Rehrig Pacific Never Wants Trash to Be a Dirty Word

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Willie Harju hates to see loose trash bags lining Kenosha streets on trash collection day. Not only is it unsightly, but he says it’s less efficient and presents an unsafe adventure for trash collectors, who could be injured by objects protruding from bags or bags that break open. As the plant manager of Rehrig Pacific, a national company with a production facility at 7800 100th St. in Pleasant Prairie, Harju, 31, believes all municipalities should use plastic garbage containers that fit into an automated collection system. Under that system, the containers are lifted mechanically, and the trash is dumped into the collection bin of the truck. A person doesn’t have to lift the bin. His company has produced garbage and recycling bins for municipalities through North America. Harju’s mission is to encourage automated collection systems, touting them as safe, efficient and time-saving waysto collect trash. “When you drive through Pleasant Prairie, you can see how clean the streets are on trash day,” Harju said. “Not only do the streets look cleaner, but it’s safer for the trash collectors.” He hopes the city of Kenosha will one day adopt the system. Locally Pleasant Prairie, Racine and Milwaukee use Rehrig Pacific collection bins. Each community’s name is boldly printed on the customized containers. The Kenosha Kingfish also use the bins, with their bold iconic team colors and logo. Rehrig Pacific is a private, family-owned company that isn’t required to report financial revenue and earnings statistics. It operates seven manufacturing plants. The Pleasant Prairie facility produces more than 3 million tons of plastic containers and bins a month.

Safety is No. 1
Safety is a No. 1 concern inside and outside the plant, Harju said.

“We care about people,” said Scott Cihak, a safety officer and 19-year veteran of the plant who monitors all of the mechanical and robotic production processes as well as the distribution and forklift processes. “We focus in safety and quality.” Outside of the plant, Harju campaigns for greater trash collection safety. There are 120,000 waste workers collecting 254 million tons of waste each year, according to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency, and that work can be dangerous. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has listed trash collection as one of top five most dangerous jobs. Trash collectors can suffer cuts from broken items, can be struck by vehicles and suffer health issues from materials in the bags.

Eyeing Growth
Harju wants to grow the company. Not only does he want to have more municipalities using his cans, he wants to grow the pallet business as well.

Currently, Pepsi, Coco-Cola, Anheuser-Busch and several other beverage companies use the company’s plastic, recyclable, returnable pallets that are seen in supermarkets, convenience stores and other retail outlets throughout the state. Some of the company’s other clients include Kwik Trip, Dairy Queen, bakeries and the prison system, Meanwhile, Harju is looking for workforce expansion. With more than 100 employees, he wants to add another 16 to 20 employees to work on different shifts to produce a specialized container product for Walmart.