Cashing in Your Chips

Buying the right equipment can benefit your green and wood waste processing company.

If Ted Blackburn were a cat, he already would have used three of his lives. His company's first incarnation was in the landscape clearing business. However, as he looked for a way to dispose of the cleared materials that began piling up, he decided to open a green and wood waste processing business. Then, besides selling green and wood waste as mulch and sawdust, Blackburn decided to sell stumps of cabbage palm (a type of palm tree) to David Landry, a local sculptor, to carve into totem poles.

Known for creating unique life-size jungle cats, giraffes, gorillas, zebras and antelopes, Landry has sold some of his work to the Los Angeles Zoo, the Long Island Zoo and the Jungleland Zoo in Kissimmee, Fla.

"If we have to use our equipment to help [Landry], we charge him. We get rid of a few palms and it helps him out a bit, so it's a win-win situation," Blackburn says.

Despite how Blackburn's business has branched out, today, the main focus of his company, Worldwide Recycle, is to recycle green and wood waste into saleable products.

"You can't just reduce, [because] you have to make a product that you can sell for enough money to offset the cost [of the equipment]," Blackburn says, noting that reduction is part - but not all - of his business.

Rookie Errors According to Blackburn, his processing business now is successful, but profitability did not come without several mistakes. At first, all Blackburn needed was a place to dump the land-clearing debris that he was collecting, and so he started dumping it on his own property. However, when the yard waste started piling up, he considered opening a green and wood waste recycling business. But just as he was about to get started, the county closed him down because he did not have a permit to dump the materials.

"They told me I couldn't even dump on my own land," Blackburn says. Needing a way to make a living, Blackburn persevered. "It took about 22 months to get a permit to grind wood and screen for topsoil and mulch. It was very time-consuming," he says.

The first and most difficult step was to figure out what type of product he wanted to produce with the debris. Blackburn turned to his friend, Greg Eberhardt, who has been with Worldwide Recycle since its inception.

"Greg has been more than my right-hand man. He has helped me to build this business," Blackburn says.

Additionally, Blackburn turned to his wife, Patti. "Patti and I beat our heads against a wall [trying to figure out] what we were going to do with the [yard waste] material. Her conclusion was that we couldn't sell a product if we didn't [know how to produce a] product to sell," Blackburn says.

Together the trio gathered information on how to run a profitable processing business. "We [went] to a lot of different sites to get information on how to make a product and how to get started," Blackburn says. "Then, we just started carrying loads to different places and we told people that if they liked the product, to call and order more. If they didn't like it, then we asked them to call us and tell us why."

But even then, it did not dawn on Blackburn to sell mulch. When Worldwide Recycle started in 1991, "there was no market in our area for this type of product," he says. "The first product we started selling was topsoil. It took a long time from when we started producing it to when we actually sold it."

Blackburn says he eventually began producing mulch in 1995, when he realized that there was a good market for it. "We had to start from the ground floor and get screens that would make a uniform product."

But without any advertising, Worldwide Recycle has progressed from not selling any product to processing about 70,000 cubic yards of green and wood waste per year.

"We've done really well by word-of-mouth. We sell [mulch] to about four or five wholesalers, and they resell it to homeowners or even to other landscapers," he says.

In the Middle of Processing As part of its processing operation, Worldwide Recycle uses a variety of expensive equipment that several lenders helped finance, Blackburn says. The equipment, which is operated by seven employees who work five to six days per week, includes two tub grinders; a trommel screen for hardwood mulch; a power screen for sawdust, mulch and "overs" (over 1-inch pieces of wood); a disk screen for cleaning the bulk of the dirt off of the wood; a grinder for palm trees; stump splitters; loaders; and track hoes.

Independent landscapers bring their yard waste to Blackburn's site, which has become a wood recycling yard. As he receives the waste, Blackburn lets it sit for a while to dry out so that it is easier to grind. He then separates the different materials because different procedures are used to process different products.

"We take the hardwood, both pine and oak, and separate, grind and screen it to make landscaping mulch. We also use the sawdust for horse bedding," Blackburn says. "We take the topsoil from land clearing and we age and screen it through a trommel to a 31/48 [of an inch] minus."

