Ron and Terri Cook have owned and operated PBT Curbside Recycling for 10 years. PBT provides the recycling containers and will sort the recyclables at the curb. TMP/ E. Edgemon
Ron and Terri Cook are lucky.
They are among the few people who actually enjoy what they do for a living. And to top it all off what they do for a living is helping the environment.
The Cooks own PBT (People for a Better Tomorrow) Recycling. They provide residential curbside recycling for $14 a month. PBT provides the recycling containers and will sort the recyclables at the curb.
“I am actually happy with what I do,” said Ron, who founded the company in 2000. “I am happy to go to work. If it makes you happy you don’t have to be like, oh God, it’s Monday.”
Their luck didn’t come easy.
It was the result of Ron’s good timing and good idea and, of course, a lot of hard work.
Ron said he just kind of fell into recycling.
More than 10 years ago when he lived at the Nilewood Apartments on East Main Street, a woman collected the recyclables of the residents of the 13-unit complex. One day Ron noticed the woman trying to cram all of the recycling into her Miata and decided to give her a hand since he had a truck.
Ron, a former recording industry student at MTSU, continued recycling for the apartment complex after she moved out. He then decided to make up flyers and put them out in nearby subdivisions.
“It just kept growing from there,” he said. Ron soon dropped out of school to work in construction and to concentrate on growing the recycling business.
Ron had been “eco-minded” since the early ‘90s when he had a high school ecology teacher that inspired his students to recycle. Students would get extra credit for picking up all of the cans around the school. The money raised would be used for a camping trip to Big South Fork.
“I worked seven days a week, close to 12 hours a day for about four years,” Ron said. “That was working a full-time job and trying to run the business.”
He said the hardest part of growing the business initially was getting people to trust that he would really pick up their recyclables and take them to a recycling center.
“I guess when I got those first 10-12 customers it was inspiring,” Ron said of why he continued with the business. “You have to really love what you are doing to keep doing that.”
He also said it is inspiring when children meet him at the curb and are really excited about recycling.
“It is a great feeling to feel you are inspiring the next generation to recycle,” Ron said.
Ron started dating his wife Terri in April 2001. By the next summer, she was helping out in the business.
Terri wanted to help because she believed in what he was doing.
“I thought it was really cool that he did it — had an idea and followed through,” she said.
“We are both passionate about recycling and helping the environment anyway that we can,” Terri added later.
Ron took the curbside recycling business full time in about 2004.
“It was good but it was extremely scary,” he said. “Anything you do for the first time is kind of scary because you are making it up as you go along.
Taking his last comment back, Ron said “I didn’t really make it up. I researched it and learned how other people did it.”
He was inspired by people who started their businesses from scratch and went on to sell them for millions of dollars years later.
“That boggled me,” Ron said.
Now, though, as he has worked in the business for a decade, he doesn’t see himself selling it.
“I have never done it because of the money,” Ron said. “All I want to do is be comfortable. I want everyone in Rutherford County to be able to recycle without the government being involved.”
The business grew in spurts.
When he first started PBT, there weren’t too many people interested in recycling. He had 200 customers for a few years. Ron and Terri couldn’t seem to get the business to grow past that number.
“Then it started to leap,” Ron said.
PBT now has some 1,200 customers in Rutherford County.
Many of the new customers are coming from Smyrna and La Vergne and from people moving into the area from out of state.
Ron said more people are aware of recycling now then they were 10 years ago. Children are learning about recycling and conservation in school and are encouraging their parents to get in on the action.
“It is really trendy right now,” he added.
No matter where the new customers are coming from Ron and Terri are just glad that their persistence has paid off.
“My whole motto with this and everything in life is that if you stick with something that you believe in and don’t give up you will get their eventually,” Ron said.
Erin Edgemon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.