Second to none
Photo by Mark Madeo Photography.

Second to none

Features - Cover Story

Premier Recycle Co. in San Jose, California, puts sustainability at the forefront through comprehensive waste consulting and material diversion.

May 4, 2022

Brock Hill, vice president of Premier Recycle Co.
Photos by Mark Madeo Photography

Premier Recycle Co., headquartered in San Jose, California, had a unique introduction to the construction and demolition (C&D) recycling industry. Beginning operations under the name Tote-a-Shed in the mid-1980s, the company got its start renting mobile storage containers to contractors in the Greater Bay Area.

During those early years of operation, Tote-a-Shed was approached by one of its largest construction clients to see if it could provide dumpsters—a request that ultimately would change the company’s trajectory.

“They asked [the owner] Rocky Hill if he had any dumpsters, and he said, ‘No, but we’ll make you one,’” says Premier Recycle Vice President Brock Hill, who also is Rocky’s son. “He then went back to our yard, took a cutting torch and took the top off of one of the storage containers, and that was one of our first dumpsters.”

In the years following, Brock says the company shifted operations to focus on hauling. However, upon taking a closer look at some of the material coming in, leadership recognized valuable commodities were contained in the loads being hauled to landfills.

“When they started looking at some of the material coming in, they said, ‘Hey, there’s good stuff in here. There’s metal; there are good items that we can take out,’” Brock says. “So, they started sorting in the back of the storage container yard. But eventually … California came in and said you can’t start [sorting material] without a permit, which is what really started the push to make it a completely separate company with permits.”

This ultimately led Rocky to purchase a 76,000-square-foot site in the early 2000s to facilitate full-service sorting operations, marking the beginning of Premier Recycle. Today, the company boasts a full suite of waste management solutions, including dumpster service, material recovery, waste plan consulting and regulatory compliance.

 

Forging a new path

This transformation of Premier Recycle’s service portfolio can be credited, in part, to Brock, who joined the company in 2008 at Rocky’s request.

“I was asked by my father to come and work with the family company, and my first gut reaction was ‘No way,’” Brock says. “The reason for that is that it’s a thin line to walk between keeping a family life and a good relationship with your family, and then mixing that with work. … It really has to be done correctly.”

In his first position at Premier, which didn’t have a designated title, Brock was responsible for modernizing the company. Describing it as a “fluid position,” Brock says his day-to-day tasks revolved around streamlining operations within the company, whether that be sorting at the recovery facility or updating computer systems.

“The first focus that I saw was the demand for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and green building projects,” Brock says. “We were already doing a lot of this work with construction companies, but from what I saw, there was a big deficiency in actual data from job sites. So, what were [the companies] actually recycling? What was the material coming off of the project?”

Brock says the city of San Jose had one of the most comprehensive C&D recycling programs in the country at the time—called the Construction & Demolition Diversion Program, or CDDP. “What that entails is a contractor, when they pulled out a building permit, would have to pay a deposit to the city based on square footage,” he explains. This deposit would ensure that if the contractor took the material to a San Jose-certified facility and could prove it with weight tickets, it could get a return based on how many tons of material were recycled.

“We were an early adopter into this system, and my focus was trying to make it easy for our customers,” Brock says.

 

A unique approach

Taking a different approach than most C&D sorting facilities, Brock says Premier Recycle focuses on helping contractors successfully divert recyclables on the job site rather than focusing on material coming into its recycling facility.

“About 95 percent of our material is on our own bins and trucks,” he says. “The contractors coming in are really a small portion of what we do. 

Our focus is ‘How do we make contractors successful on the job site and help them realize their goals?’ which, I think, is a very different take than a lot of other companies have.”

With this goal in mind, the company set out to design a data aggregation system to provide contractors with a breakdown of material diversion from the job site. This initiative is what jump-started Premier Recycle’s sustainable project management department, which falls under its waste plan consultancy division.

“We would take photos of every single 

load coming in and create our own … diversion reports to give a breakdown of what happened on their projects,” Brock says. “So, we could tell them in real-time if a bin was coming in from a project and if it was different material than it was in the past. [In that case,] we would give them a call and say, ‘Hey, what happened? This is different; is this a new project? What do we need to talk about to help you still achieve your goals?’”

By employing this method, Brock says Premier Recycle could be more proactive with customers. “We could actually achieve their [diversion] goals and not just at the end of the project ask for a bunch of weight tickets and hope for the best,” he adds.

 

Dedicated efforts