A Family Affair: Making Business of Recycling

By Beacon Staff

Four-year-old Carson Mullis may be the Flathead Valley’s youngest entrepreneur.

With the help of his favorite Tonka dump truck movie and one simple question, he prompted his parents, Sarah and Dan Mullis, to start their new curbside recycling business, The Green Machines.

“We were watching his favorite movie about a dump truck and recycling,” Sarah said, “and he turned and asked me, ‘Why don’t our dump trucks do that?’ I told him I didn’t know why, and he said, ‘We should.’”

Sarah didn’t have an answer: “All I could think is ‘Why don’t we?’”

On her next day off from work, Sarah printed up fliers advertising curbside recycling. Then, when they weren’t working their full-time jobs at First Interstate Bank and Dick’s Auto Repair, respectively, Sarah and Dan took their children, Carson and Sophia, 2, and began walking Kalispell neighborhoods, knocking on doors and putting handouts on doorknobs. They got three calls in the first week.

Dan Mullis empties recycling from one bin to another in the back of his truck outside a residence in Kalispell. The family provides a curbside pickup recycling service.

Since then, customers have continued to trickle in, about three to five a week, and after only two months of work, the Mullises have nearly twenty homes on their weekly route. Two businesses have signed up for the service, and the family is hoping to attract more.

“Our original goal was to get even 10 people,” Sarah said. “We’re actually a little overwhelmed at how fast it’s growing. Just because I’d be interested, didn’t mean other people would.”

For $6.99 a month, the Mullises will pick up recyclable materials from a residential property once a week. Customers pay a one-time fee of $18 when they first sign-up to cover the cost of the large, rubber bin the business provides. There’s no sorting required – the family takes care of that on its own – and, from milk jugs to tin and aluminum cans, the Mullises will accept anything that the recycling center will take.

Fees for business customers range from the residential price to about $20 per month depending on the size of the business and the amount of recyclable materials they produce.

The service is limited to Kalispell right now, but there’s a waiting list for surrounding communities. Once there’s around 10 customers in a town, the Mullises say they’ll happily go there.

“The idea is to keep it affordable and convenient, so that families like ours can do it,” Sarah said. “We have two kids and both work full-time so we can appreciate how nice it is to have someone deal with that pile of recycling you have building in your kitchen – the easier the better.”

A magnetic sign advertises The Green Machines recycling business as Sarah Mullis exits the vehicle.

The Mullises are part of burgeoning recycling efforts in the valley. The county dumpsites throughout the Flathead have special boxes for recycling. About five years ago, Kalispell’s Cory Cullen, owner of New World Recycling, started his curbside recycling service, specializing in glass recycling, with a Subaru, a small trailer and a loan.

The Community Foundation for a Better Bigfork is working on the “Big Green: Keeping Bigfork Clean” campaign, an effort to make Bigfork cleaner, greener and more efficient in the management of its waste. Recycling bins from Evergreen Disposal have begun to pop up behind the town’s businesses.

Still, the Mullises and others routinely express surprise that there’s not more recycling done: “I can’t believe this isn’t already established in the valley,” Dan said. “People have been really enthusiastic that we’re doing this.”

What began as a 4-year-old’s idea has remained a family effort for the Mullis.
Sarah’s mom Paula Brubaker answers the phones and organizes pick-up times while the couple is working. Friends and family make up a large number of The Green Machines’ customers. Advertising still relies on word of mouth or the occasional flier deluge. The garage behind the family’s house, originally meant to be a place for Dan to work on his 1968 Chevy SS, is now the recycling sorting area.

Carson helps his dad load the truck and loves “to smash the cardboard.” Sophia likes to sort. “She’ll point at the garbage bin or the recycling bin until we tell her which one it goes in,” Sarah said. “She knows there’s a difference.” Both children excitedly pile into the family truck each week to make the pick-up rounds.

Eventually, Sarah and Dan hope The Green Machines will become a full-time job for Dan.

They have the full support of their young son: “It’s really fun, and it’s the right thing to do,” Carson said. “We help the environment.”

To contact Green Machines Recycling call 755-8112.

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