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Humble but Hungry

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Shermans Valley Recycling in rural Pennsylvania is processing vinyl siding from many C&D recyclers along the East Coast.

Kristin Smith August 31, 2012

Shermans Valley Recycling at a Glance:

Co-owners: Sam Fisher and Elam Stoltzfus

No. of employees: 9

Materials accepted: vinyl siding, PVC fencing, plastic lumber, cardboard and aluminum

Equipment: custom-built shaker tables and conveyors, shredders, rare earth magnets, a granulator and a washing system

Location: 31 Industrial Rd., Loysville, Pa., (717) 789-3552

As mixed C&D recyclers all over the United States struggle to find outlets for the materials that enter their facilities, there is one company, located in rural Pennsylvania, that is giving them an option for vinyl siding.

Trucks filled with bales of vinyl siding from as far away as Massachusetts, New York and North Carolina arrive at Shermans Valley Recycling in Loysville, Pa., about 30 miles west of Harrisburg in the south central region of Pennsylvania. They make their way around the winding, two-lane road, across the bridge and up the steep hill leading to the facility.

The recycling facility may be off the beaten path, nestled in an Amish community, but it isn’t stopping several C&D recyclers from hundreds of miles away from bringing loads of material there.

Shermans Valley Recycling specializes in the recycling of vinyl siding, but also recycles PVC (polyvinyl chloride) fencing, plastic lumber, cardboard and some aluminum. According to co-owner Sam Fisher, taking in these building materials helps C&D recyclers and contractors increase their landfill diversion rates and helps construction projects earn LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) points from the U.S. Green Building Council.


Lots of Potential
Fisher has a background in farming that he says has taught him lessons he can apply to his recycling business.

“I love to work with equipment,” says Fisher, adding, “It’s rewarding to see all of the materials start from what some people view as trash and go out the other end as a valuable product.”

Shermans Valley Recycling is situated amidst miles of farmland in Perry County, Pa. The facility is not attached to the electrical grid. All of the machinery’s hydraulics in the facility are powered by a diesel generator.

Workers use a tool adapted from the agricultural industry to tear apart bales of vinyl siding. The vinyl siding is separated into light and dark fractions. The facility uses custom-built shaker tables and conveyors. Material goes through shredders and rare earth magnets before entering a granulator. There is also a washing system for the dirtier scrap that enters the facility.

The regrind produced from the process is shipped to manufacturers who use it to make new siding containing recycled content. Fisher estimates the company ships about 100,000 pounds of regrind per week.

According to Fisher, the facility has the capacity to accept a much higher volume of material than what it is currently getting. It currently receives about two truckloads of vinyl siding per week.

“The potential is there to get a lot more product,” says Fisher, but he says there isn’t enough awareness among contractors and recyclers about what his business can do to help them. Shermans Valley Recycling currently has nine employees and operates with a 50-hour work week. Most of the employees are from Fisher’s Amish church and share his background in farming. “I have a very good team of guys,” he says.


A Long Road

Shermans Valley Recycling’s facility was formerly used as a manufacturing plant that made PVC porch posts and fencing. Fisher oversaw that operation, and after 10-and-a-half years, the owner decided to sell the company. When the new owner moved the manufacturing operation to Lancaster, Pa., Fisher found himself at a crossroads. He had to decide whether to relocate his family 70 miles away or to start his own business at the Loysville facility. He decided to stay.

“I wanted a challenge, so I definitely got it,” says Fisher of his decision. It was a difficult choice at the time, but Fisher says, “I find that maybe that was a blessing down the road.”

In 2006, Fisher bought a small grinder. At that time, it took the company about two months to make a load of PVC regrind for shipment. He recalls that the first load the company produced was rejected because of materials in the load that the buyer didn’t want.

“They were very gracious about it,” Fisher says. “They kept the material and still paid us for some of it.”

That didn’t deter Fisher one bit. “We just kept going and getting our quality better,” he says.

Last year, Shermans Valley Recycling processed 4.5 million pounds of PVC.

It was through plastics recycling that Fisher got the idea to start recycling vinyl siding. He saw an ad in a plastics magazine that read, “Vinyl siding regrinds wanted,” and he says he thought, “We have a lot of contractors around here that don’t know what to do with their siding. That might be something to check into.”

A company in Maryland helped Shermans Valley Recycling get off the ground with recycling vinyl siding. The businessman Fisher made contact with told him what material to buy and what equipment was needed. “We are still good friends today,” Fisher says.

The challenge has been obtaining enough material to make it work.

“There were times I wanted to just quit,” says Fisher. But he didn’t. In 2010, he brought on a partner in the business, Elam Stoltzfus, who also is a relative.

In addition to the loads Shermans Valley Recycling receives from C&D processors and contractors along the East Coast, the company has 34 10-yard roll-off containers placed within a 50-mile radius of the facility for vinyl siding.

The company also keeps 30-yard roll-off containers at siding distributors in the area. These distributors allow people to bring in used siding at no charge and place it in the containers. The arrangement is a win-win, according to Fisher. “We get the material, and [the distributors] get the new business.”

While there have been ups and downs during the years, Fisher says he has received positive feedback from his customers and he is heartened by it. “A lot of people encourage us and say ‘thank you for doing what you are doing.’”

Fisher is grateful to his vendors as well. “Without them, we wouldn’t be in business,” he says. He also says he receives a lot of business from vendor recommendations. “I’m so amazed at some of the companies that call,” he says. “That’s rewarding to me because it tells me they are happy with the service.”

Of his business dealings Fisher says, “We want to pay a fair price for good quality material and treat our vendors and our customers like we would want to be treated.”

Looking back on how his career has unfolded, Fisher says, “It was a big let-down when I could no longer work for that company, and a couple guys told me, ‘Sam just keep going. Someday you might be in something that is a whole lot better.’” He wasn’t sure he agreed with them at the time. “Years later,” he says, “I see that maybe this is something that will work out.”

Fisher concludes by saying, “I thank the Lord for what he has provided so far. I feel very blessed for all the people that we are working with through C&D recycling.” 

 

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

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