Peter Karter
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Old Lyme - Peter Karter, a nuclear engineer who became a pioneer of the recycling industry, died early Wednesday morning, March 31, 2010, of complications from Alzheimer's disease at his home in Old Lyme. He was 87.

Karter invented a process that made it easier to sort and break down glass bottles, cans and other household waste previously sent to landfills. By reducing the cost and improving the quality of the extracted materials, Karter played a crucial role in establishing the viability of recycling for communities across the country.

The company that Karter started in an old Branford factory, Resource Recovery Systems, opened the first recycling plants in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York, and grew to operate 13 plants in eight states.

"At my age, it is easy enough to think that I will be dead before the environmental crunch comes down on mankind," Karter told a trade publication in 1993. "I keep working because I keep thinking about my grandchildren."

Peter Karter was born to Greek immigrants in Chicago on Aug. 19, 1922. After the outbreak of World War II, he enrolled in the U.S. Army and was shipped to England on the Queen Mary to prepare for D-Day. But the Army changed its mind, plucking him from the ranks to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He graduated in 1947 and was stationed in Germany, then sent back to school again, this time at Harvard for a master's degree in Engineering. Karter served in the Korean War and then was stationed in Waterbury, Conn, where, after the Great Flood of 1955, he directed the rerouting of the Naugatuck River to prevent a recurrence of the tragedy. He concluded his military service as a lecturer at West Point, retiring as a captain in 1957.

Karter met his wife, the former Elizabeth Carmen Whitman of New Britain, while serving in Germany. They were married in Darmstadt in 1950 and had four daughters. She died in 2004.

After leaving the Army, Karter worked as a nuclear engineer for American Machine and Foundry, on projects including nuclear reactors in Pakistan and Iran, part of the U.S. government's Atoms for Peace program.

In the early 1970s, his work as an engineer turned in a new direction. Growing concern about pollution, including the celebration of Earth Day in 1970, was fueling a movement to reduce waste through recycling. As in many towns, some residents of Old Lyme had started to set aside bottles and other materials. Karter's wife and other recycling advocates were smashing the bottles in giant metal bins to create useable pieces of glass, which were then carried in pickup trucks to a glass plant in Dayville.

That kind of recycling remained expensive and inefficient, and cities were reluctant to shoulder the cost.

Karter produced an answer. Working in a former foundry in Branford, he developed a system for sorting glass by color and cans by metal content. He created and patented machines that crushed the glass and cans, producing a stream of consistent and contaminant-free materials for use by manufacturers. The result was the nation's first materials recovery facility, a system that enabled curbside collection of mixed bottles, cans and paper.

Karter incorporated RRS in 1974 and started pitching governments on the idea that recycling now could be cheaper than landfills or incinerators. The business was not an immediate success. It was serving a market that did not yet exist. But as landfill costs rose, the environmental movement gained strength, and RRS got better at extracting useable materials from trash, cities started signing up.

The company opened its first large-scale facility at Springfield, Mass. in 1989, a joint venture with the state of Massachusetts that processed curbside recyclables collected from Lee to Worcester. It was a financial success and served as a model for other communities. The company also made continuing advances in processing materials, allowing the inclusion of mixed plastics, cardboard cartons and textiles in curbside recycling programs.

RRS opened additional plants in New York City, in the suburbs of Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. and in states including Georgia, Florida, and Michigan.

Karter sold RRS to the rival firm FCR Recycling in 1998 and retired with his wife to their home and gardens. He volunteered at the Old Lyme Phoebe Griffin Noyes Library, and was an active member of St. Anne's Episcopal Church, where he served on the vestry.

He is survived by a brother, Theodore Karter of New York; four daughters, Jean Gulliver and her husband, John Gulliver, of Falmouth, Maine, Dede Appelbaum and her husband, Paul Appelbaum, of New York, Trish Karter of Milton, Mass., Liddy Karter and her husband, Lex Richardson, of Old Lyme; ten grandchildren; and a great-grandchild.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the organizations through which you knew him or to the Old Lyme Phoebe Griffin Noyes Library or the The Old Lyme Conservation Trust.