But again, Blackburn says equipment was chosen based on trial and error. Because he was new to processing, Blackburn didn't know which equipment would work best. He had two front-end loaders from his land-clearing business, but he knew he needed additional tools to fine-tune his operations.

Consequently, Worldwide Recycle relied on equipment demonstrations in its yard. Blackburn says he tested grinders by screening the final product to see if it made products he could sell. Based on these "tests," Blackburn determined the equipment he was going to buy.

Unfortunately, this method proved costly.

"We bought a grinder and then realized that it ultimately didn't produce a product like we wanted, so we had to sell it," Blackburn admits. "It's always difficult to buy the right piece of equipment the first time," he says.

In addition to equipment demonstrations, Blackburn says he turned to trade magazines to research equipment. "I think I get every equipment magazine made, and I got a lot of factory information that way," he says. "I also spoke with different people that owned the equipment to find out what they liked [and disliked] about it."

Fortunately, Blackburn since has determined what works for his business. In recycling, a lot more equipment is involved than in reducing, he notes, "but it is a necessary evil to make this type of operation work so that you can recycle and sell your product. You must have grinders to reduce your product and screens to separate "fines" out of your mulch. If all you want to do is reduce, then you need a grinder and a loader," he says.

Details are important, Blackburn says. For example, grinders have several advantages and disadvantages, he says, "but regardless of whether you are reducing or recycling, you will need to have at least one."

Of the grinder choices available, tub grinders are a good choice because they are productive, and easy to work on and maintain, Blackburn says. However, tub grinders have the tendency to throw debris up into the air, which can be hazardous. On the other hand, horizontal grinders contain more of the flying debris and therefore can be operated in close quarters, such as in residential areas, Blackburn adds. They also can process longer material.

"Tub grinders can [process] bigger stumps, but horizontal grinders are safer machines. They don't throw out materials like tub grinders do," he continues. "We are looking at a horizontal grinder [for that reason]."

What Works in the End Ultimately, the key to Worldwide Recycle's equipment choices was the end-product. In fact, Blackburn says the increasing demand for his mulch has him contemplating purchasing a mulch coloring unit.

"A lot of people in this area are using colored mulch, so we are considering the equipment that would allow us to [enter that market]," he says. And while he now is satisfied with his equipment choices, Blackburn says he may need additional screens or grinders to handle larger volumes of yard waste as his business increases.

"We know what [equipment] works for us," he explains, noting that research is the first and most important step in establishing a successful green and wood waste processing business. "But if our business increases, we know that we might need more. There are larger and more complex wood waste systems to choose from as the market gets more sophisticated."

Precision Husky Tub Grinder

Morbark Tub Grinder

Power Screen Trommel Screen

Retech Trommel Screen

MGL Disk Screen

Morbark Grinder

Rockland Stump Splitters

Volvo Loader

Caterpillar Loader

Hyundai Loader

Kobelco Track Hoe

Komatsu Track Hoe

Linkbelt Track Hoe

Hyundai Track Hoe

The American National Standards Institute Inc. (ANSI), Washington, D.C., plans to complete and implement the final draft of the Z245.7 - Size Reduction Equipment - Safety Requirements standards by the beginning of 2001. The standards will focus on topics such as the manufacture, operation, installation, maintenance and service of tub grinders; manufacturer, employer and operator responsibilities; and safeguards pertaining to safety markings, guarding, controls, alarms, platforms and conveyors.

One of the most important standards for tub grinders is determining the thrown/falling object zone. This zone is the area around the equipment where material potentially ejected from the grinder can fall or be thrown during normal operation. Subcommittee 7A drafts the technical content of the standards for tub grinders. This subcommittee foresees a solution that involves adequate warning provided by the manufacturer, and a combination of improved safety designs by the manufacturer and increased attention to safe operation by the end-user.

The standards also will focus on topics such as safety of hydraulic systems and conveyors, driveline failure and auditory danger signals.

Before you purchase your equipment, Ted Blackburn of Worldwide Recycle, Venice, Fla., suggests you ask the following questions:

1. Manufacturers' Service: Does the company have the resources and commitment to provide service support?

2. Production: Does the equipment produce the product that you want?

3. Market: Do you have a market to sell your product in before buying the equipment?

4. Parts Availability: Can you get the parts from a local distributor or only from the factory?