Finding value

Features - Cover Story

Florida Wood Recycling’s commitment to value has yielded reliable customers and a sense of purpose for owner Harvey Schneider.

Subscribe
November 1, 2021

From left: Florida Wood Recycling’s Jesse and Harvey Schneider
PHOTOS COURTESY OF FLORIDA WOOD RECYCLING

Like many other transplants from the North, Harvey Schneider, 70, has found himself settled in South Florida. The difference is that it’s the mixed C&D and wood recycling opportunities, not the weather or beaches, that eventually lured Schneider down to the Sunshine State.

Schneider, who grew up in Quebec, got his start in recycling after dropping out of college. On a whim, he decided to invest in a Fargo dump truck and go door to door introducing himself to industrial business owners throughout Montreal. Eventually, Schneider began buying scrap from these clients, and since he had a truck, they started paying him to haul their waste as well.

This business evolved to Schneider processing wood waste to produce wood chips, including boiler fuel for a power plant in Chateauguay, New York. When the Okeelanta Power Plant in Belle Glade, Florida, was constructed in the 1990s, Schneider saw the opportunity to expand his company’s services to supply fuel to that market, as well.

After commuting back and forth from Montreal to Florida for years, Schneider finally decided to sell his Canadian operations and set up shop permanently in the Miami suburb of Medley in 1996.

An expanding business

Schneider, along with his son Jesse, run several waste and recycling businesses on a 10-acre property in the industrial heart of the city.

Through their Florida Wood Recycling operation, the father-son duo process incoming mixed C&D and clean wood. The company’s Medley Metal Recycling arm is responsible for buying and selling ferrous and nonferrous scrap, and its Recyclables Recovery division is the company’s roll-off hauling service that collects C&D, wood, yard waste and storm debris in the area via the company’s 300 dumpsters and 12 trucks.

“We do have different streams of material,” Harvey Schneider explains. “One of the streams that comes in is commingled C&D, which we run through a picking line, and we pick out the rock and the metal and the wood. And then another stream that we have is source-separated wood, which comes from manufacturers of roof trusses and palettes, and we get dimensional lumber from construction sites, as well. Then we have another stream which is yard waste, because with Florida’s tropical setting, there is a lot of yard waste, tree trimmings and branches—that’s a separate stream that comes in. Then we have a metal recycling facility where we buy and sell ferrous and nonferrous metals. So, it all fits together because it’s all diversified.”

With C&D materials alone, the company processes around 125,000 to 130,000 tons per year. When factoring in the wood and yard waste, this number approaches 200,000 tons per year, Schneider says. He notes that the company’s processing capacity depends on the material. For yard waste, he says the company is able work through 100 tons per hour. This drops down to around 50 to 60 tons per hour when processing C&D and anywhere from 50 to 70 tons per hour when processing clean wood waste.

Speaking about the company’s evolution in processing wood waste, Harvey says the company has become increasingly sophisticated, and selective, over the years.

“I think in order to create a product that’s quality, you have to have certain criteria in place,” he says. “So, certain materials we will not accept. For example, we don’t accept pressure-treated wood in this facility. When we started up our picking line, and we started manufacturing mulch, we worked with the University of Miami to develop best management practices for recycling facilities to be able to source clean, reclaimed wood.”

“The university developed a liquid, called a PAN Indicator stain, where you can put a just a drop of it on a piece of wood, and if it turns purple, it’s pressure-treated. If it turns orange, it’s fine,” he continues. “I also have an XRF gun where we can test the wood randomly to make sure that everything is clean wood that we use. If you go on the Florida Department of Environmental Protection website, they have a document on what they call best management practices for C&D recycling facilities to source clean wood, and we were instrumental in helping create that.”

Florida Wood Recycling and its sister companies are operated out of a 10-acre site in the heart of industrial Medley, Florida.

By being fastidious on insisting on clean wood and communicating this mandate to its customers, Schneider says the company can simply segregate this portion of the incoming material to be processed via its Morbark grinders.

