Local Iron Man Leads Missouri's Reduction in Waste

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CENTRALIA - Missourians have greatly decreased their waste generation over the past decade.

In 2001, Missourians waste 37 percent more per person compared to the national average according to the Missouri Recycling Association. Then, as the economy took a dip, so did waste levels. By 2008, Missouri had the lowest waste generation per person of any state according to a study by Biocycle and Columbia University.

"Waste generation is higher when the economy is robust; citizens are purchasing more goods," Missouri Recycling Association Executive Director Angie Gehlert said.

Recycling is one aspect of reducing waste and no one does it quite like Larry Vennard.

A welder by trade, Vennard was injured nearly two decades to the point where his doctor advised him not to continue welding.

"I've been welding my whole life. I didn't know anything besides welding," Vennard said. In need of something to occupy his time, he soon found the answer.

"I was out here messing with some iron one day and I thought, ‘Man, that looks like a dinosaur head.' I started to put some parts together and before I knew it, I had built myself a T-Rex."

Vennard now has a yard filled with a variety of sculptures, all made from recycled materials.

"I've had a lot of people come down and come back," he said.

While iron is his primary base, Vennard will use steel, oil barrels, tractor parts or water tanks to make his imagination come to life. His warrior sculptures don helmets that were once ice cream buckets and his T-Rex has a spine lined with fencing. Even though Vennard finds a way to recycle everything, Missourians do not.

"We're just average at recycling," Waste Minimization Supervisor Layli Terrill said. "Last year Columbians recycled 10,358 tons and that was just a little less than we did last year, so w'ere greatly disappointed."

In fact, 45 percent of municipal solid waste deposited in Missouri landfills could be recycled, including metals, paper, plastics and glass. If recycled, the potential value of those materials as commodities would be roughly $208 million.

While making recycled art might not be everyone's path for a greener tomorrow, Vennard encourages people to be creative.

"Everyone can develop that imagination like a muscle you know. The more you use it the stronger it will get."