Turning trash into cash

Last updated on June 9th, 2022 at 12:04 am

Nearly 30 percent of the waste dumped into Wisconsin’s landfills every year comes from new construction projects or from building renovation projects.

That waste includes scraps of wood, carpeting and padding, drywall, nails, shingles and other construction materials that could be recycled if someone found a way to make a profit from it.

Well, someone has, and soon they’ll be making more.

Last November, Eric Konik and John Hansen opened City Wide Recycling LLC (CWR) at the intersection of North 107th Street and West Brown Deer Road on Milwaukee’s far northwest side.

The company takes in waste from construction sites – whole truckloads are dumped directly onto its 16,000-square-foot warehouse floor, where employees manually pick through the refuse, separating any material that can be recycled.

By May 15, CWR will expand its operations with a 27,000-square-foot addition that is nearing completion. The expanded facility will give CWR more space to sort and store recyclable materials.

The expansion also will enable CWR to hire more employees. The company will have about 50 employees by the end of 2007, Konik said.

By the end of this year, the expanded facility will house a $2.1 million sorting apparatus that is being designed and built for the company. The apparatus will have a series of conveyor belts, screens and filters, with multiple picking stations and bins for materials. When the new sorting mechanism is in place, trucks will dump their contents into a feeding bin instead of spilling them on the floor, Hansen said.

“It eliminates the hand processing of three or four commodities,” he said.

When Hansen and Konik were searching for a system to separate recyclables, they turned to other operators such as Rob Lenzini, co-owner of MBL Recycling in Palatine, Ill. MBL has been recycling construction waste since 2003 and has been operating a sorting mechanism since 2005.

When MBL opened in 2003, its four employees sorted construction waste outside on the ground. On average, they recycled about 50 percent of the materials the company took in. When MBL purchased its sorting apparatus, its recycling rate increased to 75 to 80 percent, Lenzini said.

Operating at capacity

CWR’s mechanism will require fewer employees to operate per shift, Hansen said, but the company will operate multiple shifts instead of laying off workers.

“We’d like to have longer hours than the landfills,” Konik said.

“We’re processing about 100 tons (of material) per day now,” Hansen said. “And we’re at capacity.”

When its expansion is completed, CWR will begin talks with developers and construction firms that it is not doing business with now, Konik said.

“When the new building is ready on May 15, we will begin educating the rest of Milwaukee, just in time for the major construction season,” he said.

Konick and Hansen have extensive local and national experience in waste hauling, and they saw untapped potential in Wisconsin to recycle construction site waste.

“We hauled direct to the landfills for years,” Hansen said. “The market (here) was not developed yet for the recycling of it. It was just starting in the late 90s. Now, the East and West Coasts are doing it non-stop.”

Some states such as California and Massachusetts, as well as the City of Chicago, have passed laws requiring a large percentage of all construction site waste to be recycled. For example, Chicago’s law requires 25 percent of construction site waste be separated and recycled on certain jobs in the city. The law will increase to at least 50 percent later this year.

For now, there is no law in Wisconsin that requires construction site waste to be recycled.

‘The right thing to do’

However, Konik and Hansen believe that Wisconsin’s construction and development firms are ready to embrace recycling, especially if someone else does the work.

“The industry has started to understand it has an obligation,” Hansen said. “Some of the major contractors have started to step forward in an effort to do that.”

“It’s the right thing to do,” Konik said.

Many contractors agree.

David Schmidt, project director with Milwaukee-based CG Schmidt Inc., said his company is already utilizing CWR for the Columbia-St. Mary’s Hospital project on Milwaukee’s east side. The recycling service is beneficial to contractors because they can put all of their waste products into one bin, and CWR sorts it, he said.

The alternative, Schmidt said, is to have his own employees sort waste into six or more containers that C.G. Schmidt would have to store on the job site.

“I don’t pay these guys to sort garbage – they’re highly skilled and highly paid tradesmen,” he said. “Using the service, I’ve got one or two dumpsters. When they’re full, I can tell someone to get them out of here. Let them deal with it.”

Rob Ruvin, owner of Mequon-based Rubin Development Inc., also is using CWR’s services while his company converts the Blatz building in downtown Milwaukee into condominiums and other uses. The company will also use the service as it develops new buildings in the city’s Park East corridor, Ruvin said.

“(CWR) makes it impossible to justify not recycling,” he said. “They do the work for you. It saves so much time and space that your labor on the job site is less as a result.”

