This month our VIP is Jerry Knapp. Jerry along with Barry Munro were the original Bucerias recyclers. His wife Karen was our first interviewee back in May 2012, have a look at that and then – read on!
What is Jerry short for and where are you from?
It’s Jerold – after a friend of my parents from Louisiana. I was born and bred in Lewiston, Idaho.
And what was your employment?
In 1964 I worked for Potlatch Forest, Inc., one of the largest white pine sawmills in the US. In the fall of 1965, I joined the USAF and served in Texas and Thailand as an aircraft mechanic (Jets one and two). I was discharged in the fall of 1968. at which time I returned to work at the mill. I attended college at Lewis and Clark State College from 1973 until 1977, majoring in art. Then in 1977 I went to work for Valley Recycling, a government-subsidized non profit recycling center for three years. We received newspaper, cans, aluminum and glass. They had to have enough tin cans to fill a gondola car – that’s 40’ long, 9’ wide and 4’ deep – and that was just enough to pay the freight to wherever it was going. The same with the glass. So nobody was making any money from it – but this situation changed.
In 1980 one of the managers broke away and started a for-profit recycling center and I went with him – there were about six of us, and even the big boss would get dirty like everyone else. We took in magazines, newspapers, cardboard, card stock, aluminum,non ferrous metal and glass. I worked there for seven years. I was the Vice President of the corporation and I did everything including sometimes payroll and bookkeeping, banking, buying and selling. People brought their recycling to us – we didn’t have to go out begging for it.
In Lewiston we paid 34 cents a pound for aluminum cans– this was what the major recycling yard paid us! We were trying to corner the market which eventually we did. For that price people drove 60 – 70 miles to sell their aluminum to us – the alternative was to drive 300 miles away. All of the aluminum cans were shredded into a container with 100,000 pounds’ capacity, and then shipped it to Rotterdam. That’s a really big pile! It had to be stored until we were ready to ship, which was about once a month.
The cardboard side of the company was called Corrugated Incorporated: This was just cardboard and we dealt with wholesale distributors, places that produced lots like Kmart and Kennys, etc . At Christmas two truck loads a day came out of, for example, just KMart! And they were happy to get rid of it because otherwise they had to pay to dump it ! We got reject cardboard from the paper mill which was used to produce steam: we bought it by the train car load. We baled it and shipped most of it from North Bend, Oregon to Korea, and I think also to Taiwan and China. They made recycled cardboard: they ground it up and re-pulped it and made new cardboard and then it would come back in the form of packaging. But America won’t mess with that, they want nice new cardboard – just cut down a few more trees. Actually recycled cardboard is not as strong as virgin material – it is a long fibre and when you recycle it is not so long nor as strong.
The glass that we had mostly went to Owens-Corning a glass distributor in Portland, Oregon. And then there was Continental Can in Walla Walla, East Washington: they put the cans – these are steel cans with a tin coating – into some kind of bath which recycled the tin coating. They melted it and made new metal.
The newspaper went to make cellulose insulation, and North West Paper Fibre would de-ink the paper, re-constitute the ink, re-pulp the paper, and then make new newspapers using both resources.
How about plastic?
At that time there was not much plastic – mainly dairy containers, certainly no drink bottles – and it was not recycled.
What was the importance of glass separation by colour?
Specifically it was because just one green bottle could contaminate ten tons of clear glass!
We were told we had to remove all the labels from wine or beer bottles…
No that would not have been necessary – the heat of the process melting the glass would have burnt off the labels.
Any particular reason why you left this obviously successful company ?
Let me just say that things began to go downhill, so I went on to do all sorts of jobs, including I worked in a cemetery digging graves. And in the summers I was a “chauffeur” dropping off and collecting dories for float trip raftings in the Grand Canyon. In 1989 I moved to Portland, working with Bushwhacker Sports Equipment, in tooling and engineering. I retired from them in 2006. That was THE best job! It was a great company. I worked inside with a bunch of really nice people. In the first year I had two weeks paid vacation, medical coverage, and my birthday off – paid! I bought a house, I got a retirement fund, 401K. We made fender flares for pickups. Throughout the whole recession their bottom line just kept on getting bigger!
Why did you want to come to Mexico?
Because it was mysterious – and warm! Marty Robbins, Jimi Hendrix – they were fascinated with Mexico. It’s funny: I was at El Paso yet never got into Mexico. My friend Dan said: “I’d like to live some place where the weather couldn’t kill me. Where would that be?” Mexico! It was a nice fantasy but I didn’t make enough money to do that when I retired. It was just a dream – until I met Karen.
When did you first come to Mexico?
In 2002: my Production boss said: “Do you want to go fishing?” And I said I wasn’t that much of a fisherman and had not done it in a long time. But he said we were going – it would be all expenses paid! And it would be in the Sea of Cortez. I didn’t know where that was until one day I just happened to see it on a TV show! So of course I said yes.
