Kristin Smith

Kristin is a member of the Recycling Today staff.

Features

Forward thinkers

Cover Story

The forward-thinking approach of Dem-Con Cos.’ executives has allowed the Minnesota-based company to grow its business into an integrated campus with multiple recycling divisions.

September 8, 2014

Responding to customers’ needs, staying ahead of market trends and lobbying for change are the marks of a true industry leader. Dem-Con Cos., Shakopee, Minnesota, has not only maintained its business since 1965, it has evolved from a landfill operation to a third-generation integrated solid waste processing campus, positioning the company as an innovator in the waste and recycling industry.

The company has served the Twin Cities and greater Minnesota for nearly 50 years, and today operates a construction and demolition (C&D) material recovery facility (MRF), a single-stream MRF, a shingle processing yard, a wood processing facility and a lined landfill.

Its co-owners, Jason Haus, CEO, and Mark Pahl, president, say the more integrated they can be, the better. “As the population continues to grow, the need for innovative companies looking for new ways to recycle and find new markets for materials is critical,” says Haus. “Through Dem-Con’s history we have continually invested back into the company to grow our recovery business units.”

The company operates four business units:

  • Dem-Con Recovery & Recycling (DCRR) is a C&D MRF. Cardboard, wood, metals and aggregates are all recovered and recycled. The DCRR facility also has a municipal solid waste (MSW) transfer station that provides feedstock for a local refuse derived fuel (RDF) operation that then provides fuel to a waste-to-energy (WTE) facility.
  • Dem-Con Materials Recovery (DCMRF) is a single-stream recycling facility. It processes residential and commercial recyclables from haulers throughout Minnesota and surrounding states.
  • Dem-Con Shingle Processing (DCSP) is a shingle recycling operation that collects tear-off and manufactured shingles. Once clean, the shingles are ground on-site and eventually sold to hot-mix asphalt producers to replace virgin oil in the production of roads, driveways and parking lots. It also provides mobile grinder services.
  • Dem-Con Landfill (DCL) is a lined landfill that accepts industrial and C&D waste and provides an outlet for the residuals from the on-site processing operations. DCL is an environmentally safe disposal option for asbestos, contaminated soil and other nonhazardous waste materials.
     

The majority of the company’s heavy equipment is from Caterpillar, Peoria, Illinois. Loaders, skid steers, excavators, compactors and off-road dump trucks are in use throughout the campus. Several grinders from St. Martin, Minnesota-based Rotochopper are used to process shingles and wood. The C&D MRF uses a processing system from Erin Recycling, Riviere-du-Loup, Quebec, to separate C&D debris. The single-stream MRF’s processing equipment was provided by the CP Group, San Diego, and features two IPS balers, an MSS optical sorter and an eddy current separator.

Dem-Con has 90 employees throughout its integrated solid waste processing campus, which functions as a merchant facility, meaning outside haulers deliver the materials to the facility. Dem-Con does not have a residential collection or C&D hauling business in the local area.

Haus began in the C&D recycling business 22 years ago as an equipment operator, a summer job he took while in college.

“I was able to learn valuable lessons while operating as well as my professional job directly out of college as a CPA,” Haus says. “The operation background as well as the financial understanding allows our company as a team to make solid decisions. I have a great business partner in my brother-in-law Mark Pahl as well as key personnel in the likes of Vice President Bill Keegan and Waste Services Manager Ben Wetzell. Without their input and hard work, we would not have been able to change and adapt to a constantly changing marketplace,” he adds.
 

Bringing about change

Haus says the company’s shingle recycling business is a prime example of how the company has not only adapted to change but worked to bring about change to improve market conditions for its products. The company spent years researching and forming strategic partnerships to develop a market for its ground-up shingles. The company played an integral role in the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) developing a specification for the use of postconsumer recycled asphalt shingles in hot mix asphalt.

Haus says, “Working with partners such as MnDOT and hot-mix asphalt companies, Dem-Con was able to successfully pioneer a process to collect, clean and grind asphalt shingles with a high degree of consistency in product size and quality.”

