Recycler thrives by advancing the state of his industry

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As a 14-year-old schoolboy, Dave Zwicky was given the chance to realize his dreams by a local banker who saw real potential in a young man’s goal of becoming a successful excavating contractor. Backed by the banker and a co-signer, young Dave bought his first piece of equipment, a backhoe, and never looked back. After 30 years in business, Zwicky shifted his company’s focus to organic recycling and land clearing. Once again, Zwicky’s energy and creativity created a successful enterprise, one that last year processed and sold nearly 700,000 yards of material, and has let Dave Zwicky quietly pay back many times over the community that supported him so long ago.

Zwicky is president of W.D. Zwicky & Son, Inc., parent company of Zwicky Processing and Recycling, Inc., based in Robesonia, Penn., near Reading. When Zwicky decided to migrate his business to organic recycling in 1988, he drew on his family’s heritage of mechanics and tool making to convert some of his excavating equipment for recycling work. Zwicky’s earliest recycling contracts were for stump grinding, first for an area farmer and then for a local contractor. “We did those jobs and then another job after that, and we kept going and going. And it really just grew out of there,” recalls Zwicky.

A Lasting Partnership

As a family-owned business, Zwicky Processing & Recycling, Inc. is built on a firm foundation of self-sufficiency. Zwicky’s father was a tool maker and his grandfather was a master mechanic, so it has been natural for Zwicky to build all of his own attachments and many of his machines’ wear parts and maintenance parts. Zwicky did form an alliance in the company’s early years, however, when he bought a stump waste recycler from Morbark, Inc. Processing stumps with modified excavating equipment was hard work, and when Zwicky saw an advertisement for the new grinder, he traveled to the Morbark factory in Winn, Mich., to see the machine in action.

“When we went there, we took our coveralls along,” Zwicky says. “Not only did we run the machine, we crawled around through it.” Impressed by the stump waste recycler’s rugged construction, Zwicky bought the first piece of equipment in what is now a highly mobile Morbark fleet that includes seven machines: Model 1300, Model 1250 and Model 1100 Tub Grinders; Model 5600 and Model 4600 Wood Hog horizontal grinders; a Coloring System and a Model 27 Total Chiparvestor. Adding in trucks, tractors, loaders, excavators, screening plants and other equipment, Zwicky Processing & Recycling owns 104 motorized units, all of them meticulously maintained in-house.

A Multitude Of Products And Customers

The 700,000 cubic yards of material sold by Zwicky Processing & Recycling last year includes 14 different products, all made of recycled organics. Zwicky’s products cover the spectrum of landscaping applications plus soil amendments, agricultural products and specialty products. “Landscaping mulch is our primary product,” explains Zwicky. “We produce several grades of mulches, including some colored materials, although most are natural color.”

Zwicky Processing & Recycling sells to a growing base of nearly 500 customers. “And that’s on a wholesale basis,” says Zwicky. His company’s landclearing and recycling accounts include a growing number of high-tech site remediation and recovery projects, including some Superfund jobs. Landfill mining jobs also keep Zwicky’s crews and equipment busy, as well as custom grinding contracts with area colleges, universities, municipalities, military bases, golf courses and cemeteries. Zwicky Processing & Recycling is equipped to support the goal of many customers who wish to recycle 100 percent of their organic waste.

Dave Zwicky is a passionate advocate of recycling, and he and his people strive to produce consistently high-quality organic products for their customers. “We keep our blends of materials constant and we work really hard to keep repeat customers, our bread-and-butter people. You can give a guy a load of junk one time, but he’s not going to be there next year to pay your bills,” Zwicky asserts. “Quick money isn’t good money.”

New Products Abound

Although Zwicky Processing & Recycling wholesales three-quarters of its material directly from job sites, the company’s 42-acre location on the former family farm near Robesonia is distinguished by carefully sorted piles of material in various stages of processing, from grinding and chipping to screening and coloring. Steam rises from two large mounds of rich compost which are kept turned and active by dozers crawling over them. Two of Zwicky’s Morbark Tub Grinders churn out additional stockpiles of rich materials. Here, Dave Zwicky carries on a constant search for new uses for organic products, a search that has taken his company to new and yet unexplored areas of recycling.

Several of Zwicky’s products are so revolutionary that he is loathe to describe them. Others he discusses with the enthusiasm of an inventor hot on the trail of discovery. Organic erosion control products, for example, are a topic of interest now. “Two of our new products are going to be made 100 percent from recycled demolition material which is all going into the landfill now,” Zwicky explains. “Another product is actually made of recycled pressed board, plywood and cardboard, again, all currently going into the landfill. There are going to be three brand-new products come out of the landfill.”

Reducing Materials

Zwicky Processing & Recycling’s front-line reduction machines are a 2 1/2-year-old Morbark Model 5600 Wood Hog and a new Morbark Model 4600 Wood Hog. Both are in constant use, usually at sites miles apart, along with support crews and equipment. At a campus expansion project at Elizabethtown College in southeast Pennsylvania, the Model 5600 Wood Hog, fed by a Deere 160LC excavator, quickly reduces trees cleared from the 10-acre site. A Deere 648GIII grapple skidder places and pushes trees and scrub material within reach of the loader, and a nearby open-top trailer quickly fills with clean grindings from the Wood Hog’s discharge conveyor.

