Port business recycles nearly all materials it handlesSTOCKTON – The place looks like a dump, but A Plus Materials, in the Port of Stockton, is where garbage comes to be reborn instead of being pushed into a landfill grave.On 15 acres in the industrial land that is the Port of Stockton, there are mounds, if not mountains, of concrete, soil, sand, wood, Sheetrock and green waste of all types, from shrub trimmings and roots.Almost all of it, according to company vice president Eric Horton, will end up being recycled into something new and useful.Concrete facts Last year, an estimated total of 325 million tons of concrete and demolition material was generated in the United States. That compares with a total of 225 million tons of household garbage generated last year, the Environmental Protection Agency estimated. Approximately 140 million tons of concrete was recycled last year, making it the largest type of recycled material in the United States by weight. Approximately 89 million tons of asphalt was recycled last year.Source: Construction Materials Recycling AssociationAlmost since the beginning of its startup three years ago, everything has been smelling like roses for the company, the brainchild of Horton, a former garbage-company manager, and trucking-company owner Rod Lawley, who as owner of Mr. Trucker specialized in hauling off demolition rubbish.In the late ’90s, Horton asked Lawley, who was hauling demolition concrete to Bay Area landfills, whether he could handle crushing that concrete into road-bed material needed for landfill roads. Then, Horton said, the landfill company started charging to handle the dumped concrete, leaving Lawley to crush it and sell it, keeping that money for himself.Horton, who lived in Stockton and wanted to stop commuting to the East Bay, asked Lawley whether he wanted to open a recycling business in Stockton.Lawley has a heritage involving the demolition side of the recycling business. His dad, Don Lawley, has long run a demolition business that turns old structures into big piles of concrete, wood and so on.So he knew where all the sources of construction demolition materials were.”Within two months of opening, we were as busy as we are today,” Horton said. “It’s as good as we thought it would be.”Business has been so strong from the beginning that they are thinking about duplicating the operation in Modesto or Sacramento, perhaps as early as next year, Horton said.It’s a model that can be applied anywhere else in California where there’s redevelopment, he said, but it won’t work in communities such as Galt or Elk Grove because there’s no demolition like that typical of a mature city.”It’s lucrative, but the key is to set it up in a city going through revitalization so there would be a lot of demolition materials,” Horton said.A Plus has recently been busy handling a lot of waste from a Highway 99 improvement project in Stockton. All the oleanders plucked from the median got turned into wood chips and sold to a small local biopower plant.All the massive concrete chunks from the old Hammer Lane overpass on Highway 99 got reduced to rubble and rebar by A Plus.Before the business launched, Horton said, he knew the city of Stockton and San Joaquin County would be adopting construction and demolition recycling regulations requiring contractors to do certain minimum amounts of recycling.At that time, there was only one area company recycling concrete, and another doing wood and Sheetrock was closing because it was losing a lease, he said.”Here was a perfect opportunity,” he said.Desi Reno, solid waste manager for San Joaquin County Public Works, lauded the job being done by A Plus with the recycling of construction and demolition materials. “A Plus right now is leading the way for San Joaquin County.”With the state mandate requiring that communities set up waste-management plans and recycling targets, construction and demolition materials probably account for as much as 20 percent of all waste handled by the county now, he said.The county does accept construction materials at its Harney Lane site, and some of that does get recycled, Reno said.But more equipment is needed to increase the proportion of concrete that gets recycled from the 5,000 tons it recycled last year, he said.He said he didn’t know what proportion of concrete waste ends up in the landfill.The county sends wood it collects to A Plus, he said. It would like to handle wood recycling itself and sell the grindings to a cogeneration plant, he said, but a single grinder costs about $50,000.Horton said A Plus handled 300,000 tons of construction-demolition materials last year and recycled 99.98 percent of it.”And we literally sell everything we make,” he said.Most of the wood is sold to cogeneration power plants, dirt is sold for use as soil backfill for construction, and concrete is ground up for base rock in construction.The company has two permits from the California Integrated Waste Management Board: one for inert materials, such as soil, mud, concrete and so on; another for organic materials.Horton said the company expects to get permits by next spring that will allow it to handle almost all types of materials, except for toxic materials and household waste.”If you look at it, there’s very little that can’t be recycled.”Several loads a day have to be rejected because it doesn’t have the needed permits, he said.The company has about 25 employees involved in its recycling operation, plus an additional 22 working at the ready-mix plant, added last year as a convenience to A Plus customers, who are bringing in demolition refuse and often also are immediately in need of ready-mix for construction.Customers can also buy from A Plus sand, gravel, rock and bark.The company is in the process of leasing 4 acres across the road for expansion. The support side of the operation, including equipment and maintenance, will relocate there to free up all 15 of the original acres for the recycling work.The expansion will mean hiring eight more employees.Doug Wilhoit, chief executive officer of the Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce, said there are as many as 18 substantial recycling businesses in the county, and he expects that presence to grow.The chamber itself is growing a campaign to get businesses of all types involved in recycling and conserving, and that promises to boost the amount of recycled materials over time, he said.If nothing else, Wilhoit said, recently approved bond issues to expand or rebuild transportation infrastructure will generate massive amounts of materials that must be recycled.”The future looks bright for companies like A Plus,” he said. “The concrete alone is going to be huge. We’re going to see a lot of companies getting into that or expanding.”Horton said the company makes its profits on sales, not charges for dumping materials.Concrete and asphalt can be dumped for no charge while wood is $20 per ton, green waste is $25 per ton, Sheetrock is $21 per ton and mixed dirt is $20 per ton.”Recyling is not only a socially responsible thing to do, it’s a financially lucrative thing to do,” Horton said.
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