Entrepreneurs Expand Markets for Recycled Products


Courtesy of BioCycle Magazine

Beyond Waste in Santa Rosa, California demonstrates that reuse deconstruction in the mainstream construction industry can be a money-making prospect — by getting paid to take the building apart and from the sale of recovered materials. Beyond Waste’s first “high profile” project was at the Presidio, a former Army base located on the south shore of the Golden Gate entrance to the San Francisco Bay. In 1994, the Army turned the Presidio over to the National Park Service, which was directed by the Clinton administration to convert the base into an “environmentally oriented, recreational-educational working laboratory for sustainability.”

A consortium of three enterprises — Beyond Waste, Inc., San Francisco Community Recyclers (a recycling service and resource conservation organization), and Wood Resource Efficiency Network, an Oregon-based conservation research group — got the contract to deconstruct one of the two buildings, a 9,200 sq. ft. warehouse. A crew of five salvaged about 66,000 board feet, or 87 percent of the wood in the building. With the expenses and income from the sale of the wood, the net cost of the project was $9,340, compared to the demolition bid of $16,800. Beyond Waste also got into manufacturing flooring from some of its reclaimed lumber. “We beat a demolition bid by $12,000, and with the money earned from that job, bought milling and molding equipment to process the recovered wood into flooring,” says Pavitra Crimmel co-owner of Beyond Waste. “As we develop this part of the business, we will offer more products, such as wainscoting and baseboard moldings. We also will feature some of the products manufactured by our customers.” — K.G.

Entrepreneurs Expand Markets for Recycled Products

The number of companies that use recycled materials as feedstocks - fueled by the entrepreneurial spirit and helped by the emphasis on sustainable economic development - keeps increasing across the nation. The latest evidence comes from the new Massachusetts Directory of Recycled Product Manufacturers, which lists 173 firms in the state that employ over 12,000 people and use an estimated 3.7 million tons of recycled materials each year.

'These companies alter these materials beyond the basic sorting, crushing or baling, ' explains Gail Harris of the Chelsea Center for Recycling and Economic Development in Cambridge, Massachusetts, publishers of the directory. 'They either manufacture a new product for sale to consumers or to other manufacturers; remanufacture or recondition products for resale; transform a raw material into a feedstock; and/or fabricate products. ' Harris notes that many others fit within these categories, but adding them to the directory would have made the list unwieldy. 'For example, the almost 200 public entities that run their own compost operations are not included in this guide, ' she points out, 'although they certainly can be considered manufacturers of recycled products. '

Companies listed in the Chelsea Center report include foundries; paper mills; manufacturers of plastics, road construction materials, textiles and glass; wood products and organics companies; manufacturers using rubber and old tires; and office equipment recyclers (from office systems to computers to toner cartridges).
 Of the companies responding to a question about annual sales, 41 had $500,000 or less; 19 had $500,000 to $1 million; 36 had $1 million to $5 million; and 41 had greater than $5 million.


To further promote the practice of incorporating recycled materials into manufacturing, the Chelsea Center recently introduced the Recycling-Based Economic Development Grant Program to help communities explore ways to expand their economic base by taking advantage of the value of their municipal solid wastes. Up to $25,000/project is available to municipalities and community development organizations to support efforts such as: Incorporating recycling-based economic development into the municipal or regional economic development plan, and/or creating a local or regional strategic plan using recycling-based economic development; Assessing the waste materials generated in the community for potential use by local businesses, or to develop or attract new businesses; Conducting public meetings to determine the types of recycled products manufacturers and communities would find desirable, and develop a plan to attract such companies; and Developing and/or implementing innovative mechanisms to retain, support, attract and facilitate recycling-based manufacturing. Awards will be announced in mid-July.

Massachusetts has set a goal of increasing its recycling rate from the current level of 34 percent to 46 percent by the year 2000. Achieving that goal would divert nearly three million tons of materials/year from landfills and incinerators. 'Municipalities are virtual mines of raw materials that can be used to support economic development activities, ' says Amy Perlmutter, executive director of the Chelsea Center. 'We hope this new grant program will encourage communities to look at their wastes as resources and bring together local recyclers, economic developers, community groups and businesses to take advantage of the opportunities they provide. '


One of the companies listed in the Chelsea Center report is Erickson Material, Inc. (EMI) in Woburn, Massachusetts. The recycler converts industrial rubber scrap into a fine talc-like powder for use in new products. EMI was started in 1996  three years after Scott Erickson got the idea while a junior at Harvard University.

The fine powders range from 80 to 200 mesh and can be incorporated into products such as new tires, automobile parts (e.g. windshield wipers) and other extruded and molded goods. They also are used in running tracks and dock bumpers. The company reports that the powder typically costs one-third less than virgin rubber.

Erickson plugged into available assistance and funding to get the company started. The Chelsea Center helped to identify potential customers. EMI applied for and received loans from the state´s Emerging Technology Fund (MassDevelopment) for $485,000 and the Recycling Loan Fund for $150,000. Additionally, the company received $1.2 million from private investors.

A prototype of its manufacturing plant was developed in March, 1997 and in March, 1998, the first batch of material was shipped. EMI recently received a $45,000 grant from the state´s Recycling Industries Reimbursement Credit to purchase more equipment, which should enable the company to process 5,000 tons of rubber this year. The number of employees is expected to grow from 12 to 17. By Kevin Gray

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