A growing force

Features - Mixed Material Handling

Michael Brothers Hauling & Recycling works to establish full-service mixed C&D recycling operations under unique challenges within the Pennsylvania market.

May 5, 2022

Photos courtesy of Michael Brothers Hauling & Recycling

Tom and Rob Milani, who represent the second generation of the second family to own Michael Brothers Hauling & Recycling, say they hope to pioneer the recycling industry in the western Pennsylvania region.

In 2023, the company will celebrate its 50th year since the Milani family first joined the business, says Tom, vice president of the company. Michael Brothers President Steve Milani, Tom and Rob’s father, began working for the company in 1973 when it was owned by Jack and Harry Michael. He bought the company from them in 1976 when the Michael brothers retired.

“[Steve] started off working for the Michael brothers as a garbage man and he took over the business as they retired and he kept that entrepreneurial spirit to keep [the company] growing and growing,” Tom says.

Within the past 15 years, the company began exploring recycling in earnest, says Rob, Michael Brothers operations manager. With that transition came a flurry of permits required by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

“We always did it, but once we started opening our transfer stations and putting in the truck scales that were required by the DEP, that’s when we started buying the scrap metal,” says Rob. “I think that happened in about 2008, 2009; that’s when we got into scrap and recycling.”

Now, Michael Brothers operates out of several locations surrounding Pittsburgh. The company’s headquarters in Baldwin Township, in the South Hills area, includes a transfer station, scrap yard and recycling center that process all grades of ferrous and nonferrous scrap, Nos. 1-7 plastic, glass, green waste, clean-fill concrete and more. In Reserve Township, in the North Hills area, the company operates a transfer station and a recycling center that process concrete and green waste. In Adamsburg, Michael Brothers runs a recycling center and scrap yard. That facility handles all grades of ferrous and nonferrous metals, cardboard and glass. Plans are in the works to add a 100-foot-by-120-foot transfer station there, as well, which will expand the list of materials accepted. In Mount Pleasant, the company plans to open a new recycling center and scrap yard this summer.

Michael Brothers processed roughly 80,000 tons of C&D material in 2021 at a rate of 50 tons per hour, Rob says.

The company plans to expand its services in the future. Even now, it is one of the only businesses in the area that offers any level of processing, but it doesn’t (yet) offer a full-service C&D material recovery facility (MRF), Tom says.

“I think what really makes us special is we’re not just one-sided,” he says. “So, there aren’t many places to take your construction debris, and we’re going to process your concrete, going to process your green waste, but we’re also going to accept cardboard, glass and a lot of other things that we’re just getting into. We just started some PVC (polyvinyl chloride) pipe recycling. We don’t do a lot of one thing; we just do a lot, and I think it really adds to our value for our customers to know that. When they call us, we normally have a solution, or we’re going to find a solution, for their recycling needs.”

Michael Brothers currently has a fleet of 40 Mack trucks, nine tractors, 17 roll-off containers, nine tractors and 14 lugger containers, Rob says. During the past five years, the company has added an average of five new trucks annually to gradually update its fleet. The fleet also includes three dump trailers and three gondola trailers that are used for scrap and C&D hauling.

To help sort and load C&D material, the company recently bought a Caterpillar MH3024 material handler and a Caterpillar 920 compact wheel loader, which Rob says are capable of handling anything from a small piece of copper to 5,000 pounds of shingles, depending on the attachment used.

The western area of Pennsylvania that Michael Brothers Hauling & Recycling serves is not a big C&D recycling area, Rob says, and, as a result, the company is one of the only recycling centers in the area.

“As far as the C&D world in Pittsburgh, there’s zero MRFs that are doing it,” he says. “Basically, there’s a handful of transfer stations in Pittsburgh and then a lot of landfills in western Pennsylvania and right over the border in Ohio. Ohio has specific landfills for just construction debris.”

Because of the abundance of landfill space, Rob says it’s been difficult for MRFs to get established in western Pennsylvania because the market drives people to landfills.

“It just wouldn’t make sense to put in one of these couple-of-million-dollar processing facilities in yet, but we want to be the first ones,” he says.

Within the next 10 years, Rob says he believes the company will establish a mixed C&D MRF, but ultimately the timing will be driven by market forces in Pennsylvania, not regulations.

At this point, expanding into processing is a matter of scaling up the company’s transfer business to a point where it would be able to feed a full-service C&D MRF, Tom says.

“I think that the lack of business … isn’t necessarily a concern,” he continues. “You always want to make sure you have plenty of business if you want to grow. … But right now, on-demand, it’s more getting to the next level to be able to handle all the business we could have efficiently,” Tom says.

The company is hearing more customers express interest in recycling, he says, but the commonwealth’s government is actually behind those of other states, including neighboring Ohio and West Virginia.

“One of the things that’s very frustrating for both of us is, when we do go to these national events, we’re talking to recyclers from other areas, and they’re getting a lot of help at the state level,” he says.

The company is working with the state of Pennsylvania to develop a permitting process that’s more friendly to the C&D recycling industry, Tom says.

“You shouldn’t have to reapply for a permit when a new technology becomes available or a new end market opens up,” he explains.

The company also partnered with other businesses and organizations for the Glass Recycling Collaborative of Southwestern Pennsylvania hosted by the Pennsylvania Resources Collaboration. Initiatives such as this are the types of services Michael Brothers, under Rob, Tom, Steve and Patty Milani, Steve’s wife, provides the community that maintain strong ties with area residents, Tom explains.

“We’ve been pretty blessed that we get a lot of community support, but I think a lot of that support comes from the way we were raised,” he says. “Our parents were always willing to help people, so there are a lot of things we do that are loss leaders … Glass is totally a loss leader to us, but it’s part of what we want to do, to be able to provide that. It’s a two-way street. We must add value to the communities we operate in.”

And maybe, when plans solidify for that MRF, the community will be behind the company then, too.

The author is managing editor of Construction & Demolition Recycling. He can be contacted by email at bgaetjens@gie.net.