Peter Karter

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Peter Karter
Born Patayonis Karteroulis
Chicago, Illinois United States
Died March 30, 2010
Chicago, Illinois
Citizenship United States
Nationality American
Fields Nuclear Engineering
Institutions United States Army Corps of Engineers
American Machine and Foundry
Alma mater United States Military Academy (USMA)
Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
Known for replicable system for mixed recyclables
Spouse Elizabeth B. Karter
Children Trish Karter

Peter Karter (1922–2010) was an American nuclear engineer and one of the pioneers of the modern recycling industry.[1] He lived in Old Lyme, Connecticut.[2]

Karter was one of the leading innovators in materials recycling and the first to engineer a "replicable system for mixed recyclables."[3]

Personal life, education, and early career[edit]

Karter was born in Chicago, Illinois and died on March 30, 2010. He was a graduate of Morris High School (Bronx, New York) and of the United States Military Academy at West Point, and of the graduate school of engineering at Harvard University. Karter, the son of Greek immigrants, spent part of his childhood in Anavryti, Greece, but his school years in the United States.[4][5]

Karter was a freshman at City College of New York when Pearl Harbor was bombed. Upon entering the Army he took a series of exams. One qualified him to be parachuted into Greece to work with the partisans. The other qualified him to be appointed to West Point where Congress had authorized an expanded Corps of Cadets to supply trained officers for a war that might prove lengthy. Karter served for a time in England before beginning West Point.[4] He graduated with the class of 1947 and served with the Army of Occupation in Germany where he met his wife, Elizabeth Carmen Whitman, who was serving with the US Defense Department Army Special Services, a USO-like organization.[2][6] The Elizabeth B. Karter Watch Rock Nature Preserve in Old Lyme is named in honor of Karter's late wife.[2]

Karter also served in Korea, and in Corps of Engineers flood-control projects in the United States. The Army sent him to earn a M.S. in nuclear engineering and physics at Harvard. He was serving as an instructor at West Point when his term of service ended in 1957.[4]

After leaving the Army, Karter worked as a nuclear engineer for American Machine and Foundry, helping build reactors for Pakistan and Iran under the Atoms for Peace program.[7][8][9][10]

His daughter Trish Karter is the founder of Dancing Deer Baking Co.


Karter founded Resource Recovery Systems, Inc.[11][12] It was one of "the first materials recovery facilities (MRF) in the US."[13]

In the wake of the enthusiasm for recycling that swept the nation following Earth Day (1970), many communities set up recycling programs that required householders to drive their cans and glass bottles to a recycling depot, sort the glass bottles by color, and throw them into large metal containers. Karter invented and patented industrial processes capable of sorting cans according to their metal content, and of sorting glass into colors and mechanically crushing glass economically.[14][15][16][17][18]

The technical problem that he overcame was that glass is very abrasive. "Conventional machines at that time were either not sophisticated enough to sort and separate to Karter's satisfaction or wore out too quickly. 'I don't know how many glass breakers we tried. Glass is a very hard material. We finally found a compromise solution: we designed machines so that the working parts could be quickly replaced when they wore out.'"[13]


Karter explained his motivation this way, "At my age, it is easy enough to think that I will be dead before the environmental crunch comes down on mankind. I keep working because I keep thinking about my grandchildren."[13]

Karter was buried in the Duck River Cemetery.


  1. ^ Peter Karter; at 87; engineer who helped make recycling practical, Talia Whyte, Boston Globe, April 3, 2010
  2. ^ a b c
  3. ^ Peter Karter, National Pioneer In Recycling, May 28, 2010, Anne Hamilton, Hartford Courant [1]
  4. ^ a b c Same Date of Rank; Grads at the Top and Bottom from West Point and the Air force Academy, 2009, pp. 338-9.
  5. ^ Register of graduates and former cadets, United States Military Academy by United States Military Academy. Association of Graduates, West Point Alumni Foundation, United States Military Academy
  6. ^ KARTER, ELIZABETH "BUNT" WHITMAN, Hartford Courant, , Oct. 26, 2004, p. B 9
  7. ^ Diversified Success, Time Magazine, 19 May 1961
  8. ^ Nucleonics, McGraw-Hill.,vol. 21, 1963, p. 30
  9. ^ How to Dispose of Radioactive Wastes, Peter Karter, Electric Light & Power, 1967, Page 3
  10. ^ Mastermind of the MRF Logsdon, Gene. BioCycle. Emmaus: Apr 1993. Vol. 34, Iss. 4; pg. 49, ff.
  11. ^ Trash to Cash: New Business Opportunities in the Post-Consumer Waste Stream, Susan Williams, 1991, p, 180
  12. ^ Recycling Starting To Pay Off--In Cash, Hartford Courant , Dec 14, 1975
  13. ^ a b c Mastermind of the MRF Logsdon, Gene. BioCycle. Emmaus: Apr 1993. Vol. 34, Iss. 4; pg. 49, ff. [2]
  14. ^ Get Your Ship Together: How Great Leaders Inspire Ownership from the Keel Up, Michael Abrashoff, 2004, p. 46.
  15. ^ Environment, Helen Dwight Reid Educational Foundation, Scientists' Institute for Public Information, HELDREF Publications, Committee for Environmental Information (Saint Louis, Mo.), 1981, p. 32
  16. ^ Resource conservation and recovery act--oversight: hearings before the United States. Congress. House. Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce. Subcommittee on Transportation and Commerce, United States, Congress - Recycling (Waste, etc.) , 1978, p. 253
  17. ^ Solid waste management and resource recovery: hearings before a subcommittee of the United States. Congress. House. Committee on Government Operations, United States. Congress. House. Committee on Science and Technology. Subcommittee on the Environment and the Atmosphere, United States. Congress. House. Committee on Government Operations. Conservation, Energy, and Natural Resources Subcommittee, Congress, House - Refuse as fuel, 1976, p. 474.
  18. ^ Recycling Breakthrough Reported, Rachel's Environment & Health News #108, December 19, 1988, Environmental Research Foundation [3]