Recycling Rock Star

Recycling Rock Star

Julie Rizzo creates a market for recycled granite countertop waste.

If you’ve ever watched HGTV’s House Hunters and admired the sparkling granite countertops, or perhaps had some installed in your own home, it’s likely you never considered the waste byproduct that those counters generated. Julie Rizzo did.  When the real estate and investment markets began to head south in 2006, the St. John, Ind.-based entrepreneur took side work consulting for a granite fabricator.

“That’s when I came across a big Dumpster filled with granite,” says Rizzo. “I wondered where it went and came to find out it went to the landfill.”

Rizzo says approximately 80 percent of countertop installations are granite, and 30 percent of that granite slab winds up as waste. Appalled by the math, and sensing a business opportunity, she began investigating ways to make use of that material. She consulted with a number of stone cutting machine manufacturers to devise a method for processing discarded granite into cut tiles and pavers for interior and exterior home projects. She registered in 2008 and began forging relationships with granite fabricators around the country to establish feedstocks.

“Let’s use my Chicago market, for example,” says Rizzo. “There are approximately 300 granite fabricators in that market. I form long-term partnerships with them to take the material off their hands and save them thousands of dollars in disposal fees. So I divert that stone that was once being thrown into the landfill.”

The split granite tiles have a unique aesthetic quality and are more durable than almost anything else on the market, says Rizzo, making them very attractive to clients. She licenses her patented granite cutting processes, proprietary installation techniques and marketing materials to individuals around the country so they can set up their own granite recycling facilities.

“Right now we only have about 20 licensees. We foresee between 500 and 1,000 markets being opened within the next few years or within the next five years.”

Another aspect of the business in which Rizzo takes pride is the way in which she has incorporated it with her work with special needs individuals. “I work with special needs students, and my goal is to teach my licensees and the entire world how to utilize these individuals,” she says. “Doing this job is very repetitive and very monotonous. I’ve taught two classes of granite recycling artisans, people with disabilities from Down’s syndrome to autism to cerebral palsy. These individuals are the absolute perfect workers for this industry because they’re focused, they love task work and they have done an outstanding, remarkable job.”

Ultimately, though, it’s the environmental impact of her business that Rizzo hopes people grasp.

“There are 10 million tons of granite waste that are thrown away every year in America,” she says. “That’s an astronomical number. If everybody did what I do and recycled that material, they would make thousands and thousands of dollars, and they would be diverting tons and tons of material from a landfill.”

—Steven Averett, Editor

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