For its mixed loads that are more unpredictable, the company employs a simple but effective system to properly sort materials.

In conjunction with manual sorters, the company uses a finger screener to divide material into three fractions—fines, middles (approximately 5- to 7-inch material and under depending on the stream), and overs (anything over 5 to 7 inches depending on the stream). This material is transported to A and B lines where a crossbelt magnet pulls out the steel before it heads to an air density classifier that blows the lights into a rejects pile headed for landfill while the heavy aggregates fall to the line to be collected. The A-line material is further picked by around three or four manual sorters who help divert the aggregates, metal and wood to four designated bays.

Through the company’s various outlets, the metal is sold to the scrap market, the wood is converted into mulch that the company delivers direct, and the aggregates are used primarily for lake fill for area quarries.

While the company’s sorting system has worked well for Schneider over the years, he says he has been communicating with Sparta Manufacturing Inc. VP of Sales Howard Fiedler regarding potentially updating the company’s line. He notes that the company previously worked with Fiedler during his tenure at Erin Recycling to install the equipment currently in use at the site.

“I installed the first A line in 2004, and I extended it and put the B line in in 2007,” he says. “The line is getting a little old and it’s going to be time to upgrade it in the near future.”

Schneider also says he is keeping a close eye on the evolution of C&D sorting robotic systems, in part, because of the success and efficiency he currently enjoys from robot-enabled equipment used to stack the bagged mulch the company produces.

“I’ve been watching the developments in C&D robotics for a while now,” he notes. “I currently have two lines with Kawasaki robots on them for stacking mulch, so I’m very familiar with the technology. There’s a learning curve, and with my current system, they’re deployed for a single task of stacking bags on pallets, but it’s not so simple when you’re picking C&D. I’m watching the developments, and I’m very curious to see where it’s going to go in the near future because I believe that that’s going to be the future of picking. The question is, is this technology capable of handling volume and at what cost? Like anything else, everything has to be cost-effective. It’s fine and dandy to spend millions of dollars for robots, but if you’re not going to make any money, it doesn’t work.”

By focusing on in-demand products like metal and wood—and shying away from those that are more subject to fickle commodity markets, like paper—Schneider says he has been able to find consistent outlets. Additionally, by insisting on creating products of value, he has cultivated a reliable base of returning customers.

“It doesn’t take a lot of intelligence to be successful as a recycler,” he says. “Yes, it takes a little bit of intelligence, but it takes a lot of hard work. Very often you have opportunities, and there are many people who get opportunities put in front of them, but they maybe don’t have the guts to reach out and grab them and say, ‘I’m going to do this.’ We are very, very forward-thinking and we’re always looking to try to improve what we do to become more efficient and create better products that the consumer wants. … You know, you take care of your customer, you give your customer a quality product and quality service at a competitive price, that’s the key to business.”

In addition to creating products of value, Schneider says investing in people has been pivotal for the company’s growth. Depending on the season, the company’s workforce can vary in size from 35 to 45 employees, many of which have been with the company for years.

“The key to the whole thing is to hire good people, pay them well and treat them with respect. My employees are like my family,” he says. “I take good care of my employees and I listen to what they say. If an employee comes in and says that we could be doing something differently, I listen and try to use those things to help me grow my business and make my business more efficient. It’s very important that you have a good staff and that you take care of them, and we’ve been fortunate to have very low turnover. I have people that have been working for me for 25 to 30 years here. It’s pretty rare in this industry.”

Despite having over five decades serving the recycling sector, Schneider doesn’t have plans to exit the business anytime soon. Although he’s come a long way geographically from where he started, his passion for the business is still close to home.

“The recycling industry—it’s quite interesting,” he concludes. “It’s a lot of fun, really. You know what, I’m 70 years old, and I still come to work every day. I love coming to work because every day is just more exciting than the last.”

The author is the editor of Construction & Demolition Recycling and can be reached at aredling@gie.net.