BioCycle September 2006, Vol. 47, No. 9, p. 22
What began as a processor of land clearing debris has grown into a multifaceted company with a host of recycling yards and retail operations around the Richmond, Virginia region.
Larry Trojak and Nora Goldstein
GRIND-ALL has been in existence – in one form or another – since 1992. Originally owned by Paul Robins, and operated under the name East Coast Wood Recycling, the company, based in Mosely, Virginia near Richmond, was solely focused on selling wood products at the wholesale level. Three years later Robins joined forces with Robbie Urbine, whose expertise in retail sales allowed the company to open its first retail outlet for wood products. According to Robins, additional sites and further growth continued until 2000 when a blower division and another major partner were added.
“When Bill Stinson, who was already a notable player in wood waste grinding, came on board, we adopted the name of his company, Grind-All, to the manufacturing side of the business, and renamed the retail and marketing side YardWorks,” says Robins. “That’s where we stand today, with two dedicated YardWorks locations, two dedicated recycling centers and one site at which we do both. It has really taken off more than even we ever imagined.”
The recycling yards receive materials primarily from landscape contractors, developers, land clearing companies, and tree trimming contractors. In addition, Grind-All has a contract with the Central Virginia Waste Management Authority to handle the yard trimmings recycling programs of different municipalities around the metro Richmond area. “It addresses a waste disposal problem for the smaller towns without them having to incur the capital expense of purchasing and maintaining a grinder,” explains Robins. “We, in turn, get the material we need to create products; it’s worked out well for everyone.” Materials processed at the municipal sites are composted in windrows and turned several times with a loader (the company does not compost at its own yards). All together, Grind-All processes in excess of 700,000 cubic yards/year.
Two years ago, Grind-All moved from one of its original sites at a closed county landfill to a new 75-acre facility within 30 miles of Richmond. “We looked at where development is taking place and sited the facility accordingly,” says Robbie Urbine, Chief Operating Office of both YardWorks LLC and Grind-All LLC. “It was important that contractors could drive in the opposite direction of the traffic to get here.” More critical from an operational standpoint was investing time in planning the site layout. “Every time we have to touch the raw material or product it costs a dollar,” he adds. “In the past, instead of taking the time to think through the organization, we would say ‘this site looks great, let’s get going.’ And then we’d spend more money and time getting everything to flow. With our new facility, we looked at how to eliminate materials handling steps by installing conveyor systems, and purchasing loaders with bigger buckets. So we are handling stuff a whole lot less.”
The YardWorks retail yards are in high traffic areas for homeowners and landscapers. In addition to selling compost, mulches (colored and natural) and blended soils, the company offers decorative stones, hand tools, edging materials and related landscaping and gardening products.
EQUIPMENT INVESTMENTS – LESSONS LEARNED
Like many other wood waste processors at work today, Grind-All had a number of different makes and models of grinders in its fleet – in their case, machines acquired both through the mergers and purchased afterward. More recently, the company decided to standardize its line of grinders. “We can more easily cross-train our operators to work every machine in our fleet,” says Howard Turner, Grind-All’s General Manager. Today, the company has a pair of Morbark 1300 tub grinders and a pair of Model 6600 Wood Hog horizontal grinders. And because Morbark has a parts store in Richmond, downtime is minimized and shipping costs are basically eliminated. “We are saving anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000 per year on shipping costs alone,” adds Turner.
The horizontal units were added recently to the fleet, in part to respond to changes in the size of the materials being received. “We are getting more tractor loads of wood waste, with material up to 30-feet long,” says Urbine. “When handling that long material, we need to use horizontal grinders. Originally, contractors would bring material in dump trucks – loads that could be handled by a tub grinder. Now, a lot of contractors who used to haul in end dump trucks have switched to 30 to 32-foot dump trailers so they can haul more volume in fewer loads, saving money on fuel and labor costs.” Turner adds that the horizontal grinders are not track-mounted, but that Morbark is introducing a track-mounted unit that would be a good fit for sites where mobility is important.
Grind-All and YardWorks also have made changes in their trucking fleet, switching over to live-belt trailers and away from live, slatted floors. “We’ve found the belt trailers give us a lot more versatility,” notes Urbine. “They are good for both composted materials and soils, so we can drop off a load of mulch and then go to a municipal site to pick up compost growing media. The belt trailers also unload more quickly and clean up well.” The company owns both Trinity and Red River belt-floor trailers.
