Starting a Revolution

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Revolution Recovery takes a radical approach to recycling C&D materials.

September 19, 2013

Revolution Recovery takes a radical approach to recycling C&D materials.

When Avi Golen and Jon Wybar opened Revolution Recovery in Philadelphia in 2004, they admit they didn’t know the first thing about recycling. What they did know was that plenty of good building materials were winding up in the landfill, and they wanted to do something about it.

The two went to high school together at William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia. After attending college and working out of state for a while, the high school friends found themselves back in their hometown. At the time, Golen was working for homebuilders and taking truckloads of construction waste to the landfill. Wybar was working as an environmental consultant. One day while riding bikes together through a city park, Golen came to Wybar with the idea to start a drywall recycling business.

“We realized the need for recycling was much bigger than drywall,” says Wybar. “We wanted to recycle all kinds of building materials.”

A Fresh Look

Unlike many of the leaders of multigeneration, family-owned recycling companies in Philadelphia, Wybar and Golen had little to no experience when they entered the recycling scene. Golen does have some paper recycling in his blood, but he says his family got out of the business when he was very young.

“We started with nothing,” says Wybar. “No customers, no equipment, no cash and no real know-how.”

Some people may see that as a setback, but Golen and Wybar saw it as an opportunity. “It allowed us to take a really fresh look. We were naive enough to try,” says Wybar.

The two partners focused their initial efforts on Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and green building requirements.

“Early on I remember trying to figure out how to land a customer,” recalls Golen. “I remember hearing about green building, and I ended up calling a local branch of the Delaware Valley Green Building Council (DVGBC).”

Golen says the organization was probably only one-hundredth of the size it is today. Through his contact with the DVGBC, Golen met the vice president of a construction company who was very receptive to what the Golen and Wybar were trying to accomplish. He invited them to a commercial construction site. Through that contact, Golen and Wybar started receiving materials.

“At first, Jon and I were hand sorting through the material,” says Golen. “We didn’t have any equipment, just gloves.”

Golen and Wybar began bringing roll-off containers to builders, who would fill them with metal, wood and concrete from their job sites.

“We signed up job after job,” says Wybar. Revolution Recovery initially rented 4,000 square feet of space from a local scrap recycler and was sorting about 18 tons per day of material.

“Everything was done by hand,” says Wybar. “It was great because Avi and I were very hands-on with sorting and really got to know the material.”

No Stone Unturned
Soon Revolution Recovery was able to hire a few laborers and purchase a front-end loader, and in 2008 the company moved into its existing 3.5-acre facility in Philadelphia.

“Our whole focus is serving builders and finding solutions for our customers,” says Wybar. The company targets 14 primary materials through its sorting system, which consists of a pan feeder; a finger screen; an incline belt; an oversized sorting table; trommel screens; slow-speed, high-torque shredders; and air-density classifiers.

Loads of Potential

Philadelphia-based construction and demolition recycling company Revolution Recovery is finding homes for its materials from an unlikely source: the art community.

Materials from Revolution Recovery recently were used to create the sculptures in “Oil and Water,” a project created by local artist team The Dufala Brothers featured in Philadelphia’s The Hidden City Festival held May 23 to June 30. The exhibit was stationed at Globe Dye Works, an industrial building in northeast Philadelphia, and spoke to the transition of the building from a prolific industrial factory to a historic showpiece.

The larger-than-life-size works of art comprised everything from electrical wire cables to 5-gallon-bucket lids to steel ductwork. The majority of the materials were sourced from Revolution Recovery, which donates the items to The Dufala Brothers and other artist groups.

Fern Gookin, LEED accredited professional at Revolution Recovery, says, “We were happy to provide materials to The Dufala Brothers for their Hidden City Festival installation and are excited to see waste material take on a new life. Creating art from waste is another form of recycling that we hope will inspire people to think about the waste stream differently.”

“We start by separating scrap metal, then cinder blocks, wood pallets, cardboard and paper,” explains Golen. “Then it starts getting trickier with things like asphalt, insulation, ceiling tile and carpet.”

Golen says the company is broad in the types of material it will accept. “We are generalists. We take what comes in and we recycle it.” He adds, “We sometimes will break even, but our mission is to keep materials out of landfills. We never in our lives transferred materials without separating them. We are combing through the material. We are going through every little brick and stone. We leave no stone unturned.”

Expanding Horizons
In 2012, the Delaware Solid Waste Authority awarded Revolution Recovery a contract to build and operate a C&D recycling facility in New Castle, Del.

“We knew Delaware needed C&D recycling,” says Golen. “We applied and ended up winning the RFP (request for proposal).”

The Revolution Recovery Delaware operation opened in April 2012. Employees currently ground-sort materials received at the facility, but the company has plans to install an automated sorting system during the first quarter of 2014. Between the two locations, Revolution Recovery employs about 80 people.

According to Golen, the name Revolution Recovery comes from the company’s mission to recover as much as possible, which he says is more than a full-time job. The word revolution derives from the company’s approach to revolutionizing the waste industry’s handling of construction debris, which was very much landfill-driven when the company was founded.

The partners are encouraged by the growth in interest of green building and recycling that has occurred since they founded Revolution Recycling. “We are happy to see the growth in the industry,” says Golen. “It’s about changing the way construction material is handled. We are happy that we are recycling that material. At the same time, we have a long way to go,” he adds.

And the revolution continues for Golen and Wybar. “We really want to continue to broaden in both in the materials we recover and the geographic area we serve,” says Golen.


The author is managing editor of Construction & Demolition Recycling and can be reached at