The recycling industry is dangerous. There are hazards everywhere – tractor-trailers coming and going, forklifts darting about with containers and baled materials, stacked bales, compactors, “guillotine” roll cutters, and a host of other dangers.
Which makes our Alsip plant’s announcement even more amazing – this week the Chicago-area facility reached TWO YEARS without an OSHA-reportable injury!
“As a manager, working in this industry, it’s the fear you have every day – that one of your employees will be injured or worse,” said John Danker, General Manager of the Alsip plant, “especially when we’re running 24 hours a day.”
Our industry is the fifth most dangerous in America, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For a recycling plant to reach the two year accident-free milestone is an incredible achievement. So how does it happen?
“It’s all about keeping your plant organized and clean, and having a culture of safety,” Danker says. “If your plant is a disaster, it’s not safe. You could put anyone out there, and they’d have an accident sooner or later.”
“And our workers are seasoned. They’ve been in this industry for a while, they know their surroundings, they know the job, and they know what it takes to avoid injuries,” Danker pointed out. “That and a culture of safety at every level – it doesn’t take a manager walking the floor. Everyone watches out for safety – their own and others.”
What are the keys to a safe recycling plant?
- Safety checklists
- Paying attention to your surroundings
- Worker’s suggestions on safe operations
- A dedicated Safety Manager
- Lockout/tagout and other safety procedures
“Quincy Recycle is different than others in the industry. There are multiple people watching that you’re wearing glasses and vests, that trailers are locked out – it’s not just when someone from corporate is in town,” Danker said. “This is something every one of us takes seriously. We all want to go home safe.”
How does this culture of safety benefit our customers?
“Suppliers and buyers trust us with their materials when they know we’re running a safe operation,” Danker said. “It comes down to efficiencies and competence. A safe plant is one they want to work with.”
And at the end of the day that’s why we’re here. To solve waste stream problems for manufacturers – and then go home safely to our families.
From Quincy to the Windy City, it’s been quite a ride for John Danker, who has literally grown up with the company. “I was a lot younger then,” he jokes, as he referenced when he started in 2003, when Quincy Recycle was a single city operation in Quincy, IL. His journey took him from Maintenance and Operations Manager to his eventual Managerial position overseeing the entire Chicago territory.
It was, in fact, his drive that motivated him to take on both maintenance and general floor manager responsibilities until ultimately another maintenance manager was hired. Now, John could focus purely on overseeing the safety and smooth operations on the floor. Fast-forward a decade or two later, and John is not only the manager of one of the biggest teams at Quincy Recycle but has assisted in the opening of several other plants across the Midwest.
The following interview is an inspiring reminder to “Be Courageous & Try It”.
When did you start with Quincy recycle? How did you come into your role as maintenance and operations manager?
So, there was a position open for maintenance. And my wife said, “Hey, you want to check this out?” “And I was like, yeah, maybe.” And I ended up taking it; that was back in January of 2003.
I did the Maintenance and Operations job for a little bit until I noticed that there wasn’t anybody managing on the floor operationally. So I started doing both. And then Bryan Stokes asked, “Why don’t we just hire another maintenance guy and you become general operations?” So that’s what happened. We built a newer building in Quincy and got a bigger baler; that’s when we started expanding. We bought the building in the Chicagoland area, and Bryan asked me to transfer up North to become the Operations Manager.
As time went by, we started opening up other plants. I helped open the West Bend, Wisconsin facility, and helped open/run the facilities in Indiana. Currently, I am the General Manager of the Chicago location.
It’s been pretty fun to watch the company grow. I mean, it’s a lot bigger than it was when I first started. That’s for sure.
If you had to pick one, which Core Value is your favorite? Why?
There are actually two. One is “Alive & Well.” It’s busy, there’s a lot of heavy, heavy machinery.
It’s not the most glamorous job in the world. It’s essential that we make sure our employees follow OSHA rules, follow[RC1] our Quincy Recycle safety guidelines, and make sure they come to work happy. Ultimately, they get to go home to their families, safe and sound.
That kind of leads into “One Team, One Dream, One Family”. I have a group of salespeople, the ALC team, my plant employees, and I need to make sure that we’re all reaching our goals financially to support our families.
What was the most challenging thing to learn in your roles?
