David and Yvonne Prough, Pittsburg, can’t think of a time when they didn’t recycle. They just didn’t call it that.

David and Yvonne Prough, Pittsburg, can’t think of a time when they didn’t recycle. They just didn’t call it that.

They and daughter Jeni are all active volunteers at the Southeast Kansas Recycling Center.

“People ask us when we got into recycling,” Prough said. “I was born and raised on a farm in northern Indiana, and Yvonne was born and raised on a farm in Arkansas, and we’ve been recycling stuff since we were born. But we never knew it was recycling; we called it surviving.”

His wife has childhood memories of collecting scrap metal during World War II.

“It was instilled in us to use everything for something,” Mrs. Prough said. “I’ve been known to go out to the pig pens and pick out the corn cobs to burn in the stove. We made sheets and towels out of feed sacks. It took five sacks to make a sheet.”

The two met in Tulsa, Okla., and hit it off well, despite the fact that he regards himself as a Yankee and refers to her as a hillbilly.

“I’m a Southerner,” Mrs. Prough said.

They lived in Arizona and Colorado, then spent nine years in Pennsylvania before going to St. Louis and finally moving to Pittsburg to be near relatives.

“I went to work in Family Entertainment in shipping and receiving, and came here to the SEK Recycling Center to pick up those plastic packing peanuts,” Prough said. “I got to know Chuck Delp, the director, and when the bottom fell out of the prices he got for commodities and he had to lay off his crew, the three of us came in to help out.”

Prough handles the books that come in.

“I think the one author we get the most of is Dr. Phil,” he said.

Books in good shape are sold for 25 cents for hardcover and 10 cents for paperback. All children’s books, hardcover or paperback, are also a dime.

“The biggest book sale we had brought in $2,100, so that’s a lot of books we put into people’s hands,” Prough said. “But we get some books that are in really gross condition, and we ship those out.”

Other books are in good shape but not wanted, such as outdated texts and reference books. These are sent to the book equivalent of a guillotine. The device severs the spines from the books, leaving the loose pages ready to be recycled.

“It really bothers me when we get books 150 years old in here and nobody wants them,” Mrs. Prough said.

“Some geeky person said that by 2014 there won’t be any more books printed, they’ll all be those e-book thingies,” her husband said. “Can you imagine curling up in bed at night with one of those things?”

Mrs. Prough and her daughter sort through junk mail and other paper, sorting it out into its various categories.

She has also taken on the “New to You Resale Shopp” at the center.

“We will have whatever people bring in that’s reusable, except clothing,” Mrs. Prough said. “I’m hoping I can get more volunteers.”

Her husband said that he’s proud of the recycling center.

“When we go any place that has a recycling center, we try to visit it, and the people in this area have so much to be proud of,” he said. “This is a fantastic enterprise. I’m also proud of the people who bring us their recyclables, but disappointed because a lot of people don’t make the effort.”

Mrs. Prough noted that, in Pennsylvania, the problem of waste disposal was previously handled by simply loading everything onto garbage scows and dumping it into the ocean. When the scows were banned, there were no systems in place for handling trash or recycling.

She also told of Centralia, the Pennsylvania town that was destroyed by a coal mine fire that started in 1962, is still burning and will probably continue for another 250 to 1,000 years.

“It started when they burned trash in the pit of an abandoned strip mine that was connected to a vein of coal,” Mrs. Prough said. “I’m surprised something like that hasn’t happened around here.”

“People have got to realize that if they don’t recycle now, they’ll be forced to later on,” her husband said. “And then they’ll have to pay for it.”