Operations focus: Maximizing value

Features - Operations Focus

Sorting wood, concrete and other C&D debris into multiple sizes can add profitability and end-market outlets for recycling operations.

February 19, 2014

End markets for C&D materials vary from region to region. C&D processors need to bring the right materials into the yard in the right sizes and send the right materials out to willing purchasers.

“Here where we are in the Silicon Valley there is a lot of construction and demolition work going on,” says Michael Gross, sustainability director for Zanker Recycling in San Jose, Calif.

But no matter where a C&D operation is located, how different its lines are configured or what size screens it uses, managers agree on two basics for success.

“The most important things in this business are knowing your end markets and having them lined up in advance,” says Jason Salisbury, president of Landfill Reduction and Recycling Inc. (LR&R), Appleton, Wis. “That determines the success of your operation.”

Gross agrees. “Know your product and the markets before you get into the business. A lot of people think it is easy, but the material won’t sell itself,” he says.

Knowing your own job profile helps, too. Interior Removal Specialist Inc. (IRS) of South Gate, Calif., handles debris from tenant improvement projects such as office building remodeling.

“Demolition is a time and money driven process,” says Richard A. Ludt, director of environmental affairs with the firm. As a result, some fine granite countertops or marble flooring are not recovered for reuse. Rather, they are treated simply as another bit of aggregate for the process. “I can’t afford to take the time to take it out slowly,” he explains. “That granite is just more inert material … just another rock.”

Interior jobs generate a lot of millwork, particle board, doors and cabinets for IRS. Last year, it handled 36,000 tons of debris, with 32,000 tons of that produced from in-house jobs.

Gross finds the best way to stay ahead is by having someone else do as much of the sorting as possible before the material gets to the recycling yard.

Zanker offers variable rates based on how clean a load is when it arrives at the facility. For example, a clean load of wood will have a lower disposal rate than one that includes oversized trees. Inbound clean wood fetches $8 per cubic yard. Brush and small tree trimmings bring in $13. A load with palm trees can be worth as much as $28.

Wood working

Wood typically is the big volume maker in C&D operations, and for most C&D recyclers it needs to be sized. For example, wood is the largest single fraction handled by LR&R, representing 27 percent of the company’s incoming stream.

All incoming wood is sorted on a line. It then runs through a Rotochopper MC 266 wood chopper and is put over a 4-inch baffle screen.

“We grind to a 4-inch-minus,” Salisbury says. The company sorts to two grades; the higher grade is intended for landscape mulch and goes to boiler operations with strict emissions requirements. A second Grade B product goes to boilers that aren’t as strict.

At IRS, 12 percent of the inbound material is wood, but it only has one use. “All of my wood is only good for waste-to-energy,” Ludt says. “We can’t compost it or use it for landscaping.”

The situation is far different at Zanker. Last year the company sold 151,000 tons of compost. The material comes from the municipal solid waste (MSW) stream or from yard trimmings.

Zanker’s mulch is made from clean lumber and comes in two sizes as well as three colors: black, red and brown.

“We sell everything bulk, mostly to landscapers,” Gross says. One of Zanker’s current challenges is developing the markets for the products.

While IRS does have a sort line, most of the sorting is done by hand. “I don’t size reduce. I just take it out and have it hauled away,” Ludt says. The company follows a somewhat different approach that a number of California operations have found profitable: It uses a third-party company called Ecology Auto to haul the material.

Ecology began as a pick-a-part auto operation and subsequently has entered into trucking and on-site wood grinding for C&D operators.

Perhaps the most interesting fraction LR&R handles is vinyl siding. Many yards avoid vinyl because of the chlorine challenges involved with the market.

In this case, LR&R acts more as the external arm of vinyl manufacturers. The company’s main market is selling the recovered vinyl back to manufacturers who reuse the material in its process.

Screeing aggregates

One of the more complex materials to handle at any C&D operation is the concrete and aggregate fraction.

Zanker often has nine people working on a concrete crushing line. Sticks, plastics and the like are classified with an air screen while magnets pull out steel.

“We crush and screen aggregates,” Gross says. This also is mirrored by the company’s mixed debris and demolition debris sorting process.

“We pull off 16 items,” Gross says. Some of the items, like copper and used beverage containers (UBCs), are sent to other recyclers who specialize in those areas. Fractions Zanker handles regularly, including the aggregates and the wood portions, are sent to the appropriate Zanker facility.

Handling concrete is a challenge. As part of any concrete crushing, a recycler has to expect that there will be metals embedded in the concrete. “Contamination is a big problem. We just don’t get pristine concrete,” Gross says.

A clean load of No. 1 concrete sized to 3-feet-minus, with no wire, rebar or wood is $12 at Zanker. Bring a load with rebar and wire, and the fee goes up to $22. A load of No. 3 material—defined as one that might be mixed with brick, soil or asphalt—costs $45 a yard.

Zanker uses the same basic system with different screens depending on what end product it is producing. It has a track-mounted screening system it uses for pea gravel or smaller rock.

Until recently, LR&R broke aggregates and crushed them on-site, but it now works with a third party. The aggregates are broken into chunks to size them and then are processed to achieve a 3-inch size or smaller.

“Generally, this market is end-user driven,” Salisbury says. This holds regardless of the material being sorted. “We usually are sending the same material to the same customer,” he says. Dealing with the same customers allows the company to meet the specific requirements of the buyer’s needs.

In addition to wood and vinyl, LR&R handles aggregates, dry wall, ceiling tiles, cardboard, ferrous and nonferrous metals and does secondary processing of wire for copper and brass. “Steel, by far, gives the best return,” Salisbury finds, although he adds the company also does well with nonferrous metals.

No matter what the material being handled or the quality of material coming across the scale, knowing the product and the end markets remain the keys to success. C&D operators can make money with almost anything as long as they are close to markets and work to develop them.


The author is a freelance writer living in the Cleveland area. He can be contacted at curt@curtharler.com.