Ruvin, who also is a board member of the Wisconsin Green Building Alliance and has a background in home construction, said sending containers full of trash to CWR also helps ease his conscience.

“When you know that your dumpsters are going to their site, it actually feels good to throw something in the dumpsters,” he said. “There’s a paradigm shift (in my mind). I was a builder in my previous life, and I never felt good about all of the debris we created. For the first time now, I know that all that stuff is being recycled.”

The Hunzinger Construction Co. recently started using CWR for a remodeling project the company is doing in downtown Milwaukee, said John Hunzinger, president of the company. Previously, Hunzinger employees sorted the company’s construction waste on jobs when it was asked to recycle.

“We would never be able to divert as much (waste) from the landfill as this does,” Hunzinger said. “In the long run for us, it’s more economically advantageous to do it with them. It’s just the right thing to do.”

Scratching the surface

As CWR’s capacity increases, Schmidt believes other contractors and developers will start taking notice and use the service.

“As word gets out, they’re going to be swamped,” Schmidt said. “Between 70 and 90 percent of what used to go to the landfill, they’re recycling. And the fee is minute.”

Developers and contractors are charged a tipping fee for each time their waste haulers bring a load to CWR, Hansen said. The fee is calculated by weight, the same way they’re charged at a landfill.

Tipping fees at CWR vary, but are less than 10 percent more than the fees at landfills, Konik said.

Also, like the landfill, totals for each customer are stored on a computer, and customers are itemized weekly or monthly.

About 70 percent of CWR’s revenues come from tipping fees. The remaining 30 percent is generated by the sale of recyclable materials.

Some of the recycled materials, such as metals and wood, have a value to multiple markets. Some, like drywall and paper products, have little to no value. Others cost CWR money to recycle or send to a landfill, Hansen said. So if your business produces a lot of metal waste, you may want to work with a metal recycling company that can provide professional scrap metal recycling services for proper management and recycling of your metal scraps.

The same computer program tracks the amount of materials customers send to CWR and generates reports for each. That information is particularly useful if contractors are working on LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)-certified green buildings, Schmidt said, because all construction site waste needs to be tracked.

“They supply me with all of the reports and tracking documents,” he said. “No matter how I look at it, it’s more cost effective to me, when I am mandated to recycle, to use their service.”

Builders that send their waste to CWR can use their commitment to recycling construction waste as a selling point to their customers. Some building owners require their contractors to recycle.

“Whether or not you agree with recycling, it is a marketing tool that you can use,” Schmidt said.

The CWR site is located about one mile from Waste Management’s Orchard Ridge Landfill on County Line Road.

“Everything that’s driving to the landfill passes us here,” Konik said. “It’s less of a decision again. They can use their current hauler and simply divert them to City Wide Recycling.”

Don Pierrung, an environmental engineer with Earth Tech, an international environmental consulting firm based in Sheboygan, helped Hansen and Konik obtain Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources permits to open their facility. Landfill operators are not viewing CWR as a competitor, but as a way to keep their facilities open longer, he said.

“I think that the larger landfill companies think of (CWR) as a niche market,” he said. “Instead of competitors, they’re looking at them as partners, which is unique. I’ve already had talks some of the landfill people and they view them as customers instead of competitors.”

There is no other company that is sorting construction waste in Wisconsin, giving CWR potential for significant short-term expansion. In 2008, the company plans to open two additional plants, one on Milwaukee’s south side and another in the Madison area, Konik said.

“In a year or two, I think everybody will do this,” Schmidt said. “Anybody that is responsible will do this. When it’s this easy and convenient, why not do it?”

Ruvin agreed. “I think it will take a little while for the word to get out, but once it does, they will be overwhelmed with the response and will have a hard time keeping up,” he said. “Everybody should be diverting waste to their facility.”

“I think that we have a marketplace that is becoming inquisitive and becoming more receptive to sustainability and sustainable design,” Hunzinger said. “I think there’s some benefit here to contractors and to clients, as well as the environmental benefit.”

City Wide Recycling LLC

Address: 10700 W. Brown Deer Road, Milwaukee
Current size: About 20,000 square feet (about 16,000 square feet of work space)
Expansion size: About 27,000 square feet to be completed by May 15
Employees: 20, to increase to about 50 by the end of 2007
Industry: Construction site recycling                                                                                                                   Future growth sites: Madison area, Milwaukee’s south side

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