Tulare County may not be the most well-known area of California, but the efforts one longtime business has made over the years is putting this small agricultural community on the map. Peña’s Disposal Service has been recognized by state agencies and has received national attention for its efforts to recycle as much incoming material as possible.
Peña’s offers waste hauling and operates a 62,000-square-foot material recovery facility (MRF). In addition to processing municipal solid waste (MSW), Peñas handles e-scrap and household hazardous waste, chips and grinds green waste and recently began offering mobile document destruction.
In 2010, Peña’s Disposal Service was awarded the contract to handle construction and demolition (C&D) debris for Tulare County. “When we were awarded the contract for C&D it was kind of different,” recalls Carlos Garcia, Peña’s manager. “We are the only permitted facility in Tulare County that can do everything all on one site, which is unique.”
“It’s nice because you don’t have to go very far,” he adds.
When the initial loads of C&D material arrived at the facility, there were hand sorted. “We kind of learned the hard way,” Garcia says of the company’s approach to C&D recycling. “Sorting everything by hand allowed us to see what was actually in the material.”
Peña’s hired 25 employees to work at the C&D processing part of the business, which Garcia says was a big boost for the community. According to Garcia, Tulare county faces severe economic challenges, with about 24 percent of the population living below the poverty rate, making job creation hugely important.
Peña’s built a tipping floor for the C&D material and put a sorting line in place. Workers pull out heavy materials such as cement that could damage the machinery. “We have 15 guys on the line sorting material from wood to plastic to metals to cement,” says Garcia.
Lumber, cement and asphalt brought in by the public are sorted and recycled. Cement and asphalt are ground for use as road base. Wood material is ground for cogeneration plants. Green waste is processed and turned into mulch for landscaping. A screen on the front end of the system gets the C&D down to a 3-inch-minus size that is used for alternative daily cover at a landfill.
“We’ve been pretty successful in our diversion and how we process material,” observes Garcia. He says when the company applied for the contract, the diversion rate for Tulare County’s C&D debris was around 50 percent. “When we applied, we guaranteed 60 percent and we are up to about 80-90 percent,” he estimates. The company was able to accomplish this in just three months.
This notable increase in diversion caused the California Resource Recovery Association (CRRA) to take notice. The state association recognized Peña’s Disposal as the 2012 winner in the statewide “Outstanding Construction & Demolition Debris Diversion” category.
Upon receiving the award, company Vice President Art Peña remarked, “We are a small, family-owned company competing with national companies. But the accomplishment of our staff is really remarkable. We are pleased to do our part to get Tulare County closer to the state’s overall rate for diverting waste from the waste stream and into recycling.”
Focus on Diversion
One way Peña’s was able to increase the diversion of C&D material was that it focused on finding a home for these less desirable materials rather than focusing on just the cleaner, easier materials. “We have a guy that does a lot of our sales,” says Garcia. “He’s calling around daily for the various materials we get. The less that is sent to the landfill, the better it is.”
Peña’s has worked with construction companies on LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) projects. “With LEED, you have to identify the material and make sure it is being diverted. We are able to get them where they need to be,” says Garcia.
Poised for Growth
Peña’s Disposal Service, Cutler, Calif., is in the permitting process for an expansion will encompass:
Landfills in Tulare County cooperate with Peña’s by setting aside the C&D material they take in. Peña’s picks up the material and processes it.
All of the material that enters the facility is weighted and tracked. Seven cities in Tulare County provide C&D material for recycling.
“In our area, we are able to compete with Waste Management and other folks that are hauling in the area,” says Garcia. “Everything we do kind of gives us a leg up on them because not everybody has a facility like ours.”
Peña’s is currently in the permitting process to increase its daily tonnage from 500 tons per day to 2,000 tons per day. Garcia estimates C&D will make up about 400 of those daily tons. (See the sidebar “Poised for Growth” on page 25 for more details of the expansion.)
As California works toward its state diversion goals and mandates, such as 75 percent diversion by 2020 and mandated commercial recycling, Garcia hopes the expansion will allow Peña’s to accept the projected increase in material.
“We are not only helping the county with diversion, we are helping the cities meet diversion goals set by the state of California,” says Garcia. He adds, “We always need to be looking toward the future for ways to reduce the amount of C&D residuals going to landfill. By expanding our business, it will allow us to hire more people locally and train them for their future as well.”
Peña’s knows that to be successful, educating the public about recycling and the services it provides is paramount, Garcia says. Peña’s has been able to educate residents about the need to recycle. The company also provides information to partners such as the Homebuilding Industry of Tulare-Kings Counties and the Tulare-Kings Builders Exchange to share with their membership. Peña’s Waste Disposal provides its educational materials in English and Spanish in recognition of Tulare County’s largely Hispanic population.
Peña’s gets the word out to schools through education programs and has an exhibit at AgVentures children’s museum at the International Agri-Center in Tulare. The company also has a mascot called Peña’s Zero Hero who visits the schools and attends community events.
“By educating the little ones at schools,” Garcia says, “eventually that will be passed on to their homes and their families.”
Peña’s has even reached social media outlets with its messaging. “We have someone on staff that posts daily recycling tips and what is happening with Peña’s. It’s been very helpful.”
Peña’s founder Salvador Peña started the company in 1949 to collect food waste for his pig farm. Throughout the company’s 64-year history of change and expansion, one thing always has stayed the same and that is the commitment to the customer. Salvador’s grandson Art has carried on that legacy.
“Art Peña is very diligent in making sure we give good customer service,” says Garcia. “He is real customer oriented and makes sure customers are being taken care of. He knows without the customers, we don’t have a business.”
Garcia says Peña’s Disposal Service has been instrumental in the community over the years. The community involvement and outreach has helped Peña’s show the community what the company is all about.
“We are bringing a lot of different things to the table for outreach and people recognize us more,” Garcia says. “They know we are not just some small mom ‘n’ pop place. They know what we say is what we do.”
The author is managing editor of Construction & Demolition Recycling and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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