“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Nowhere is that more true than in northern Ohio, where a long-established waste-to-resource company is turning everything from demolition and construction waste and sewage sludge into products that homeowners and businesses can use to spruce up their properties. “I can’t believe what we do,” enthuses Diane Kurtzman, a spokesperson for Kurtz Bros. Inc., of Independence, Ohio. “Everything we touch has a recycled component. “Our tagline is ‘we make the good earth better’ and that’s what we try to do every day,” says Kurtzman, who is no relation to the company owners.
Kurtz Bros., has been operating in the region for more than 60 years, starting as a commercial topsoil company serving area farmers. It has since grown into multiple divisions, including seven retail stores. Among the company’s efforts: pioneering work in the U.S. in the biogas industry, reusing millions of tons of foundry sand from the Ford Motor Co.’s casting plant and producing a variety of mulches and compost. The company employs more than 150 people.
Several of its product offerings and business ventures are closely intertwined. Its EarthPro brick chips, produced from construction and demolition debris sorted at its material reclamation facility in Brooklyn Heights, are sold as mulch. The facility processes about 1,200 tons a day of debris such as wood, bricks and metals. Some 85 to 90 percent of that debris is recycled and kept out of the demolition landfill, Kurtzman reports. Kurtz Bros., has operated that landfill for the city for more than 20 years.
While the brick chips are common in some parts of the U.S., Kurtzman says they are relatively new in Ohio. The brick chips have characteristics similar to wood mulch, helping to retain moisture and reduce weed growth, she says. The advantages of the brick chips, she explains, are that users don’t have to apply them year after year, the chips don’t lose their color, they are nonflammable and they won’t degrade. The company encourages users to combine the brick chips, which are sold in 50-pound bags or in bulk, with its TechnaGro compost.
“We recommend they put down TechnaGro with the brick chips,” Kurtzman says. “The black [compost] against the red [chips] is beautiful to see. The plants get nutrition from the compost, and then you have the decorative red mulch around it. And both are 100 percent recycled.” The TechnaGro compost is a biosolid produced from sewage sludge from the Akron municipal wastewater treatment plant. The plant serves Akron and several surrounding communities. The sludge is pumped to a plant across the Cuyahoga River run by KB Composting Services, where it is either composted or put through an anaerobic digester to create electricity.
While some have questioned the safety and viability of using sewage sludge for compost, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency long ago endorsed the concept. “Composting is a cost-effective and environmentally acceptable alternative to such ultimate disposal methods as incineration, ocean dumping and landfilling,” it says. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection also gives the sludge-to-compost concept a thumbs up.