In late October 2012, Hurricane Sandy traveled up the East Coast, affecting locations from the Caribbean to 24 states in the United States. Two states in particular, New Jersey and New York were on the receiving end of most of the storm’s damage as it flooded streets, leveled many residential areas and washed away historical landmarks and buildings. Govs. Chris Christy of New Jersey and Andrew Cuomo of New York requested $36.8 billion and $42 billion respectively in recovery funds after Hurricane Sandy. C&D processors in the region found themselves in a unique position during and after the storm. Many of them had to take cover during the storm and assess any damage afterward, all while knowing an onslaught of material was on its way to their facilities.
In the Trenches
Two New York City area C&D recycling facilities, Liotta Bros. Recycling of Long Island, N.Y., and Cooper Tank Recycling of Brooklyn, N.Y., say they were able to open for part of the day Oct. 29, 2012— the day Hurricane Sandy struck land— and were open again for normal business hours the next day. Vic Liotta Jr., owner of Liotta Bros. (profiled in the November/December 2011 issue of Construction & Demolition Recycling magazine), says when he returned to work the day following the storm, his yard was 5 feet deep with water and contained debris, including floating cars.
Liotta says he and his staff managed to drive around the yard to assess the situation fairly easily. They also used generators to pump water out of the flooded scale and get it back up and running. Business was slow during the first few days immediately following Hurricane Sandy until water levels receded and people were able to assess the damage. But that soon changed. After the initial lull, material began coming in at an overwhelming rate. Liotta says his facility was taking in three to five times more material than normal.
Ray Kvedaras of Cooper Tank experienced a similar situation. He says things were quiet at the facility immediately following the storm while hauling companies were putting containers out.
“We don’t own any trucks, we just accept material from outside haulers, so I just get input from my customers, and they were busy putting out containers for the first few days. Then all of the sudden everything hit and everything started coming in quickly and out of control,” Kvedaras says.
Cooper Tank typically remains open 24 hours a day, but on the day of the storm it shut its doors at 2 p.m. and didn’t reopen until 6 a.m. the following the day.
In addition to the added volume, C&D recycling operations also were dealing with nonrecyclable materials such as spoiled food and other contaminated items being removed from destroyed or damaged property coming into their facilities.
Once the increase in volume started, C&D recycling operations soon learned they would have to adjust their processes and do so quickly.
“After a few days it got to the point where we had to change some of the traffic around so we could get trucks in here fast enough,” Liotta says. “There was hardly any waiting time. If there was a line, we were getting them in and out pretty quick. We hired a few more guys to direct traffic; we hired a few more guys to run more machines.”
Liotta Bros. also set up a second processing area, using its old picking belt. Liotta says it took about two weeks to build the plant up again. “We think within a month or two we should be able to catch up with it to where we can handle the material on one system and send the second plant out on jobsites that need cleaning up,” he says.
Because of all the non-C&D material and C&D material mixed with household waste, Kvedaras says he immediately recognized the need to assign workers to inspect loads before they entered the facility.
He says Cooper Tank workers were meeting trucks out on the streets at one point and rejecting loads before the trucks reached the gates. “We probably rejected about 25 percent of the loads that came here,” Kvedaras recalls. Part of the initial problem was that the landfills had filled up, so Cooper Tank was receiving much of that material as well. Kvedaras adds that extra people had to be added to the front of picking lines simply to cut open the bags the material were often in before it could be sorted.
“The material was wet, and most of the material was coming in bags so it was hard to see what was in them. If you could imagine putting material in bags, onto conveyors, not only was it difficult to see, but there was nothing to pick,” Kvedaras explains.
The material was not what the C&D recycling operation is used to, and as a result its recovery rates suffered for a short time, Kvedaras admits. Workers had to slow down and clean out clogged screens every few hours because the material was so heavy from moisture. Nevertheless, Kvedaras says they kept at it, and the material stream eventually changed again. By the end of November, the facility was receiving more typical C&D material once again.
Liotta says his facility has seen an increase in household materials coming in as a result of the storm. He has not had any problems with wet material, because he says the organic material heats up as it breaks down and absorbs the moisture.
Liotta adds, “We have actually had to hose down the material at times because it has been so dry—we haven’t had any rain. We had one snow storm after the hurricane, but since then we haven’t had any rain whatsoever.”
Kvedaras says he had thought November and early December would turn out to be a normal, slowdown period for the facility, but since Hurricane Sandy, volumes have increased by 25 percent and, he adds, the facility was already nearing capacity. When Liotta Bros. was profiled by C&DR, its daily capacity was estimated at 150 tons per day. Since the storm, Liotta says the facility is easily processing 300 tons per day. He also points out that quite a bit of internal demolition still needed to be done in the region and exterior demolition had yet to be tackled as of mid-December.
“We are going to start the demolition part of knocking down the walls and things like that. After that we will see the construction part of it, so this will go on for quite a while,” he explains.
Liotta and Kvedaras say they do not expect to see any slowing down, at least not until after the new year, and will continue to use extra workers and equipment for as long as necessary. Liotta says he plans to begin taking the company’s second plant out to demolition jobs once the facility catches up with the excess material.
“I don’t see it ending. Even after the holidays, there will be a lot of reconstruction starting. There is still a lot of cleanup and demolition, and they haven’t even gotten to the exterior demolition for buildings that need to come down,” Kvedaras says.
The author is assistant editor of Construction & Demolition Recycling and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.