A Rooftop View

Features - Emerging Markets

Sean Anestis carves out an important niche as a shingle recycling middleman in Massachusetts.

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July 30, 2007
Brian Taylor

Tear-off asphalt shingles do not have a reputation as an easily recyclable material. Requirements to conduct asbestos-testing procedures can provide one of several reasons why the recyclability of this material has moved in fits and starts for the past several years.

However, a combination of end users and recycling entrepreneurs who will think deeply and work hard to create a new recycling market can make the process work.

For the last several years, Sean Anestis has been doing the thinking and spearheading the work at Rooftop Recycling in Boxboro, Mass., to make the recycling of tear-off shingles a reality in that New England state.

BOTTOM TO TOP

While the material Rooftop Recycling handles comes from the top of houses and other structures, Sean Anestis entered the business with uncertain but high expectations.

Sean owns a rolloff company that has been operating for nearly 15 years. Earlier this decade, a shingle recycling location opened in Fitchburg, Mass. "I brought him a lot of tonnage," recalls Sean. But the business did not stay open for very long.

Despite that business’s failure, Sean decided to adopt the concept of the firm and get into shingle recycling as a business that would be compatible with the rolloff operation. "It took about a year of permitting research and work, but we opened in November of 2003," says Sean regarding Rooftop Recycling.

The rolloff company and Rooftop are endeavors that keep not only Sean busy, but also several members of his family, including his father, his wife and a brother.

At the Boxboro Rooftop Recycling facility, the processing and automation is minimal, with tipping, inspecting, pulling contaminants and outbound loading being the primary activities.

"The shingles come in over a truck scale, where we do visual inspection to make sure the loads are primarily shingles," says Sean. "We’re looking for a 95 percent recycling rate, so if a load has too much trash in it, it will be rejected."

For loads that are accepted (the vast majority, notes Sean), the contents are dumped on a tipping floor. "We take a sample for potential asbestos-containing material, and divide loads into 20-ton lots," says Sean.

Rarely has asbestos been detected, but the same-day test procedure and keeping sample groups in 20-ton increments helps minimize the trouble should a positive test occur. The asbestos testing "is very costly," says Sean. "There are very few positive tests—we are running into less than 0.5 percent positives."

Material is then sorted 20 tons at a time by placing it on a conveyor that moves past three manual sorters. "Common contaminants include a lot of paper, some wood, a lot of [shingle packaging] wrapper, and even pallets and tarps," says Sean.

After contaminants are removed, clean material is placed in 40-yard dumpsters to await shipment out to the paving materials company that grinds the shingles into usable product.

"My permit lets it come in as a solid waste and leave as a recyclable material," says Sean. "My end user—the aggregate company—has the permit to turn it into a final product."

The arrangement suits Sean just fine, and he is not currently looking to further process the materials himself. "The arrangement lets me do what I do and lets the company with the marketing ability to market the end product," he comments. "I could try it, but they are a big company and they can move the kind of volume that I produce."

According to Sean, the paving materials company grinds the inbound shingles and removes nails and paper backing. Then, the asphalt chips are either used as part of an aggregate mix (about 30 percent shingle chips and 70 percent stone) for non-DOT applications such as driveways or parking lots, or in a hot-mix application where they make up just 5 percent of the blend.

"The feedstock is affordable for them," remarks Sean. "I pay them a considerable amount to take the material because they have costs in grinding and then they have to trommel it and blend it with other materials."

RAISING THE ROOF

In order to provide sufficient volume to its end user customer, Rooftop Recycling must coax a steady supply of material into its Boxboro facility.

Sean has used several marketing techniques to attract tear-off shingles,

Recyclers by Nature

Sean Anestis and the other members of the Anestis family who help manage Rooftop Recycling, Boxboro, Mass., have recycling roots that trace further than the company’s origins earlier this decade.

"My family grew up in the scrap metal recycling business," says Sean. "When I was a teenager, they sold that business. I had worked with them and went with the company when it got sold," he recalls.

The rolloff company he later started "still does some recycling," notes Sean, "and we certainly recycle any metal we get out of the shingles loads."

Since starting Rooftop Recycling, Sean has joined the Construction Materials Recycling Association (CMRA). "I’ve gone to the last couple of annual meetings and taken away some good ideas," he remarks.

Sean and Rooftop Recycling also provided photographic support and information to Dan Krivit and the CMRA when they updated the www.shinglerecycling.org Web site.

starting with using his own rolloff container company for referrals. "My other company is a rolloff company, so it becomes a customer of Rooftop Recycling," he remarks.

And since Rooftop offers competitive tipping fee rates compared to the landfill, many of his competitors on the rolloff side are Rooftop customers. "I know my competitors, and they definitely bring me a lot of shingles," he says.

Depending on how near to a landfill a jobsite is located, Sean knows what sort of tipping fee will be attractive to a contractor or hauler. "In some cases, the tipping fee might have to be $30 to $50 per ton cheaper versus a landfill for a customer to come to me," he estimates.

Recently, in a few cases, the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program has prompted companies to call him. "I’ve had a few different customers call who were involved with the LEED program, and we’ve been able to help them," says Sean.

Other marketing avenues pursued by Rooftop include leaving fliers for distribution at retailers and distributors who sell new shingles. "If someone has purchased shingles at a building products distributor or at a retail location, you kind of know they are going to have tear-off shingles," Sean remarks.

He has also used direct mail and telemarketing to try to reach roofers, and Sean has determined that word-of-mouth referrals have also been helpful.

That can be cultivated by providing good service. "We just try to treat people good—to give good service and let word-of-mouth do its part."

Rooftop can draw material from much of central and eastern Massachusetts. "We draw from a 30-mile radius, which can include Boston and Worcester and gets us into southern New Hampshire," says Sean.

Sean is convinced that there is more material to be sourced within his geographic range. "There is more volume to be captured. I’d say we’re not even at 10 percent market share for all tear-off shingles," he estimates.

Rooftop has a good value proposition to offer, says Sean, but changing the habits of people accustomed to heading to a landfill or transfer station can be difficult. "It takes a little while for people to change from going to a conventional transfer facility to recycling, even though it’s a good thing and it’s cost-effective," he remarks. "Changing habits takes some time, but we grew 30 percent last year, and we’re on pace to grow another 20 percent this year."

Such volume is encouraging, and has helped Rooftop prepare ambitious plans for the future.

THE NEXT STEP

Sean’s confidence in the shingle recycling business has spurred a major capital project—an expansion that will double the size of the current building.

"Once that’s done, we’re looking at a new state-of-the-art conveyor and sorting system, with a goal of handling 40,000 tons per year of material," Sean says. The company handled some 20,000 tons in 2006.

The added capacity will let Rooftop Recycling reach even higher in its quest to capture more tear-off shingles before they head to the landfill.

The author is editor in chief of Construction & Demolition Recycling magazine and can be contacted at btaylor@gie.net.