GEORGETOWN — Andrew Welnicki and a handful of his relatives lost their jobs last November when a medical equipment company pulled out of Kentucky.
A self-described "jack of all trades, master of none," Welnicki, 58, started moving this month on a plan to fulfill a need that has long been recognized by Georgetown city officials, but never implemented because of budget restraints: He started 180 Recycling LLC, a free recycling pickup program.
Welnicki envisioned a business that would bring together family and friends. So his business associates include his wife, Tanya; their son, Gregory, and daughter, Ginny Hartman; her husband, Nathan Hartman; and a couple of friends.
Welnicki has been self-employed before. He's been an auto mechanic and has worked in construction and remodeling. He said he once worked for a company that made parts for nuclear power plants, and he has worked in sales and marketing.
But recycling is new terrain.
"You can make money doing a lot of things," Welnicki said, describing his reason for entering the recycling business. "But let's see if we can make money providing a decent service."
His business, 180 Recycling, is not affiliated with the city, though some residents were a bit confused this month when Welnicki's fliers started popping up.
John Wright, supervisor of the Georgetown-Scott County Recycling Center, said he received numerous calls from residents with questions about 180 Recycling.
"I can't even tell you how many phone calls I've had on this," Wright said.
Nationwide, people are becoming more environmentally conscious. The number of people recycling has steadily increased over the last 25 years, but prices for recyclables have plummeted because of a great supply with little demand during the poor economy, said Ed Skernolis, acting director of the National Recycling Coalition in Washington, D.C., an industry lobbying group.
Skernolis describes the problem using an example of a person who postponed buying a new flat-screen television this year. A lot of recycled paper goes to Asia, particularly China, so materials can be packaged and sent to the United States and other destinations.
"If they don't need the box, they don't need to buy the recycled paper to help make the box," Skernolis said.
Although Georgetown does not have curbside recycling, the city does have a recycling center that allows residents to drop off their recyclables.
Wright said Georgetown's recycling center, 1161 Paris Pike, receives an average of about 150,000 pounds of materials each month. But the center collected about 200,000 pounds of recyclables in January.
Five months ago, Wright said, he could sell aluminum for about $1.25 per pound. But last month the center's rate was about 49 cents per pound.
Welnicki is not deterred by the ailing economy; he sees it as an opportunity.
He said he's received dozens of positive e-mails and a lot of support for starting the business.
"One person wanted God to bless us," Welnicki said. "They were just thrilled that we were doing this."
The 180 Recycling crew has been storing the growing bales of recycled material in a storage unit the family built on their property near Longview Golf Course in Scott County.
Welnicki said he spent between $15,000 and $20,000 to start the business. The family needed equipment, including two trailers and a baler.
Last week, along the walls of the unit were cardboard boxes with labels written in black marker for different types of recyclables. Empty milk bottles and plastic ice cream tubs were stacked in a corner, and colored plastics were in another pile.
In March or April, Welnicki said, he wants to start selling Central Kentucky Fiber Resources in Lexington his bales of recycled materials.
He hopes he jumped into the recycling business at the right time.
"When you set your mind to something, you just hustle and get it done," he said.
Welnicki and his family hope to expand in the years to come, hiring more drivers and partnering with businesses in the area.
"We hope that it will grow," Nathan Hartman said. "That's one of the reasons that we're open to ideas."