A memorial service will be held at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, April 3, at St. Anne's Episcopal Church, 82 Shore Road, Old Lyme. A private internment will follow.


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Published in The Day on Apr. 2, 2010.
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11 entries
April 26, 2010
Liddy:
Your Dad was a remarkable person and we will all benefit in the present and future from his foresight, ingenuity and brilliance. I am proud to have known him and found him to be a wonderful person, as was your Mother.
Frani & I send our prayers to you and your family. Cherish the wonderful memories if your loving Dad and take pride in his contributions to mankind.
Steve & Frani Ross
Steven & Frani Ross
April 5, 2010
I did not know Peter. My condolences to the family. That's Peter for all your work for recycling and the environment
Mike
April 5, 2010
Mr. Peter Karter was a tremendously positive influence, and not just in recycling. He always seemed to have a bigger vision and bigger set of priorities than many of his peers. One of the best.
Robin Ingenthron
April 4, 2010
To Peter's Children,
Your Dad was a gentleman. He always welcomed the Wheaton Club into your home! I knew your Dad through your wonderful Mom who showed me the ropes about being an active alum! Your Dad will be missed by many. I'm sure your Mom welcomed him to Heaven with a great big hug and smile! I'm sorry for your loss.
Cindy Mason-Jones
Wheaton Class of '86
Cindy Mason-Jones
April 4, 2010
There are people most of us can cite as being positive influences. My uncle, Peter Karter , was such an influences on me. I went into engineering in no small part due to my uncle, although I became an Electrical Engineer and he suggested environmental. On a ride into RSS one summer to work in the plant, he said to me “Nick, not too many people are attracted to environmental engineering but there will be a need in a few years” . He was a bit prescient if not early, (this advice was given in the late 70s).

My uncle always had a tremendously positive outlook and stubbornly clung to his ideas on recycling in the face of a lot of adversity. Perhaps this is the same tenacity found in our grandmother who also faced adversity raising 5 children without a husband in a foreign land, speaking very little English. Being Spartan, she installed the ethic into her offspring and perhaps it is showing up in the subsequent generations. It is the same tenacity that marks all entrepreneurs and people who are attracted to start ups as I would find out later.

His nieces and nephews will miss his warmth and story telling.
Nick Karter
April 4, 2010
Liddy ,

Very sorry to hear the news. Your father sounds like a terrific person who was well ahead of your time. Your cleantech activities will be a blessing to his memory.
Michael Weingarten
April 4, 2010
Liddy,
We were so sorry to hear of Pete's passing. Lisa was very fond of him and I thought of him as the role model for all Grandpas. He was a tremendously impressive human being. He always had a twinkle in his eyes and smile on his face. Remember the good times with him.
Fondly,
Dan and Lisa Carter
April 4, 2010
Liddy and Family, My deep condolences. I would liked to have known your Dad. he sounds like a fascinating concerned and brilliant man.
Gary LeBeau
April 3, 2010
My condolences to all the family and friends.

I met Peter soon after I was hired by the steel industry to promote recycling of steel cans and other used or obsolete steel products.

Peter was all the things mentioned in the obituary and also a gentleman of the old school. Very few people can envision a change, especially to an industrial environment, and really go out there and make it happen. That is what Peter did. All materials recycling facilities are, to at least some extent, offspring of Peter's concept and plants. Peter had the depth and breadth to think not just about the environment and the health of future generations but also the chemistry, physical properties, handling and markets for materials.
To quote Margaret Mead: "A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." Peter and his family are some of those thoughtful people. May he rest in peace.

And, thank you, Trish, for Dancing Deer cookies. They have changed my world as well.

Very truly yours,
Paula Thompson
Paula Thompson
April 2, 2010
My condolences to you all. I wish I had known Peter Karter, his story is inspiring.

Fifteen years after my own father's passing, he is still wth me as I know Peter will be with you.
Marc Louargand
April 2, 2010
My condolences to the family and friends of Pete. He was quite the gentleman and will be missed.
Ron Santos
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