Background as a roofing contractor provides insight as new company hits the ground running.
Some people call it a “Eureka Moment.” It’s that instant when the brain suddenly looks at a problem and recognizes that there is a better way of doing it. For the classic Greek mathematician Archimedes, it was during a bath when he realized that the volume of irregularly shaped objects could be measured by how much water they displace (history tells us that he did, in fact, yell “Eureka,” Greek for “I have found it,” when the inspiration struck).
For roofing contractors Steve and Karen Seder, that moment came when they looked at the volumes of landfill-bound waste material generated in their operation. Knowing that there had to be a better, more environmentally responsible way to dispose of the tons of asphalt shingles, site scrap, metal, etc., generated on a weekly basis, they formulated the basic plans for what would become Asphalt Recovery Specialists, Inc. (ARS). Today, after only a year in operation, the Colorado Springs-based company has taken in better than 15,000 tons of shingles from area roofing contractors and, using a Morbark 3800 horizontal grinder, processed them for subsequent use in hot mix applications.
With a commitment to helping those roofers minimize waste, and new markets for their recycled asphalt shingles already in mind, the only thing rocky in this company’s future, is the mountain range to their west.
Perspective Is Everything
When Steve Seder set out to form ARS, he felt he had a distinct advantage over others who had either already done so elsewhere in the country or were planning to do so.
“As roofing contractors ourselves, we know what each person coming across our scale is dealing with,” he says. “We know that, until now, disposal of the waste from their project has meant hauling it to a landfill. We know that doing so eats into their profit. We know that, as gas prices continue to rise, hauling will only get costlier. We wanted to offer them an alternative to that and, at the same time, minimize the volume of shingles being buried each year.”
Seder’s concerns are more than valid. It has been estimated that approximately 10 million tons of asphalt roofing shingle scrap is generated each year in the United States—the overwhelming majority of which is landfilled. In fact 1/3 of all construction-related waste reaching landfills today is scrap shingles; only wood- waste and wallboard exceed their volume in the C&D waste stream.
“We didn’t need to look far to see proof of how fast landfills can reach capacity. One site right here in Colorado Springs was projected to have space until 2026 but was filled by 2006—two decades ahead of projections. We just didn’t feel right about how much our company—and others in the area like us—were contributing to that situation, so we set out to do something about it.”
A Bankable Alternative
After about a year of research, Steve and Karen teamed up with long-time friend, Kent Pugsley, to establish ARS. They purchased their grinder—as well as an 18-acre site that was formerly home to a roofing supply company—and set out establishing a clientele for the business.
“With 17 years in the roofing business, we obviously had a lot of connections with other companies like ours. So once word got out that we were doing this, it resonated with them and just kind of snowballed. Granted, our business plan was conservative, but we really exceeded our goals right out of the chute. We hoped to grind about 5,000 tons of shingles our first year and tripled that volume.”
That success reaching other roofing contractors was based on a number of factors, not the least of which was a lower tipping fee than that charged by the local landfill.
“Our tipping fee is about half of what it is to go to the local landfill,” says Seder. “However, just as important is our location: we are more conveniently located to where most of these contractors’ work. So not only are we saving them money on the tipping fee, they are also saving in travel time, fuel costs, etc. To any roofing contractor in the industry—not just here, but anywhere—time is money. If you can save someone 15 minutes, you’ve made them money. And we’re doing that.”
It’s All in the Sort
The research Seder and Pugsley conducted showed them that cleanliness of product was key if it was to have any value to hot mix producers at all. With that in mind, the firm established a regimen by which material would be efficiently sorted and cleaned a number of times before it would hit the grinder. That process starts at the customer’s jobsite, says Seder.
“Before we take in any load, we want to be certain what it is we’re getting. So we have the contractor call us first with the address of the property from which the roofing material is coming. We do a bit of research and can generally identify and certify that material. Then, to ensure cleanliness, we get them to source-separate their loads. Essentially that means when they are loading up debris for transport to our site, shingles are placed on the bottom, any metal goes on top of that, and trash goes at the very top of it all.”