When I started with Quincy Recycle, I had never been around a baler. I has to learn the ins and outs of it, how to work on forklifts and other machinery in the plant. With managing, I guess the most challenging thing about Operations is getting the people on the floor to respect you as a leader. When I came into the role, I was inexperienced in comparison to those I was now going to manage . I had to get in the trenches with them to learn what we do and how we do it. That helped shape me into the manager that I am today.
Overall, I think in operations, it’s pretty easy to gain respect when you know what you’re doing, and you do it well. I’ve never been a skybox manager, just watching them from my office, I was on the floor helping them with their challenges of the day.
What was the most surprising/ fun thing to learn?
For me, it would be how we make money. Figuring out what we can do different operationally; what can we upgrade? What can we change to make the company the most amount of money? Taking risks, you know, trying to do things outside of the box. Just really getting involved and not saying, “Well, this is how we’ve done it.” So that’s the fun thing, just being allowed to try. It’s my plant here in Chicago.
What’s your favorite part about working at Quincy Recycle?
The camaraderie of the team. I’ve been doing this for 19 years, and there’s not one day that I don’t feel like I want to go to work. It’s just a fun environment.
What would you like curious prospective employees to know about Quincy Recycle?
That it’s a great environment in which to work, it’s not a corporate environment. It’s a family, more like friends; we’re hard-working, full of gratitude for each other. It’s just a great place to work.
What are some of your hobbies you like to do outside of work?
I like to golf. Go to the gym when I can. I do yoga on the weekends. And then I like to do some yard work. Just stuff like that around the house.
Best piece of advice you’ve ever read or received?
The work you do is hard work. But not everybody can do it. If everybody could do it, you wouldn’t have a job.
If you had to pick a song to portray the essence/ culture of Quincy Recycle, what would it be?
“God Gave Me You”, by Blake Shelton
We’re not saying we saved the best for last. We love all our Core Values just the same. However, we do have a deep respect for this last one; Commit, Be Tenacious, and Compete to Win.
To us, these three components blend into each other to seamlessly create momentum that catalyzes us into leaders of the waste removal industry. They come together to build a workplace born of commitment; one that is open to evolution for the good of all. Our goals may seem lofty to some, but never to us. We know we have what it takes to succeed, and if we stumble, we always get back up and build upon what works to ultimately meet our goals.
Our people are dedicated to our collective processes, goals, and follow-through, which means a promise made is a promise kept. They come to work prepared, focused, and ready to support each other as a team. This commitment fosters tenacious ambition, and follow-through leads to those ambitions being realized.
Confidence that they have full and steadfast support goes a long way for our team. Our employees know they will have people in their corner to help them make moves with bold strokes. It’s these bold strokes that give us an edge as a company, and keep us agile and competitive. No one ever got ahead by playing it safe (in terms of innovative ideas; our commitment to safety in the physical workplace remains uncompromising) so our employees are driven to transform and deliver results.
All of this combines together and creates an environment full of creativity, tenacity, commitment, and victory. It means we are always ready to conquer, reach new heights, break through barriers, and come out on top. These Core Values, along with our mission and our people make us who we are. We owe them credit for all we’ve been able to do, as well as our future accomplishments and successes.
We’re willing to bet you don’t typically equate creativity with waste removal, when in actuality, this entire company was founded on a creative solution to a common problem in the world of manufacturing. Questions were asked in the space of listening and open minds, and that is why all those components are an integral part of our Core Values.
Our employees are always asking, “But what if it could be better?” They blend creativity and data with our market, customers, and vendors always in mind. We all embrace working in the here and now while looking forward to the future. This means that we’re able to implement solutions that work for today but will also grow into tomorrow.
We’re always searching for a deeper understanding of our clients and their needs; again asking the questions that need to be asked in order to perfect our process. We’re never afraid to try something new, to see if it can help us further streamline waste removal processes, and add to the increased savings and productivity we give our clients.
These values also influence the way that we hire. People are multifaceted, and we take great care into choosing the right individuals with their own special talents to join our team. We encourage the various talents of our cohorts and see how they can work together to form a comprehensive unit with a full perspective. Our people listen dedicatedly, question boldly, and implement new solutions bravely.
This means our people want to work hard, but as a team. For the whole. To see this company succeed. It also means that we don’t implement solutions out of thin air; we’re always open to trying new things, but risks must be, for lack of a better word, strategized. We consult data and analysis to figure out new ways to go.
The ability to truly listen, ask hard questions, and meet the answers openly is vital to our tactics and services, and we’re glad we’ve assembled a team that’s intelligent and agile enough to seek only the most efficient solutions.