I was hooked on Mexico. Six months later, I signed up for a watercolor workshop in Puerto Vallarta, taught by my friend Suzie. When I came back, I knew I wanted to move to Mexico. At Starbucks by my work was a woman who had been here and stayed in a condo and she asked me if I’d been to Bucerias. She said: “You have got to go there, it’s your kind of place, laid back – you will love it.”
And that’s about the time I met Karen, who shared a similar goal. I’d met Karen initially through the internet but when we really met we hit it right off. We both knew we wanted to move to Mexico. She was intrigued by the prospect of a watercolor class in PV and so we came down here in 2004 so she could attend such a class. When we got to PV we rented a car and went to Sayulita – we drove right through Bucerias, but I don’t remember seeing it! But later, on a small bus, I was watching everything.
When did you get married?
That was in 2005, in Ridgefield, Washington and we had in the region of 80 people attend, it was a good size. It was people from our respective previous lives, together for the first – and possibly only – time.
Did you consider living in other areas of Mexico ?
Yes: originally I had thought maybe Loreto but it was very dry and very expensive. Karen & I went to Lake Chapala for a week but it wasn’t for us. Nor was PV. One day we drove to Bucerias, and at The Coffee Cup we picked up a flier about Amigos de Bucerias and it sounded just the right sort of group for us and that Bucerias would be our home. We moved down here full time in 2006.
One of the aims of Amigos de Bucerias is to bring people together – and it did indeed do that.
Yes. We went along to a meeting – it was held at the Colegio Bucerias, there was no breakfast involved and there were only about a dozen people. Barry Munro and Jeanne came in – I thought they must be Californian as they were both blonde and I wondered if they were rockers – and they sat next to us. It was pretty boring. After a while Jeanne said they’d been told the meeting would not be longer than an hour, but it had been and they had to go. They left – and so did we. We got to talking – Barry had already started doing recycling here, so we had a lot in common!
It was you who actually designed the recycling basket we still use today?
Yes – almost by accident! I wanted a burning barrel for my yard. I had a piece of fencing and I rolled it out about barrel size and hooked it to make a cylinder, and filled it with leaves. Barry said – we need some baskets to collect plastic – so I put a bottom on it. Then we decided 2” x 4” mesh did not do it because of the small bottles, so we went to 2” x 2”. And then for the bottoms I cut the top off a garbage can and made that as the bottom. But it’s too heavy and it fills with water. I experimented with different wire for the bottom. Once we had finished making the baskets we had a piece left over that was no good for anything else – but – was great for a bottom!
Tell us about the early days of Bucerias recycling
We didn’t have the yard that we have now so somehow mine was volunteered to be used for storing and making the plastic collection baskets. We borrowed a truck from Frank Meyer and he very kindly gave us the trailer that we still use to this day, twice a week. We had to haul the plastic out to Las Juntas to sell it. The plastic had to be sorted by colour. We had tried various other places closer to home, but they all took several trips – deliver the plastic, and then go back and go back and go back to get paid ! The yard on Encino that we have been using for several years nowwas very kindly donated to us to use free of charge by the owner, Sr David Velasco of the El Eden Nursery.
Then Barry came across Celestino, he had a set up in the back of Bucerias (it’s gone now) – and he would come to our yard and collect it – and pay within 24 hours! We got paid less but it meant we did not have to borrow the truck, pay for the gas, go anywhere – it was worth it. We still had to have volunteers sort the plastic by colour – and to empty bottles of their contents – and this was pretty grim, especially the milk containers which had been out in the sun for a while and tended to explode the contents when you removed the caps.
But again this process has been refined?
Yes – We are doing it differently now . We don’t sort at all, we just collect it in from the baskets and when we have enough to fill a truck, Celestino and some men come out to the yard and sort and take it away.
I can understand that sorting would not have been great fun! But still there aren’t many volunteers – especially during the summer when the numbers are fewer – why?
I don’t know, I guess they don’t want a weekly commitment, they are reluctant to give some time.
What happens to our plastic?
Our plastic bottles used to go to China to make cheap plastic toys, but there are new trends in Mexico, and according to the type of plastic is what it is recycled for: people are making them into conduit and furniture – the plastic fake wood is ideal for here – no termites and it doesn’t rust !
Have any of your family visited you here?
My brother – he loves it, thinks it’s wonderful, the women are so beautiful – if he could only convince his wife they would be here!
No. Although finding stuff is such a challenge! But I am retired and I have the time. I like it so much better here than in the USA – there are a lot less bigots here. The Mexicans are very tolerant and interested in people.
What are your personal hobbies/interests?
Mainly they all revolve around my home projects! Interests – well like the song says: sex n drugs rock n roll… but also cars, motorcycles and art.
How good is your Spanish?
Not as good as it should be. I can speak enough to communicate with the various metal and wood stores I go to for supplies, and they’re very patient with me!
Anything else you’d like to add?
Viva Mexico !
Thank you Jerry !