Recycling pioneer retires

Bertha Williams of Norbert Recycling has turned over the Bridesville-based business to the younger generation.

Charlie Houle and Bertha Williams pose beside the recycling truck that does the heavy hauling for Norbert Salvage in Bridesville. Bertha and her husband Norm started the business 25 years ago. Charlie took over the business in May.

It could be argued that Norm and Bertha Williams pretty near invented recycling in the West Boundary. They started Norbert Salvage in Bridesville in the late ‘80s as a bottle depot.

They became passionate about recycling when they realized how much good stuff was simply being buried in landfills instead of being recycled. “We noticed the waste when we went to the landfill and that really, really irked both of us,” said Bertha.

“As time went on we had a second-hand store in Winlaw for a little while. But there were 15 second-hand stores in town—five of us had to shut down. That’s when we realized the potential in the recycling world.”

He gave her the choice of where they’d live; that’s how it came to be Bridesville.

Norm retired in 1989 and wanted something to do. “Now I did not want the recycling business, he did,” she said. “I fought with him for three months and finally I gave in.”

For the next 15 years Norbert Salvage Ltd. Recycling and Bottle Depot was run by the two of them working side-by-side.

“Then Norm had his first stroke, and I drove the truck for five years. When he had another stroke I had to get off the truck. I got sick and ended up in the hospital.

So for the last 10 years Norbert Salvage has had between one to four employees.

A lot of changes in the recycling world took place over those two decades as it became possible to divert more and more items from the landfill. Regulations changed and the government began mandating recycling of more products. The business developed too.

Today Norbert Salvage takes nearly everything. They have gone far beyond a simple bottle depot. They take all plastics and metal, batteries, light bulbs, paint, electronics and more. They are even working on becoming certified as an oil collection depot too.

“The new regulations are by far better for us,” Bertha said. “It doesn’t end up in the bush or in a hole dug in the ground or contaminating our soil and water.”

Norm passed away last August, a few months shy of their 29th anniversary. “But in the end we had something to sell. I always told Norm it’s going to take a very special person to take this over and keep developing and enhancing it.”

That’s where Charlie Houle comes in. He took over the business on May 1 when he and Bertha signed the papers.

“Of all the people who were interested in buying this place, Charlie to me was the right person,” Bertha said.

“He’s a hard-working, honest person.” Houle comes to the Boundary after 35 years working in the oilfields, out of Fort McMurray.

“We are a full-service recycling depot,” he said. “We are not garbage people we are recycling people. We are your one-stop drop.”

He said Norbert offers pick-up of sorted recyclables at the door throughout the Boundary. “Sorting has to start at home,” he said. “Plastic, cardboard, paper, glass and tin— if you can separate all that right at home then you have got it licked.”

“Let’s clean up the environment,” Houle said. “It’s a job that Norm and Bertha started, it’s going to be here as long as I am here. And you know what? This can be somebody else’s job forever.”

Norbert Salvage is located at 5667 Bridesville Townsite Road. They are open Monday to Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. They also operate a bottle depot in Greenwood on Tuesdays and Thursdays.


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