For Profit, Not For Profit, Non-profit, Loss

I get asked fairly often whether my company is for profit or non-profit. The short answer is that the company that does the recycling (Good Point Recycling, American Retroworks Inc.) is a C-corporation. That means we pay taxes on profits. The WR3A is a "not for profit" business consortium, but not a charity.

What I personally feel about it is that the IRS code should get blown up. I volunteered for a not-profitable Fayetteville (AR) Recycling Center in the 1970s. I ran the Careleton College dorm Recycling Program in the early 80s, which was claimed every year by Minnesota PIRG but which ran completely on volunteer labor and revenues from scrap.

I went from a Peace Corps Volunteer to a federal employee (cross-culture trainer) hired by Peace Corps to train other volunteers - at which time I had a lot more money and could do a lot more favors for a lot more Cameroonians than I could on Peace Corps wages. It was a constant chore as a volunteer to convince Cameroonians I really wasn't paid any more than a Cameroonian teacher (which peasants still thought of as rich).

I joined a coop recycling company, Earthworm Inc., in the late 80s, which was a 501-c(3) certified by IRS non-profit organization... which made nearly 100% of its revenues from collection and sale of scrap paper (or waste paper) recycling. We filled out IRS form 990s which said that the office paper collections were non-profit "demonstration projects", which the org had been "demonstrating" for 20 years or so. We started consulting for MA DEP and EPA Region 1 and UMass (non-profits all?) about recycling, surveying for-profit recyclers to get their expertise. Jonathan Gold of North Shore Recycled Fiber and Ben Harvey of E.L. Harvey and Sons, among other recyclers, asked aloud how come it was better not to pay taxes and call competitors for private information and then sell it to the government for more money... I think I shrugged and said something about we were hired more because we were small and non-threatening because of our tax status.

But later I worked for the MA DEP as recycling director, and worked jointly on US EPA grants, and I saw that in fact, yes, a lot of the studies were subbed out to non-profits, and people were always asked for 501-c(3) documentation. And there was definitely a culture of distrust towards "for profits". There was an underlying assumption that contracting to a non-profit somehow was "insured from criticism". Of course, a lot of non-profits liked that.

Generally speaking, I earned more money and risked less during my non-profit and government career than now as an entrepreneur. That may not be true of everyone.

But at this point, ten years later, I don't have time for all that 501c(3) debate. Wherever I can raise more money without begging, and invest it to reduce mining, which I picked out as the best way I could think of to preserve habitat and slow extinction of species when I decided to get into environmental work in the 1970s. This whole life is my shot at picking the best way to make the longest range impact I could, to leverage my life work in any way I could to reduce mankind's footprint on the planet. The main problem with working from the inside, in retrospect, is that it is easier to consume meat or generate waste if you think of yourself as an environmentalist with "offsets" due you. What any of that has to do with tax policy is beyond me.

I will say this: my entire life's work would be quickly accomplished through the free market if Congress had changed this law 30 years ago, when I wrote to my Senator from Arkansas, Dale Bumpers, about it. Sportsmen United for Sensible Mining Reform may in the end do more for recycling, as game hunters, than I will have accomplished by recycling, if they make reform of the General Mining Act of 1872 move closer.

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