C&D Waste Opens A Window Of Opportunity

"A large driving force behind future C&D processing and recycling will be the revenue ... gained by promoting it," said Lewis. "The cities will [support] it because it will help increase their citizens' quality of life as it fattens the tax base. The companies that are in it now will grow with the industry, and many new players will come along for the ride."

Indeed, the market potential for industrial debris has become sizeable in recent years. Old glass can be crushed into cullet and remade into new glass, wood beams can be processed into fuel for co-generation plants, old bricks can be cut in half for use as facing, and concrete can be broken down into rubble and resold to paving contractors as road base backfill. This is happening to varying degrees right now.

The Current C&D Scene Getting in on the ground floor of the C&D boom requires a basic understanding of the factors that are helping to shape it. Most experts agree on four points: C&D waste is a huge space consumer; some of the material, like asbestos, is toxic; landfills are overloaded; and tipping fees continue to rise.

Recycling is a sensible alternative to shelling out big bucks to dump weighty C&D materials. States like California and Illinois actively promote the use of recycled materials. Bid specifications on construction projects often allow for the use of recycled concrete and asphalt in non-structural applications such as sidewalks and highways.

Other states still vigorously resist the idea, however, while a few are slowly coming around.

"Some states have their blinders on," said Larry Horwedel, a vice president at the Amarillo, Texas-based Excel Recycling and Manufacturing. "New Mexico, for example, has easy access to natural aggregate, which limits the need for recycled concrete. Other states have the same [situation]. Texas has several districts that simply refuse to consider recycled materials. A few Midwestern states are just hard-headed about it."

The need and interest in C&D recycling continues nevertheless. The 1990s have witnessed huge increases in recycling equipment investment by C&D contractors and other interested parties. Recycling demand and revenues are going up, thanks in part to tight state and federal regulations which limit or prohibit landfilling C&D material.

"C&D recycling is where the money is right now," said Mike Taylor, executive director of the National Association of Demolition Contractors, Philadelphia. "[Currently,] 37 of the 50 states have specific regulations governing C&D waste disposal. Some are not such a big deal while others are practically Draconian."

Some states offer financial incentives to companies that invest in recycling. Through the Waste Reduction and Recycling Act of 1989, Iowa hopes before the turn of the century to reduce its landfilled waste by 50 percent.

According to Bill Lawrie, manager of Iowa-based Corell Recycling, the act offers financial assistance to C&D recycling contractors in two ways: first through direct loans via the Iowa Business Loan Program and, second, through landfill alternative assistance programs which are administrated by the state's Department of Natural Resources. Monetary amounts vary depending upon the individual program specifics. It may take the form of an interest-free loan, or an outright grant.

Players Tips Spirtas Wrecking of St. Louis, started out as a scrap dealer 45 years ago. Shortly after, the firm became a "wheel and crowbar" operation working on small jobs in and around the city. Today Spirtas reportedly is the largest company of its kind in the St. Louis area, and one of the few whose mission includes environmental management, remediation, recycling and landfill diversion.

"We like to think of ourselves as 'industrial farmers,'" said Eric Spirtas, vice president. "What we do is take down the building, remediate the site environmentally, then bring the grass back. I guess you could call that 'building agriculture.'"

As a C&D recycling and processing veteran, Spirtas can offer some good advice to novices in the field. First, he says, make sure you hire qualified personnel who are willing and able to change with the demands of the business. Change is the norm in C&D, and people must be able to roll with the punches.

"They should be specialists," said Spirtas, "skilled in identifying and managing environmental conditions in order to separate, segregate and process demolition materials."

Second, says Spirtas, make sure you invest in the right equipment and instruct your staff in its proper use. This equipment should be mobile. The biggest expense in demolition, says Spirtas, is carting off the waste. Mobile equipment allows for on-site waste processing and recycling. Much of this waste can be reused on site as back-fill or in some other non-structural application.

In a recent job Spirtas did for General Motors, rock and concrete was crushed on site and reused as back-fill. Reusing rather than replacing the material saved not only money and time but also a good deal of unnecessary labor.

"You should invest in the right equipment from the get-go," said Spirtas. "Not just stuff that will get you by. When you're talking about spending a half a million dollars, shaving off a hundred thousand or so may not be worth the small savings if the equipment doesn't fit the job requirements. We use hydraulic excavators with specialized grapples, shears and hydraulic hammers. We've also got a couple of concrete crushers, some of them mobile, some stationary."

The equipment is serviced regularly. Technicians also accompany the equipment to the job site to ensure that everything works properly. Most of the equipment is computer-accessible, which allows the technicians to conduct extensive diagnostic tests and to track service hours on specific machines.

Spirta's third, and most important success secret in his view, is safety awareness. The firm has a safety director and an ongoing safety and drug program designed to protect employees on and off the job.

"There are huge dangers on the job site," he said. "If you don't have complete safety programs in place, you're doomed. We instruct our people in safety procedures. Pay envelopes have safety slogans plastered all over them. The company also offers incentives to all employees for using proper safety measures."

Another up-and-coming C&D recycler is Allied Demolition of Commerce City, Colo. Allied is the largest concrete and asphalt recycler in the Denver area. The firm produces rock and recycled asphalt as base material for road underlayment. It also processes used building materials for resale to contractors, excavators and concrete producers. Not surprisingly, Allied is quite bullish on C&D recycling.

"There are days when you go into the plant loading area and you can't find a single rock to sell because we sold them all the day before," said Recycling Division Manager Russ Hawkins. "Recycled concrete is better than new. It will absorb twice the ... water and is 10 to 15 percent less heavy than what's made from the stuff you pull out of the ground. The low water content of recycled makes it more absorbent. It won't float when it's used as sewer pipe lining."

Allied charges its customers an incoming tipping fee of $8.00 to $26.00 per load. The price for outgoing, recycled product varies by type, but usually brings a per-load price of approximately $4.00 to $6.00.

The firm uses personal contacts, direct mail and magazine advertising to attract new business, which, according to Hawkins, is likely to "go through the roof," in the years to come.