Small Guys, Big Business

New high rises, suburban subdivisions and demolition projects are generating wastes for a new kind of small hauler. Armed with pickup trucks and trailers, cellular phones and low-cost disposal alternatives, these new entrepreneurs literally are cleaning up when it comes to construction and demolition (C&D) waste collection.

C&D sites typically involve large quantities of homogeneous waste materials that can be separated easily and handled economically. The primary components include treated or untreated wood wastes; inerts consisting of concrete, brick or block; metals from plumbing, electrical, ventilation or roofing systems; and interior wall materials such as plaster or wall board. Miscellaneous waste materials include plastics, glass, roofing and insulation.

Although managing waste is much easier on construction rather than demolition sites, a new deconstruction division is developing because recycling the debris offers significant tonnage diversion opportunities. C&D recycling also is growing to meet recycling mandates, to lower waste management costs and to improve site appearance.

Furthermore, soaring landfill disposal prices are creating opportunities for smaller C&D collectors while providing a cost-efficient opportunity for builders when compared to traditional roll-off services.

To maximize the value of roll-off service, builders need to have a full bin because they typically pay by the load. This means that a roll-off bin can sit on a job site, accumulating debris both in and around the bin, as it waits to get full. Unprotected roll-offs also can attract illegal dumping, which increases costs. Thus, in an effort to reduce costs, many contractors have turned to the new low-cost players in the C&D recycling business.

These smaller operations use a pickup truck and trailer to make regular service stops at several job sites. For example, Wesley Davis, owner of Site Clean-up and Recycling, Charlotte, N.C., picks up debris from single-family home construction projects, then finds markets for the materials.

“Some of the tradesmen will toss some very good materials in the bin,” Davis says. “We have an agreement with the superintendent as to what may be good, and we store that in a storage trailer onsite.”

Currently, Davis uses wooden bins that are nailed or bolted together around job sites to collect materials. He is exploring a switch to 10- to 15-yard bins to eliminate some of the material handling labor costs. He also uses a Bobcat to load materials into a 14-foot dump truck.

New Haulers Save Costs

By using his service, Davis projects builders save between $8 per ton and $9 per ton when compared to hauling the materials to the landfill. The largest project Site Clean-Up and Recycling has handled involved 30 houses. To date, the company has collected C&D debris from more than 70 projects, and Davis says he expects to add another 70 sites to his client list before year's end.

According to Davis, his business really took off in November 1999 when he was looking for a way to eliminate a commute between Raleigh and Charlotte, N.C., and read a newspaper article about a construction cleanup business that was doing well.

“Someone at the state mentioned there was a grant available,” Davis says. “We received partial funding to collect and recycle C&D debris from some of our projects, and we created three jobs, four if you count me.”

Davis says it's been difficult finding markets for some of the materials. Originally, he says he relied on a local recycling facility to separate materials, but it has since closed, leaving him scrambling to find alternates.

Thus, Davis is exploring using source-separated projects at job sites. “We can't continue to collect it by hand,” he says. “Our vendors [might] let us put a separate box to the side for certain materials so that it can be separated right there.”

Despite his challenges, Davis remains optimistic about his company's growth potential. “It's a good business if you have four or five different builders. Right now, we have one builder that we do a lot of work for. If we pick up two or three more builders, we would be in an excellent position to do some major recycling.”

Flexibility with the Little Guys

In Maple City, Mich., Builder's Waste Recycling has been competing with the larger haulers for cleanup services for nearly a decade. The company uses 9-yard trailers that are dropped off at construction sites then brought back to a shop where the materials are hand sorted.

“We separate everything — wood, metal, aluminum and cardboard,” says Wendell White, a company supervisor who notes that he and company owner Dave Brown handle all the sorting and handling.

According to White, the key to competing with larger waste hauling companies is personal contact.

“Dave has personally called [builders] to see [get their reaction] to their service,” White says. “We have one customer who was talking about going to [one of the national firms]. I guess he tried it, and he called recently to discuss coming back to us.”

Flexibility also is essential to winning business, White adds, noting that his containers can be moved from one area of the job site to another with ease. “Using a single-axle trailer, [a builder can] move a container from one corner of the house or around to the back of the house. He can't do that with a roll-off.”

According to White, he markets his sorted materials. “Aluminum and metal go to a recycling center,” he says. “Another company takes our cardboard. Clean, unpainted wood is sold to a power plant that burns it.” The rest “goes to the dump,” White says, “but we're trying to find some way to recycle our plastics.”

Additionally, Builder's Waste Recycling doesn't handle drywall. “If you fill up a 9-yard trailer full of drywall, that's a lot of weight that's difficult to dispose of,” White says. “We don't have any way to reprocess it.”

