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Shamrock Recycling Means Going Green in Minn.

Mon September 22, 2008 - Midwest Edition
Richard Parrish

That fabled Irish adage about the wearing of the green has taken on a whole new meaning at Shamrock Recycling and Transfer, an affiliate of Shamrock Disposal. In April, the company launched a comprehensive recycling center in the Twin Cities metro that will process approximately 125,000 tons (113,400 t) of mixed construction and demolition (C&D) debris a year.

The 20,000 sq. ft. facility on the company’s 12.5 acre site in Blaine, Minn., was the brainchild of Rich Gersdorf, who owns the company with his wife Rebecca. They were inspired by similar operations in major metropolitan areas on both the east and west coasts.

“We saw a trending toward recycling C&D waste and learned that many people out there feel government mandating to make this happen on a much broader scale probably isn’t too far off,” he said. “We also began to realize there is a huge niche here in our own Twin Cities market that no one was addressing or anywhere in the Upper Midwest for that matter.”

The company’s new recycling center involved a compete renovation of the building that housed Shamrock Recycling and Transfer, which began operations in 2003.

“We stripped out everything and retooled the place with all new, high capacity equipment and new technology to attack this huge waste stream and reduce what needs to be taken to a landfill,” he explained.

The company’s offices and maintenance shop were relocated from that facility to another 18,000-sq.-ft. building across the parking lot.

Shamrock’s new recycling operation extracts seven main categories of materials from debris that it receives from its own roll-off container operations, as well as from other haulers and contractors. The new operation also is open to the general public. All the metals and wiring are sold to scrap metal dealers, while wood is processed into mulch and sold for boiler fuel to electric power plants.

Concrete and asphalt are sent to various crushing sites and reused for road base and Class 5 aggregate. Cardboard and plastics are sold to manufacturers who use them to make a wide range of paper and plastic products. The material that’s left over is less than an inch in size and is delivered to local landfills to cover trash and garbage, rather than using virgin soil.

Shamrock will soon be processing asphalt shingles and has begun stockpiling tons of them.

“We’re planning to recycle 100 percent of what we receive from roofing contractors and what we extract from mixed C&D debris,” Gersdorf said. “Shingles have to be ground down to less than half-inch pieces for use in a bituminous mix at asphalt plants.”

Grinding Out Plans for a New System

Late last year, Gersdorf began working with Continental Biomass Industries (CBI) in Newton, N.H., to design and equip the new Shamrock recycling operation.

“We gave them our goals and objectives, along with a rough design for a floor plan. Their engineers then went to work to specify equipment and draw up final plans to fit everything within the footprint of our building. CBI also did a great job of installing and testing everything.”

After each mixed load of C&D debris is weighed, the material is dumped inside the main bays at the front of Shamrock’s recycling center where an endloader pushes it into large stockpiles. An excavator then scoops up the debris and drops it into a hopper on top of a CBI primary processor that’s appropriately named the Annihilator. This enormous, extremely heavy-duty machine generates up to 1,000 hp (745 kW) for slow-speed, high-torque shredding and sizing of materials.

The initially processed debris then travels via conveyor belt up to an enclosed room with a picking line of 15 to 20 employees. They manually extract large pieces of metal, wiring, wood, drywall, plastics and other materials and separate them into containers, which are emptied through the floor into huge concrete bins on the main floor. An endloader then places the separated materials on trucks to haul to scrap dealers and recyclers.

The remaining material from the picking room goes onto another conveyor belt to be sized down further. The debris then passes under a powerful, industrial magnet to remove nails and other small pieces of metal. Next, the material passes over a vibrous-snap screener, which filters out debris that is less than an inch. This is the material that is delivered to landfills for daily cover.

Although Shamrock provides these comprehensive recycling services, its fees are competitive and job specific for contractors to invoice their clients. Shamrock also provides reporting for LEED certification of demolition and construction projects.

As an added incentive, the company offers reduced fees for debris that is source separated at job sites.

“For example, if contractors bring in loads of clean, wood pallets or construction lumber, they can dump it here at a fraction of the cost of a mixed load of C&D debris and have us process it,” Gersdorf said. “They can also source separate materials at a building or demo site, put the debris into separate roll-off boxes, then have us haul the boxes here and avoid a lot of processing costs.”

Sizing Up a Successful Business

Regarding C&D disposal costs in general, Gersdorf said it’s usually more cost effective to haul C&D debris to Shamrock rather than to a commercial/industrial landfill, which may be up to 50 miles or more beyond the metro area. Dramatically rising fuel prices in recent months are forcing contractors to look for ways to minimize their hauling expenses. In addition, most contractors, especially smaller ones, simply are not equipped to do their own hauling.

Gersdorf and his wife, Rebecca, founded Shamrock Disposal in 1997 with just a handful of employees and a few trucks. Although the company is still in the same location, it’s grown to more than 40 employees, 21 trucks and 700-plus roll-off containers that vary in size from 10 to 40 cu. yd. (7.6 to 30.6 cu m). As demand for recycling continues to grow, Gersdorf sees the possibility of opening a second Shamrock recycling center in another metro location.

“I see some consolidation coming down the road,” he said, “especially if governments become more involved in mandating recycling of this large waste stream. There are only a few permitted facilities that can provide this service right now and I see it being real hard to start up such an operation.”

For example, a vital component and major expense to support this kind of business is a fleet of roll-off trucks to haul in C&D debris, he said. Another major hurdle is land acquisition, which is getting more difficult because many communities simply do not want this sort of business in their backyards. Finding a location away from the metro may be easier, but increased drive time and fuel expenses are major deterrents, according to Gersdorf.

At Shamrock’s current location, the company is subject to ordinances by the city of Blaine and Anoka County, which inspects its facilities about once a month. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency also conducts unannounced inspections periodically. However, Gersdorf said, “To date, we’ve had zero violations on any regulatory or permitting issues. And we’ve never had a complaint filed against us.”

More About Shamrock Disposal

Shamrock offers 24-hour, 7-day service, if needed, as well as computerized container tracking. In addition, it offers wood and compost processing. The company is a member of the Associated General Contractors of Minnesota, the Association of Women Contractors, and is certified by Small Business Enterprise and Woman Business Enterprise.

Richard Parrish is president of Marketing Communications, a marketing communications company that specializes in public relations.

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