At ARS’s site, the offloading process is fast and simple: the roofing contractor enters the site, runs across a scale and heads over to the offload area. There the truck is emptied into roll-off containers in the exact opposite order from which it was loaded: trash first, then any metal and finally, shingles, which are dumped directly on the ground.
“We don’t have to take their trash,” says Seder, “but we’ve been in their shoes and know that allowing them to dispose of that material here is a nice plus. Others who are doing this—paving contractors for example—have little control over what comes in. As a result, there is all kinds of debris mixed in with the shingles, and they spend a lot of time and effort to remove it.”
The sorting continues with the shingles on the ground. As a loader approaches to push the material from the tip site into a staging pile, a spotter assists him to provide an extra set of eyes in removing any unwanted debris. A similar precaution is taken when material is moved for a last time to the grinding pile.
“By the time we grind the material it has to contain less than 1½% deleterious material,” says Seder. “By taking these preliminary steps, we get there with little trouble at all.”
For their presorting and recycling efforts, the contractors who choose ARS are rewarded with a lower disposal rate and a bit of free PR. “For each load we receive,” says Seder, “the owner of the re-roofed property is sent a card from us congratulating them for choosing a ‘green’ contractor. Everyone benefits from the effort of being a bit more environmentally aware.”
Grinding Out a Winner
As with every facet of the business, ARS’s research into what grinder would allow them to get the best return on their opportunity was lengthy and thorough. Realizing that, as they grew, they would be processing more than just shingles, versatility was a critical factor in their decision.
“We looked at almost every C&D machine made today and didn’t like the fact that many were configured solely to grind shingles,” says Kent Pugsley, the company’s president. “We knew we would be grinding wood waste, such as pallets—in fact we are already doing it—and wanted a unit that could also give us a nice mulch product. We found that versatility in Morbark’s 3800 Wood Hog.”
Pugsley says the unit, as delivered by Morbark, features a package that configures the grinder for use in a shingle application, yet still allows its use with other materials. They considered a track-mounted version of the grinder but chose to stay with a trailer model for ease of movement.
“Given the volume of business we are already seeing, we envision setting up additional locations in other parts of the state and beyond to service contractors in those areas,” he says. “From what we are seeing production-wise, a single 3800 can handle this yard and two other similarly-sized ones—it’s that productive in this application. So it would be easy to just tow this unit to those sites, grind there, and bring it back. If we grow beyond that, additional grinder purchases would be necessary, and we would go back to Morbark for all the same reasons mentioned earlier.”
Taking It to Market
The current target market for ARS’s product is the hot mix asphalt producer. However, says Pugsley, they are looking at alternative uses for their product and are excited about some of the possibilities that exist.
“Our product is extremely clean and, in a sieve analysis, passes 100% through a 3/8″ sieve, so we think we’ve only started to see the potential for what we have here,” he says. “Right now, however, we are focusing on the hot mix market and, to that end, we are part of a task force with CDOT and the Colorado Asphalt Pavers Association. I think that within the next few months we will be seeing a spec established for a percentage of recycled asphalt shingles to be used in CDOT projects. And since projections by CAPA for 2011 say there will be about 800,000 tons of paving done on CDOT projects, that can bode real well for us.”
ARS currently counts about 40 of the area’s 200+ roofing contractors as steady clientele, so there is definitely room for growth, and Seder says they are ready for it.
“We initially spent very little effort getting customers to come in,” he says. “That kind of happened on its own as word spread. So I don’t think it will take much effort at all to triple that volume to a point where, by the end of 2011, better than 90% of the contractors in the area will be recycling their material with us. Some companies might be overwhelmed by such growth, but we have the planning, the people and the equipment in place to make it all happen with little trouble at all. That’s a good thing for us, the contractors and Colorado’s environment.”