Dem-Con’s shingle recycling business processes on average 25,000 tons of tear-off and manufacturer shingles per year. The company’s C&D MRF processes 92,000 tons of debris per year.

Another market Dem-Con has played a critical role in developing is C&D wood. The company has been working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on the use of clean wood material in biomass plants. Dem-Con has participated in data collection and analysis, which Haus says proves that wood separated from C&D MRFs with proper oversight and training can produce clean, high-quality materials.

“It is up to us to prove that we can positively sort wood materials that are safe for these plants to use in their operations,” Haus says.

He explains when Dem-Con first entered into the C&D recovery market space, his initial concern was building and developing markets for the materials they would be removing from the material stream. “It has become the realization that we have to continue to work harder and harder to keep our markets available due to changing market conditions, regulatory changes and burdens being placed on facilities working to recover more and more materials,” he says.

Plastics and drywall are two areas Haus says have room for growth in the C&D market. He says gypsum drywall is challenging to recycle due to the low cost of virgin gypsum and in places that aren’t close to drywall manufacturing facilities.

“Most of the low hanging fruit in this stream has been actively recovered in developed markets for some time,” Haus says. “It now takes the next level of inventiveness and creativity to reach for the materials not currently being recovered and work toward making recovery viable for these products as well.”

As Dem-Con strives to recover as much from the material stream as possible, Haus says cooperation by facility operators, local and federal regulators and environmental groups is critical.

Shingles also are an opportunity for the C&D recycling industry but supply far exceeds the demand the hot-mix industry currently has for this material.

Haus says, “We continually look at our customers’ waste streams and look for beneficial and alternative uses for their materials to avoid landfill disposal.”
 

Furthering integration

Dem-Con underwent several years of market research and business plan development leading up to its latest expansion into single-stream recycling. The need for additional single-stream recycling capacity for the Twin Cities region and the state of Minnesota became apparent.

“With growth in the Twin Cities population and as recycling participation increases, we saw a need for additional capacity for single-stream facilities in the state,” says Dem-Con Vice President Bill Keegan. “Additionally, Minnesota has a vision of raising recycling rates, and with more cities going to single stream, the market needed additional processing capacity.”

The company opened its single-stream MRF in November 2013. Haus describes it as a “significant addition” to the Dem-Con Cos. portfolio and “another step in adding to the list of services we can provide to our customers.”

Dem-Con seemed ideally suited to handle the projected volume growth, Keegan says. “Having the single-stream co-located with the C&D MRF as well as a landfill creates some synergies that we can capitalize on that help us better serve our customers,” Keegan says. “It was a natural fit with Dem-Con’s history of processing materials.”

Dem-Con says it was excited to partner with Liberty Paper Inc. (LPI) of Becker, Minnesota, on the venture. LPI recycles old corrugated containers (OCC) into new packaging grades. The company’s facility consumes 200,000 tons of OCC each year.

“Liberty Paper has a great reputation in the marketplace and has many years of experience marketing materials,” Keegan says. “Leveraging this expertise on the end markets as well as Dem-Con’s experience in facility operations, it was a natural fit to partner together.”

The single-stream facility is currently operating two shifts that process 280 tons per day and has the ability to process in excess of 110,000 tons per year at full capacity.

Dem-Con’s long-term vision and strategy is to “constantly be moving forward toward innovation and change,” according to Haus. It will be up to Dem-Con to continue to evolve with the times to maintain that momentum.

“The markets, regulatory environment and competition are always changing and being able to react and adapt to these factors play an important role in our current and hopefully future successes,” Haus says.

Haus adds that in order to be continually successful, “We believe if we are not moving forward, we are losing ground.” He explains, “Standing still in the market reduces our ability to be innovative and push the boundaries of what we are working on that will hopefully make an impact in the ability to recover materials that are currently being landfilled.”

 


The author is managing editor of Construction & Demolition Recycling and can be reached at ksmith@gie.net.

 

The single-stream story
Read more about Dem-Con Cos.’ single-stream material recovery facility in the August 2014 issue of Recycling Today, a sister publication of Construction & Demolition Recycling, at www.RecyclingToday.com/rt0814-dem-concos-waste-management.aspx.

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