In the future, every town may have a local store where customers can shop for components for hydrogen-powered cars, energy efficient lighting, and non-toxic lawn and garden products — and recycle cardboard, paper, rechargeable batteries and fluorescent lamps.
Residents of the Joplin area have such a store now and it is the same place they've always gone to buy their plumbing, electrical, painting, garden and home improvement supplies — the local hardware store.
John and Cris Henkle, co-owners and operators of Henkle's Ace Hardware in Webb City, Mo., care about the earth and are willing to accept some responsibility for the products their store sells.
They have been recycling cardboard since the store opened but recently offered the service to their customers. The Henkles just added a "Paper Pal" collection container on the lot to recycle office paper, junk mail, catalogs and newsprint. Recycling services are promoted throughout the store.
The store has recycled batteries from rechargeable equipment for several years: "Those batteries have heavy metals that shouldn't be released to the environment, like mercury, cadmium and lead," explained Cris.
For several years, the store has participated in the Change a Light/Change the World Campaign, which promotes the use of compact fluorescent lights by subsidizing their purchase cost. With sponsorship from bulb manufacturers and the Empire District Electric Co., the Henkles' store sold more than 2,500 bulbs last October at the discount cost of $1 per bulb.
In July, the store became one of the first retail outlets to offer a take-back program for fluorescent bulbs from customers. The couple got the idea when they read a newspaper article on the increased use of compact fluorescent lights (CFLs). The article mentioned the bulbs contain mercury and that finding a recycling facility was difficult.
"At the end of the article it accused retailers of not accepting responsibility, and that convinced me that we ought to try," said Cris. "When I looked into it, it turned out to be no big deal to set up."
She worked with H.T.R., lamp recyclers in Lake Ozark, Mo., to establish the hardware store as a collection point. Empire Electric promotes the store's recycling program to its customers. The program recycles all types of fluorescent bulbs.
"Our customers include several large manufacturers and colleges that were looking for affordable ways to recycle their bulbs." said Henkle. Commercial and institutional customers pay a small convenience fee and receive a certificate to prove proper management. Individuals may drop off three bulbs per visit, free of charge.
The hardware store makes a minimal profit on the recycling but sees the advantage of providing a convenient service for its customers. "They may bring their bulbs in on several trips, which brings them into the store more times."
Cris noted that sales are picking up throughout the store as a result of the customers coming in to recycle. More big companies are purchasing bulbs in bulk from the store because the combined cost of purchasing and recycling the bulbs at Henkle's Ace Hardware is less expensive than at their competitors, including the big box stores.
The Henkles also promote other environmental efforts. The store recently hosted an alternative fuel vehicles demonstration that included flex-fuel and electric vehicles from local dealerships and homemade hydrogen fuel boosters that users say can increase mileage by up to 25 percent.
"We have many individuals that come in our store daily that are creating hydrogen generators with just common parts." Chris explained. "They separate the hydrogen from the oxygen using charged stainless steel plates immersed in a solution of distilled water and baking soda. They then direct the hydrogen into the air intake."
Hydrogen fuel generation may not be something every backyard mechanic is capable of doing — yet. But those who are can buy the parts at Henkle's Ace Hardware.
Cris Henkle and her husband believe they are on the right track: "Besides helping the environment, I think it gives us a place in the community. We have a relationship with our customers, and we understand and can better serve their needs. That separates us from the big box stores."
This story was featured in the October 2008 newsletter
- Marie Steinwachs, Director, Missouri Environmental Assistance Center 10/14/08