Cost Savings Drive the System

Sellen Construction, Seattle, is another successful C&D waste recycling company. “We're achieving an 80 percent recycling rate in our large commercial projects,” says Lynne Barker, the company's sustainable construction manager. “Sellen either is the first or second largest contractor in Washington State,” she says, with about $400 million in revenues. “We do a lot of very large projects such as campuses for Microsoft, high-rise buildings, health care facilities and small projects.”

According to Barker, Sellen hired her in 1995 to set up a job site recycling program or a construction waste management program that focused on diverting materials from landfills to recyclers.

“I looked at all of the opportunities for getting waste out of our dumpsters and diverting them to recycling processors.” Saving money was the driving force behind the company's emphasis on waste diversion, she says.

“You won't find very many contractors doing anything because it's the right thing to do,” she admits. “They'll change behaviors if it saves costs or adds value. When I was hired we had a client that required recycling construction waste. Once the program was implemented, we saved about 50 percent of our disposal fees.”

Tailored to Each Site's Needs

Today, Barker works with subcontractors, haulers and processors to implement her company's recycling program. She typically spends a couple of hours setting up the job with the hauler and identifying the materials to be recycled. Sellen's subcontractor's are required to participate in the recycling program.

“I've pushed the responsibility onto some of our other partners [concerning] the types of services and support we want,” Barker says. In some cases, Barker identifies the processor receiving the materials.

“I like to support the companies that are processing to the highest end-use,” she says. “That will create a stronger market for us. We look at both the end-use as well as the fees for recycling, and then I give the information to the hauler and the job site superintendent. From there he can run the job fairly easily.”

According to Barker, each recycling program is tailored to the needs of the job site and typically involves source-separating the targeted materials, a requirement designed to reduce multiple handling.

“We want our laborers to handle materials only once. We've found on large jobs that as long as we provide them with the tools, such as the smaller dumpsters or tipper dumpsters on wheels to transport materials, then it doesn't add labor cost to separate the material.”

For example, for small jobs, Sellen places dumpsters — provided by contract haulers — with different compartments to separate wood waste, metals and dry wall to avoid manual separation.

Then, finding markets for materials is not difficult, for the most part. “We're lucky to have very good markets for recycled materials,” Barker says. “For years, the Clean Washington Center established markets for recycled materials, and so we have a lot of processing here.”

However, carpet can be problematic, as it is generated in large volumes. “Although carpet is recyclable, it's very costly to recycle in the Northwest,” Barker says. “Most of the mills that process that material are in the Southeast and most clients aren't willing to pay the cost.

“Also, roofing materials and insulation tends to be generated in large volumes and it's a bulky material,” she adds. “We don't have any end-market for recycling that material.”

According to Barker, her company's size and the amount of volume it handles gives her leverage in the C&D collection business. “We're a big client, and the haulers know that if they're not performing, I take them off the job.”

Small Problems

Despite the newcomers' successes in the C&D business, small haulers face challenges, says Thomas Mueller, business program coordinator with the Greater Vancouver Regional District, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada.

For example, small C&D haulers may not have as many bins and consequently may not be able to recycle as much as the larger haulers, he says.

“[Most] of the haulers just want to throw everything in one bin,” Mueller says. “[The problem is] we don't really have a facility that does a good job of separating mixed construction waste.”

Mueller says that about 40 percent of the area's haulers provide garbage as well as recycling services.

“The larger ones provide either separate wood waste or the commingled bins to builders. Larger haulers say it doesn't really matter how many bins you have at a site, as long as they're filling up.”

The Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD), a federation of 18 municipalities, offers several programs to encourage C&D collection and recycling programs. “We're focusing on promoting cost savings for the builders,” Mueller says. “They want to save money or at least break even so that it doesn't cost them more than disposal.”

GVRD offers seminars for the builders, technical guides and a website []. One technical guide available on the website is a project waste management master specification that allows architects and project managers to include in the construction document.

There are a variety of resources available to those wanting to enter the business, but it takes hard work and commitment. “The biggest lesson that I learned is don't take no for an answer,” Barker says. “You have to be persistent and try to figure it out yourself. Go to the hauling company and meet with the president or the district manager, if necessary.”

Barker advises to seek help from city and county solid waste and recycling coordinators. “It doesn't matter where you are, you can do something with the material other than landfill it. If you start being creative, you can make it happen.”

Waste Age Contributing Editor Lynn Merrill is the director of public services for the city of San Bernardino, Calif.

How Much Waste is Generated?

As much as 80 percent to 95 percent of all wood waste is generated during the construction framing stage with typical rates averaging 1.3 to 2.1 pounds per square foot, according to the National Association of Home Builder (NAHB) Research Center, Price George's County, Md. Drywall is another major component, with 1 pound per square foot to 1.5 pounds per square foot of waste being generated. The third major component, cardboard, easily is recyclable and often is generated throughout the entire project. A typical 1,400-square-foot house can translate into 1.47 tons of wood, 1 ton of drywall and 700 pounds of cardboard.