Hopi entrepreneur cashing in on trash

Huge piles of trash are a problem on an AZ reservation. Now a man is making it his mission to clean up and make a business.

The sweeping landscape of the Navajo Nation goes on for as far as the eye can see, but lately its been speckled by unsightly piles of garbage because there is simply so much of it and limited options for disposal.

Tyler Tawahongva, a member of the Hopi tribe, makes daily trips to the Tuba City Transfer Station, the only free place that will collect garbage on the Navajo Nation. Tawahongva backs up his white pick-up truck and begins to toss the items people have thrown out into the bed of his truck.

"Everything is by the pound, so there is value in every little piece," he said.

It's the scrap metal he's after, which will provide money to keep his year-old business, Cloud Nine Recycling, afloat.

"Illegal dumping is a problem on the reservation, so a lot of this stuff would end up in the desert," Tawahongva said.

Items like microwaves, mattress springs and old lawn chairs translate into money in Tawahongva's mind. The transfer station receives anywhere from 10 to 20 tons of garbage per day, which is all stored in bins until it can be transferred for disposal. Currently, there is no measure for recycling scrap metal, so when Tawahongva offered his services for free, it was quickly met with approval.

"He's the one that actually picks up all the metal and disposes of it for us," said Ronald Brown, an operator with the transfer station. "Because other than that, we actually would have to come up with another way to deal with the metal, which we're not doing right now."

The transfer station has a yearly operating budget of a quarter of a million dollars, which is partially funded by taxpayers. And because their services are offered free of charge, not all items can be recycled due to cost.

After Tawahongva collects his load, he takes it to his mother's house where it's dumped in the yard and separated into piles before being transferred for disposal. His business has been going for a year, thanks to grant money from the Native American Business Incubator Network, but those funds will be running out soon.

"We're concentrating on trying to raise money to for a moving truck," he said.

There are piles and piles of old microwaves, small appliances and old TVs waiting for transfer, but Tawahongva's truck can't carry enough items to make the trip worthwhile, so he has to rent a trailer. His hope is to gather enough money to buy a truck in order to sustain his business that is founded on the cultural teachings of caring for the land and the earth.

"People need to be aware that recycling exists," he said. "Its part of our nature. It's something we should be doing."

To donate to the Cloud Nine Recycling fund for a new truck, click here.


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