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Abt Opens Own Recycling Center

January 3, 2008

By LYNNE STIEFEL Staff Writer

Already a retail giant, family-owned Abt Electronics is aiming to become a "green" giant as well.

A recycling center built behind the Glenview store is now accepting old appliances, electronics and packing material from the public along with the castoffs Abt crews collect when they deliver new appliances.

The center is the latest of the store's environmentally-friendly practices, and more initiatives are planned in the next few months, store president Mike Abt said.

" 'Green' technology has been around for 20 years, but no one really cared," he said. The company's goal is to "say, 'Hey, you should know about this stuff.' "

Abt, grandson of founders Jewel and David Abt, was a biology major, and he joked that promoting a cleaner environment is "in his blood."

But it's also good business. The company sells the bales of corrugated cardboard and compacted Styrofoam it recycles, Abt said. And he hopes people who bring unwanted televisions, computers and appliances to the store will be tempted to buy new ones while they are there.

The recycling center replaces five semi-trailer trucks Abt used to have on its property at 1200 Milwaukee Ave., into which customers' discarded appliances were loaded and disposed of daily. Glenview officials had complained the semis were unsightly.

Now a South Side Chicago company picks up the unwanted appliances from the freestanding structure. That firm fixes those that can be resold and disposes of the rest for parts and materials.

Also recycled in the center are the packing materials in which appliances are shipped. A machine flattens and bales an estimated 1.5 million pounds of corrugated cardboard boxes a year that are then trucked to a Wisconsin mill. A machine built in Scandinavia compresses two full trailers of Styrofoam daily, or about 120,000 pounds per year, material that's picked up by a firm that reuses or sells it.

The processes keep 150 loads of Styrofoam and 200 loads of cardboard from going to the landfill every year, Abt said.

"Our business has grown, yet our garbage (collection) has gone down," he said: Once daily collections have been reduced to three a week.

Abt also recycles 20,000 wood pallets a week and plastic bags.

The firm already was thinking "green" when the showroom and warehouse moved from Morton Grove to Glenview almost six years ago.

Two generators on site produce power from natural gas that lights and heats the 350,000-square-foot facility and the detached recycling center from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. The store's savings on utility bills matched the power unit's construction cost in 2006.

Abt also has its own truck wash, which uses recycled water to clean the company's fleet of 150 delivery trucks. The trucks run on a biodiesel fuel mixture in the summer.

As well, energy-saving programs are aimed at Abt's 1,100 employees. One hot lunch entree is offered on site every day and a workout facility is available to dissuade them from driving elsewhere to get food or exercise. Messages are posted on electronic bulletin boards in order to save paper, Abt said.

Other energy initiatives the company plans to launch include:

  • selling cloth grocery bags for $2;
  • using recycled plastic bags for customer purchases, but only if a customer requests a bag;
  • installing a solar windfall and solar panel on the roof above the atrium as a public education display and to generate energy, and offering solar bulbs and panels for sale; and
  • setting up a display at the store's entrance of "Energy Star" appliances that meet federal energy efficiency standards.

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