These days contractors are squeezed from every angle. Intense competition for available work erodes margins; materials and fuel costs continue to escalate; and uncertainty still clouds the future. To succeed you must carefully scrutinize every aspect of your business and differentiate your offerings.
In this environment, recycling continues to gain traction. There are viable markets for recycled products ranging from asphalt shingles to concrete, asphalt and wood. The trick is to identify the potential revenue streams and then calculate the costs of the equipment and labor required to turn the waste stream into a saleable product. You must carefully weigh the risk vs. rewards. But a number of contractors have already proven that materials once headed to the landfill can actually be converted into profitable, environmentally sensible products.
Nashville, TN-based Demo Plus was named 2009 subcontractor of the year for projects under $250,000 by the Associated General Contractors of America. The company provides a turnkey approach that includes assessment, abatement, demolition and recycling of a project from a single source. Up to 85% of the debris from its demolition sites is salvaged. It recycles and cleans old brick to re-use in construction, as well as salvages ferrous and non-ferrous metals, wood, acoustic ceiling tiles and even carpet.
“Our business separates between architectural, structural demolition and abatement,” says Steve Cline, owner. “We also perform environmental consulting, which starts early in a project. Once the material is identified, we start the asbestos and lead-based paint removal as needed prior to the demolition project. To top it off, we are able to do the waste hauling and recycling without the need for multiple subs. We are a full-stream process.”
Demo Plus was already trying to salvage as many of the recycled items as it could from its demolition projects before debris was hauled to the landfill. “This led to the development of a waste hauling container service, as well as our construction and demolition (C&D) recycling facility, Earth First C&D Recycling,” says Cline.
Creating a recycling business further extended the one-stop shop approach. “We have one sorting facility today and we are in the middle of building a second facility,” says Cline. The company made an investment in roll-off containers to help facilitate a steady flow of C&D debris. “We run 170 roll-off containers with our own fleet of roll-off trucks.”
Contractors can pay Earth First to collect their C&D debris with the roll-off container service. In exchange, they can earn valuable LEED points for their projects. “Recycling does have cost to it,” says Cline. “You are paying similar to a landfill rate; but instead of the process of compacting it in a landfill, the process is able to recycle the material. As long as you can be competitive, does it really make sense to landfill vs. being able to recycle and reuse in today’s world?”
Currently, the most profitable demolition debris is metal. “Everybody is always after metals,” says Cline. “Cardboard is probably second.” But he has found many other revenue streams for recycled material and is always looking for more. “We sell wood to either a biofuel facility for them to burn as a boiler fuel or we sell it to another company that makes colored mulch out of it.”
The company even recycles old bricks. The bricks are taken to an off-site facility to be cleaned, stacked and palletized. “It is all done by hand,” says Cline. “It is very labor intensive to take bricks and literally knock the mortar off one from the other. One guy should be able to shuck 2,000 to 3,000 bricks a day.”
Cline refused to comment on a couple of other products under development, but acknowledges that there will be other revenue streams in the near future. “I would love to take zero to the landfill, but I know that is impossible,” he says.