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Red River Ranch Cleans Up Raw Wood Waste in Stanton

Fri May 09, 2008 - Midwest Edition
Karen Swanson

When Red River Ranch LLC was founded in 1992, the Stanton, Ky., operation specialized in underground storage tank cleanup. It diversified over the years into a range of markets including hauling rock, sand and asphalt to road construction sites, as well as seasonal work removing snow on federal and state highways.

The market with the most expansion, however, has been the company’s solid waste and recycling division. Red River Ranch took on its first solid waste contract with the city of Lexington, Ky., in 2001. It quickly took on a second contract with the city to recycle yard waste into mulch and compost. Now it does business in three states and recycles nearly 250,000 tons (226,800 t) of municipality compost and wood waste a year. It also grinds another 200,000 tons (181,000 t) of land clearing and industrial wood waste and processes more than 600,000 cu. yd. (458,000 cu m) of mulch annually.

Business Doubles Several Times Over

“Our business has been growing each year by 100 percent with recycling,” said Glenn Salyer, owner and president of Red River Ranch.

The workload has increased so much that Salyer recently traded in his Vermeer HG6000TX horizontal grinder for a fourth TG9000 tub grinder. Salyer’s is the only operation in the United States operating four Vermeer 900 to 1,000 hp (670 to 745 kW) tub grinders.

Why the boom in recycling? For starters, recycling is mandatory in many cities. In 1992, cities faced new laws requiring them to reduce the amount of waste going into landfills. Green and yard waste was the first target to be eliminated from waste being sent to landfills. Salyer estimates it moves nearly 400,000 tons (362,000 t) of municipal solid waste per year. With the public separating yard waste before pickup, landfill waste is reduced by nearly 20 percent.

Because community involvement is so important, education is the biggest hurdle of the job according to Salyer. Recycling yard waste is a good start, but the public also needs to make the extra effort to keep plastic, metals, and other commingled waste out. Otherwise, the waste can’t be recycled to other uses.

Corporate Clients

While cities have to face new recycling laws and policies, many Fortune 500 companies choose to meet ISO 14000 requirements. These standards exist to help organizations minimize how their operations negatively affect the environment, comply with environmentally oriented requirements and continually improve. As part of these responsible business practices, companies are separating cardboard, wood, and metals out of the waste stream. Salyer then hauls the materials away and recycles them in various ways.

“Recycling has to be a state of mind,” said Salyer. It isn’t a free service, and companies don’t necessarily show a cost savings. They may break even with offset costs, but cost alone can’t be the incentive. The decision to recycle recognizes longer-term benefits, such as minimizing use of landfill space, lowering greenhouse gas emissions, and improving air and water quality.”

Many Markets for Mulch

Whether from a municipal or corporate client, waste will go to a Red River Ranch facility and be sorted with a loader. Crews then hand-pick any foreign matter (nails, metal, plastic) from the material. Materials are then separated into piles according to their end use. Wood, without bark or leaves, is separated out for paper pulp. The cleanest wood can be sold for top grade paper pulp while that which is less pristine can be sold for cardboard pulp.

Red River Ranch produces natural and color enhanced mulches, playground material, boiler fuel, and compost from the other wood and yard waste material.

Not All Mulch Created Equal

The mulch Red River Ranch produces for playgrounds is a specifically engineered product that has been tested and certified by the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) accredited laboratory. In order to be ASTM-certified, the mulch needs to meet four guidelines: head attenuation, tramp metal, ADA accessibility and particle size limitations.

Head attenuation tests measure the impact a child might suffer if he fell onto the mulch from various heights. Red River Ranch grinds and engineers its mulch to exceed the ASTM standard to reduce impact.

The tests for tramp metal ensure that there are no foreign objects such as nails or other metal in the mulch. To meet personal standards and for his own assurance, Salyer will only use “virgin material” for playground mulch. Generally, this is wood waste he receives from a furniture grade manufacturer. The wood does not come in contact with sources that would allow it to become contaminated with any chemicals, paint or metals, and it also is kiln-dried. This means it produces a high-grade, very clean, dry, and fluffy product.

Mulch for playground use must also pass tests for handicap accessibility, in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act that ensures equal access to everyone.

Testers compare different depths, and different chair weights, and measure the amount of energy expended to move the wheelchair across the surface. These tests help determine the size specifications for grinding and mulch depth for installation.

Particle size limitation is the final test. There are specific size requirements for both the top and bottom size consistency. Generally, the mulch has to be small enough that it will keep children safe, while also being big enough to allow for water infiltration after a hard rain. After much experimentation and engineering, Salyer has found the specific screen sizes and grinding speeds required to produce the desired product.

Salyer’s expertise in the production of ASTM certified playground mulch also keeps him busy consulting with schools, churches, day care centers and others who have playgrounds. He is able to make recommendations that minimize injury when children fall, as well as help meet various insurance policy specifications.

Clean, Renewable Energy Source

Another growing market for wood waste is its use as an alternative energy source. As the price for nonrenewable energy sources such as coal and natural gas increase, many manufacturers are turning to waste wood as a fuel to create energy. Industrial companies can use raw wood waste material to produce steam heat or as an energy source for their factory operations.


Another recycling contract Red River Ranch fulfills is with the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government (LFUCG) compost facility in Fayette County. Crews grind the wood waste that has been stockpiled on a 7-acre (2.8 ha) concrete pad about once a week.

Depending on the type of mulch needed, Salyer has learned what screens and grinding speed to use to meet the specifications. Typically it starts with a 4-in. (10 cm) screen to grind the wood waste. After the first pass, ground wood is placed in a static pile to cure for seven to nine months. While it cures, it is regularly watered. Crews also turn the pile at least 10 times.

After the mulch is cured, crews will make a second pass in the grinder using a smaller screen. Mulch may get a third pass with a larger screen if it needs to be fluffed before delivery.

Machines in Full Use

“We’ve developed so many markets and uses that the grinders are used six days a week, 10 hours a day,” said Salyer. In higher demand periods of spring and later fall, the machines can be on double shift.

With that kind of use, Salyer appreciates the “unsurpassed dependability” of the Vermeer TG9000 grinders.

“We expect a lot out of the machines and they’ve lived up to it. The new TG9000 is great — from its durability, reliability and cost of operation,” said Salyer.

“The foremost feature for me is the great service and support — from sales to parts to management, everyone is concerned with what’s going on. They’ve been so accommodating to us — and they were just as accommodating when we were a brush chipper operation and not a big player. We got the same service even when we were a small company.”

What’s Next?

Business is booming, and Salyer expects it to keep going. ISO requirements will put increasing pressure on businesses to have and follow responsible business processes. And as non-renewable energy resources continue to decline, wood waste will become a major player in providing alternate fuel.

“It’s a good clean fuel, with reduced emissions, so markets will continue to expand in using wood waste as an alternate fuel source,” said Salyer. “Recycling has to be a state of mind. There aren’t a lot of ’right now’ benefits. The benefit is what you’re doing for your kids and grandkids.”

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