“We also do a lot of on-site processing for Elizabethtown College,” says Dave Zwicky. “We help them on an on-going basis to recycle their organics, all of which they reuse on site.”

The Model 4600 Wood Hog, meanwhile, is several miles to the east, processing a stockpile of old pallets and wood growing frames from a nearby mushroom producer. Dave Zwicky’s son Chris has worked for the company since the age of nine, and his experience shows as he operates a Deere 690D-LC excavator equipped with a grapple to keep the horizontal grinder fed from the pile of lumber. This is a particularly satisfying contract for Dave Zwicky, he explains, because not only does he grind the grower’s wood frames when they are periodically changed out for new ones, but he also provides fortified mulch made from the wood back to the customer for his mushroom crop.

One of Zwicky Processing & Recycling’s crews is dedicated to stump grinding on the company’s landclearing jobs, in addition to performing grinding work for many other landclearing contractors and in landfills. After so many years of experience, Zwicky Processing & Recycling has learned how to make quick work of the dirty job of grinding stumps. “We split stumps first primarily to get the rocks and the dirt out of them,” Zwicky points out. “Some contractors don’t think so, but we’ve proved to ourselves that we get a lot more efficient grind with four pieces of stump than with one massive stump. Splitting the stump cleans it out and gives you a more economical grind.”

Mobility Is Key

The large number of customers for which Zwicky Processing & Recycling provides custom grinding requires tight scheduling of the company’s equipment and crews. “In addition to our bigger jobs, we usually have at least one crew out doing custom grinding for somebody,” Zwicky says. “One of the reasons we bought the Morbark Model 4600 horizontal grinder is because it’s very mobile. It doesn’t require permits to move around.”

Zwicky details one crew’s schedule over the next several days: “I normally have two guys who move equipment from site to site. The 4600 crew at the college will be done tomorrow morning and they’ll go to the next job. Everything will be pulled in and sitting there, ready to start. There’s enough material for a day or two of work before they will be ready for the grinder, then they’ll start prepping and then start bringing trees on.”

A Good Neighbor

Time spent with Dave Zwicky reveals an altruism that is reflected in his business dealings as well as in his personal life. Always remembering that the road to his success was paved by the faith that others had in him, Zwicky has extended the same helping hand to other beginners, as well. “We’ve franchised a couple of outlets, gotten them started,” Zwicky says quietly. “There were some people who were instrumental in my getting started when I was young and had no resources other than a willingness to get out there and work. We started some of these younger landscapers who seemed to have good potential and a desire to grow, and we help them push the paperwork through and get established, and do the physical setup of their facility for them and even end up bankrolling a lot of that activity.”

A glittering windmill on Zwicky’s property not only blends in with nearby Amish farmsteads, it also pumps water at a pond used for both an emergency supply of water and as a retention pond. At his 42-acre site near Robesonia and at a 110-acre expansion site that he is establishing several miles away, Zwicky is scrupulous to minimize the operation’s impact on the environment and his neighbors. “No runoff leaves the property,” Zwicky states. “All the runoff is recycled back into the operation. All the noise is contained, too.”

In the 14 years that Zwicky’s company has been in the recycling business, it has received no violations from government agencies or complaints from its neighbors. “We have a good neighbor policy with the township and the municipalities around here,” he says. “We have tried to be supportive of local activities, libraries, the fire department and, of course, the school.” Zwicky adds that he will soon finish a four-year term as president of the local school board and proudly points out school construction completed during his service as president.

The local fire department knows it can count on Zwicky Processing & Recycling if equipment is needed to move large objects or if an extra tanker is called for. The department has access to Zwicky’s water supply for emergency purposes. Zwicky has even set aside an area on his property for emergency helicopter landings if the fire department ever needs to evacuate a victim out of the area.

A Longtime Relationship And A Promising Future

As much as his customers and neighbors can count on him, Dave Zwicky has counted on his Morbark dealer, Deacon Equipment Company, for the past 12 years. Owner Walt Deacon worked at Morbark’s headquarters for five years, then moved to Pennsylvania in 1986. He eventually started his own dealership in Bloomsburg and now serves all of Pennsylvania. Morbark is Deacon’s sole product line, and he is proud of the contributions that he and Morbark have made to Zwicky Processing & Recycling’s success and of his association with Dave Zwicky. “Dave is soft-spoken but deliberate,” says Deacon. “He’s always moving forward, but he’s not rash or haphazard. He’s very meticulous in his cost research on every piece of equipment he runs.”

“Deacon Equipment has never been afraid to use us as a reference for their potential customers,” Dave Zwicky says. “They’ve been respectful of our working area, but they’ve also been respectful of our ability and knowledge of their machines. We have a pretty good relationship that way.”

As Dave Zwicky looks forward to even more growth of both the organic recycling industry and his company, he sees the continued importance of processing equipment to his plans. Production, serviceability and rugged construction have made Zwicky a loyal Morbark customer in the past, and, Zwicky says, “Morbark is definitely in the future for us.”

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