Wood waste becomes bigger part of picture for Colorado materials recycler

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Since it entered the materials recycling arena in 1979, Oxford Recycling has successfully focused its efforts on bringing new life to concrete, asphalt and scrap tires. In 1999, the Englewood, Colorado-based company began taking in wood waste as part of its overall operation, and chose to subcontract the grinding part of that business. A recent significant upturn in volumes prompted Oxford’s president, John Kent, to rethink that strategy, resulting in the company’s decision to take on the grinding function itself. Today, largely as a result of the purchase of a Morbark Model 1300 tub grinder, says Kent, the company has seen the wood waste facet of its business grow dramatically, with new opportunities for further development regularly making themselves available.

A Substantial Presence
Encompassing better than 90-acres, there’s no mistaking Oxford Recycling’s presence in the southwest Denver suburb of Englewood. During peak periods, the site can have more than 1,000 trucks per day passing through its gates, bringing unprocessed material in and taking resized material out. According to Kent, the company, which was founded by his father, has established itself as one of the area’s larger aggregate processors.

“We run an operation that is very similar to a rock quarry — only without the blasting. We have two lanes of traffic going up to the hopper of a Nordberg C-140 jaw crusher which is capable of creating 800 tph of finished product. We chose this method rather than having loaders feed the crusher for a couple of reasons. First, it eliminates the case of double handling, that is, the customer dropping material in a pile and us picking it up to feed the hopper. However, we’ve found that the customers also seem to enjoy going up there to dump the material themselves, so we’re only to happy to accommodate them.”

The Nordberg takes material down to the 6-inch to 7-inch range whereupon it is subsequently processed through a complex series of secondary screens and impact crushers. The result is tens of thousands of tons of material per day — the overwhelming bulk of which is sized to less than 3/4-inch — slated for use by DOTs, large and small contractors, municipalities, homeowners, or anyone else who needs or wants a product they supply.

Tub’s a Dark Horse
Until recently, Oxford’s experience with wood waste grinding was based solely upon what it had seen from the company to which it was subbing out the work. Based on that impression, when the decision to purchase a grinder came about, a tub grinder seemed the least likely candidate.

“We know now that the contractor we were using knew little about how to properly feed a tub grinder. Because he wouldn’t cover smaller, loose, wood waste with larger material, debris was almost continually flying out of his grinder, making it, in our eyes, something of a hazard to have around. So when we were looking into grinders we thought a horizontal grinder, rather than a tub grinder, was what we needed. In fact, Mike Kincheloe, Morbark’s rep for this area, even had us look at one. He thought, however, that a tub was better suited for our operation and asked for a chance to show what a properly-fed 1300 could do. Allowing him to do that demo was, perhaps, one of the smartest business decisions I’ve made.”

Kent says Kincheloe brought a 1300 onsite and asked if they wanted to see the grinder process several 4-foot diameter tree trunks which were stockpiled onsite. “We pushed one of the trunks within the reach of the grinder’s grapple but the unit couldn’t even lift it,” says Kent. “That grapple is rated for 8,500 lbs., so we knew it weighed more than that. Eventually, we had a loader load it into the grinder’s hopper and the tub just ate it without so much as a noticeable change in RPMs. That made the sale for me.”

Making the Search
Oxford’s decision to add a grinder to its processing equipment inventory was brought about by a huge — nearly double — increase in volume. Kent says they looked at almost every make of grinder available today and, as a result of that effort, was more convinced than ever as to which way they wanted to go.

“Many of the units we saw at work were simply inadequate for what we needed. Some came close to the 1300 in production capability but lacked many of the features we saw as valuable, including the way they dealt with tramp steel. We also looked at another competitive unit but saw that the dealer handling that line owned a Morbark grinder; not a ringing endorsement for his own line of grinders, I’d say.”

Doing Extra Duty
Because costs associated with bringing in material from long distances are so high, Oxford gets the bulk of the material it needs from throughout the Denver metro area; some comes from the foothills to the west of town as well. Kent says they are currently focusing primarily on grinding in their own yard but have begun taking on contract jobs of their own.

“That part of the business is probably the one that will grow the most in the years to come,” he says. “We purchased the grinder solely for work in our yard so anything else we do is over and above what we set out to accomplish.”

As if to underscore that fact, Kent adds that they really put the grinder to work last spring after the Denver area was hit hard by a couple of snowstorms within a one-month period. “We had a major storm in March which turned out to be the second largest storm in Colorado history, and a month later, when the trees were already leafed out, we got another foot of wet snow. Area cities and municipalities had huge volumes of stockpiled wood and green waste that needed processing so we were able to help. That was the point at which we really saw the value of what we had purchased. As a result, there are a number of additional options we are looking at, including the possibility of some work with the U.S. Forest Service which regularly thins dense-growth areas; developers doing residential developments; even golf courses which, over time, generate substantial volumes of green waste from course pruning and trimmings.”

New Opportunities
All of Oxford’s material is ground into mulch and used by area landscapers, DOTs and developers for their own projects. A recent development, however, has prompted Kent to look at other available options as well.

“We actually happened upon an opportunity here recently that looks very promising. One of our larger customers used to buy material from us that we had ground once, take it back to their location and regrind it through a smaller grinder they owned. They would pull out the fines — which they use for animal bedding material — and then colorize the courser material. Because their grinder was showing signs of wear, they asked us if we would do both passes of the material; we worked out a price and started doing it. In no time, others got word of it; now they also are having us do the same for them. We are also working with a customer who is having us take the material down even finer, bagging the resultant product and shipping it throughout the country. So the potential for this part of the business is definitely there.”

Kent says the risk of running short of material definitely exists but adds that there are ways to address that issue. “We currently charge a tipping fee for material coming into this site which is already lower than that charged by the landfill. We could lower that even more to further entice people to bring us their waste. We could also go to our competitors and buy material from them. Doing so would help them move their product and help us meet our needs. The most important fact is that we are now poised to handle such an opportunity whereas a year ago we weren’t. The Morbark 1300 is definitely a major producer for us. Often, when a salesperson gives you a presentation, the volumes he quotes are based on ideal conditions — situations that rarely ever happen. However in the case of this unit, their literature and sales force has, in no way, embellished the facts. It does all that they say it will do and more. Without a doubt, we are a much better company because of it.”

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