Recycling Can Be Done with Lighter Volumes

Lautenbach By William Turley, Associate Publisher & Editor

Not every part of North America generates enough C&D to support the use of a large, multi-million-dollar recycling facility with all of the bells and whistles, even if the local tipping fees are relatively high.

There are a lot of different ways to approach recycling C&D and matching tactics to the local circumstances. And no matter where you are, the challenges of finding end markets for the materials remain.


This is the situation in Skagit County, about 80 miles north of the Seattle, Wash., metropolitan area. The mostly rural landscape is home to many agricultural activities, and any C&D recycling business needs to be able to handle different types of wastes. In addition, there are a multitude of regulatory hurdles and costs not present throughout most of the United States.

CMRA member Lautenbach Industries recently opened Lautenbach Recycle Park located near Mount Vernon, Wash., in an industrial area just around the corner from the county’s solid waste transfer station. The site only receives 1,000 tons per month of C&D, compared to some C&D recycling operations that are permitted to accept that in one day. Its C&D recycling operation is the only one for many miles. “No other facilities are here because the volumes aren’t here,” said Troy Lautenbach, president of the company, which also has hauling services. “We are pretty rural. We have to service six counties to make it work.”

One of the reasons it works is because the company has kept its processing operations simple and relatively inexpensive. Located on five acres, a 12,500 sqft spanned roof covers half of the concrete pad where recycling activities take place. Material is brought under the roof and tipped on the concrete. Some kick sorting takes place before the waste is fed into the start of a six station Krause picking line bought used some years ago. “It has six stations, but we usually keep seven or eight guys up there,” said Lautenbach. “Some of the materials we are after are in very low volumes, such as copper and copper wire or types of plastic, and we will just put that directly into a garbage can or two on the line and then empty them during the breaks.”

The pickers are after almost everything, said Lautenbach. “Metals, drywall, wood, plastics, aggregates, OCC, Styrofoam, lumber banding, roofing and carpet, come off the line. All that is left over are the fines that are negatively sorted. We would like to pull the fines earlier in the line, but because of our small volumes we cannot justify investing in a front-end screening system.”

But the initial screening system they have on the tipping floor goes very well, he said. “We have excellent quality control on incoming material. The volumes we do are so low that we really can be hands on with the material.”

Front-end quality control helps to show the wood buyers, almost exclusively from local boilers, what level of biomass Lautenbach Industries can provide them. The company has to meet a specification that includes grinding to under 4 in. and make sure there is no lead or CCA wood in it. A 1990s-era tub grinder from Diamond Z is used to downsize material.

Currently, aggregate is pulled out and crushed to help development of the site, which is an on-going process. Shingles are sent to a site where it is made into a roadbase product by a hot mix firm. Styrofoam is sent down to a Seattle company that densifies it into bricks for later expansion and reuse. Plastic lumber straps, used in the timber industry, are run through a specialized chipper to take it down to a size that improves its marketability.

Carpet is pulled as well as collected at collection stations, but it has to go all the way down to Portland, Ore., to find an end market. Not surprisingly, “there are no margins on carpet right now,” said Lautenbach.

But hustling for markets is something Lautenbach Industries has to do to make recycling work. About the only thing it has to dispose of are the C&D fines (process residuals). For a long time, it had its own outlet for the fines as industrial waste stabilizer (IWS) in a Subtitle D clarifier sludge landfill at about half of the local $90/ton tipping fee. However, Skagit County recently enforced a flow control ordinance that requires Lautenbach to send all of the fines over to the adjacent county solid waste transfer station and pay the full $90/ton to do so. From there, the transfer station will load the fines into an intermodal container with garbage and dispose of it farther away for less than a $50/ton total cost.

Several counties in the area, with the blessing of the State of Washington, have or are trying to start their own flow control regulations to raise revenue for coffers depleted by the economic downturn. And why not? It is a hidden tax on the consumer, but not one the consumer knows about so the politicians keep their hands clean. If the hauler or recycler can’t raise their tipping fees to cover the added cost, it is not the solid waste department’s problem.

“County flow control requires material to go to their transfer stations, and from their transfer stations it goes directly to the landfills,” said Lautenbach, whose company does some demolition work, mostly taking down houses. “Yet we can do a 70% recycling rate on demolition projects instead of sending it all to the landfills, which is what these counties have said that is what they want to happen.”

It didn’t used to be that way, he noted. He has been around long enough to remember when being a recycler conferred an exalted status. “People though you were crazy to do it, but you were going to save the environment. Now there is stuff happening in various levels of government that puts a damper on C&D recycling. Even LEED seems to be devaluing recycling.”

In the beginning, Troy Lautenbach started out as a “glorified drywall scrapper.” In the mid-1990s, he collected it, used an old agricultural tub grinder to downsize it, and then used it as animal bedding for dairy herds. By 1999, Troy purchased some haul trucks and smaller, 10- to 30-cu-yd boxes and started servicing contractors and the many food processors in the area.

Around the same time Recovery One, a pioneer in mixed C&D recycling, started up operations in Tacoma, Wash., about two-hours south. To haul C&D that far and handle the heavier demand that C&D brings, Troy joined with his brother to purchase several 40-cu-yd boxes and larger trucks to haul recyclables to Recovery One. As business grew, they began to perform their own material separation and recycling, although we “still haul the drywall to Recovery One.”

They currently are the main hauler to their recycling operation, as no other haulers are using the facility yet, just contractors and other self haulers. However, the company is working to get local municipalities to send C&D over to the recycling center.

One of the reasons Lautenbach Industries was formed to process C&D was to provide a local option for contractors working on green building programs, especially LEED. “Green building programs have been a very big driver behind some of what we do because local contractors have to use us as we can provide legitimate reports for them.” Lautenbach, like many in the industry, does not understand why the U.S. Green Building Council is devaluing recycling in the latest proposed version of LEED. “It doesn’t make sense. They should be looking at everything from the design to the products used, but also the backside, which is where we come in. From the clearing of the lot of structures and debris to the wastes generated in the construction. It’s a full circle. Now they want to take a portion of that circle and eliminate it.”

Lautenbach is president of the Northwest Chapter of the CMRA, and he says that in the future, the chapter has to focus on answering the flow control challenge, as that may eventually force legitimate C&D recyclers out of business because they can’t get the material to process. But he also sees the value of the national CMRA, which his company joined many years ago. “From a national standpoint it has the best voice out there for the people who deal with what we deal with,” he said.