city even did it and it was hard, much more difficult,” Edwards said. “I just think it’s one of the easiest, most impactful things that people can do on a daily basis. If people are recycling at home, why can’t they do it at work, too, because that’s really a larger portion of the waste stream is from commercial businesses?”