Another lesson learned is that by rotating equipment out every three to four years, maintenance costs can drop significantly. “In years past, we would have two to three mechanics walking around to keep everything going,” recalls Urbine. “We realized that the downtime and maintenance/upkeep cost more than buying brand new pieces of equipment. In addition, when a key piece of equipment goes down, it can idle several other machines that are part of the processing line. Basically, we’ve gotten out of the equipment repair business and are focusing on what we know how to do – make high-value products out of wood and green waste.” Grind-All gets contracts with the equipment vendors to do the preventive maintenance. “We can pretty much schedule our downtime, which ends up giving us a lot more up-time,” he adds. “And we can punch in the same cost number each month – there really haven’t been as many unforeseen expenses.”
Grind-All’s standard wood recycling approach is to grind once, then age the material for about 60 days, followed by regrinding. Piles are 14- to 15-feet high and 60- to 70-feet long. “We want to put the materials through a heating process to kill weed seeds and plant pathogens,” he adds.
The company owns three CEC deck screens; it also has a USA Starscreen in its fleet for higher moisture materials. The CEC screens are used primarily for topsoils, soil blends, compost and growing media. “We’ve also gone to the track-mounted machines, not just for mobility around the sites, but also because they make clean-up easier,” explains Urbine. “Less material builds up underneath, which aids in fire prevention. Additionally, it is also easier to notice any leaks of machine fluids.”
The flat decks also are useful at the wood recycling yards because of the amount of soil that comes in with the wood – about 30 percent of each load is soil, he estimates. “Land clearing companies are bringing good soil in here from construction sites. The flat deck is good for screening the larger material prior to grinding.”
The screens also are brought to the composting sites Grind-All manages. The three fractions are roughly half-inch minus for finished compost product, half-inch to 2-inch minus for filter media used in erosion/sediment control and storm water management applications (see next section), and overs that are reground and reintroduced into the compost windrows. Screened loads yield roughly 50 to 60 percent finished compost, 20 to 25 percent middles, and the rest are overs. “With the success of our erosion control and storm water division, we find that sometimes we screen to just get the middle fraction,” says Urbine.
Another product niche that has grown rapidly over the last few years is colored mulch. YardWorks purchased a Becker Underwood Sahara colorizer, which has an air application system that cuts down on water usage and the weight of the colored mulch. “We’ve seen those sales double each of the last three years, and today colored mulch is 25 to 30 percent of our overall sales,” he says. “That’s an amazing increase in demand.” Doubled shredded hardwood is used to make the colorized mulches. Recycled pallets are brought in to make the red-colored mulch. “Pallet wood seems to be the only one that retains the brightness of the red color the longest,” Urbine adds.
MARKET EVOLUTION INTO STORM WATER, EROSION CONTROL
BioCycle has profiled Grind-All and YardWorks several times over the years (see “Wood Grinder Finds Niche In Contract Work,” (October 1999); “Compost Product Performance,” (October 2002); and “Veteran Composters Are Anything But Static [Piles]!,” September 2003. Both the 2002 and 2003 articles discussed the company’s pioneering work in the area of using compost and mulch for erosion control and storm water management. Rod Tyler, founder of Filtrexx Corporation, worked with Grind-All in the late 1990s on overall product marketing (as part of Green Horizons consulting). In fact, in an article Tyler wrote in the January 2001 issue, “Compost Filter Berms and Blankets Take on the Silt Fence,” he discussed a pilot project with the Virginia Department of Transportation to determine the effectiveness of compost for slope stabilization and as filter berms. VDOT gave Tyler and Grind-All “a worst case scenario,” said the VDOT representative at the time. “This particular site was a problem for us due to the steep slopes and the sandy, highly erodible soil.” VDOT wanted to test a combination of a filter berm at the top of the slope, along with a compost blanket applied to the slope at different depths and particle sizes/consistency. The results were similar for the various treatment areas, with no noticeable erosion of soil on any of the applications.
Since that time, YardWorks has had a lot of projects with VDOT, as well as other government agencies involved with projects that require erosion and sediment control and storm water management best management practices (BMPs). “It’s a proven product now, but it has taken a long time to get there,” says Urbine. YardWorks was one of the first companies to sign on with Filtrexx as a certified installer. It also is one of the first companies to join Certified Erosion Control, a full-service erosion control and storm water compliance service started by Filtrexx and its partners (see sidebar).
One recently completed project involved stabilizing a streambank in a marshland along Virginia’s coastal waters. Water movement from the tides was badly eroding the stream banks. “VDOT and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality wanted the restoration done without disturbing the marshland,” explains Urbine. “We filled 18- and 24-inch Filtrexx socks with a growing media and plug-planted them with saltwater grass. Then we ‘stair-stepped’ them up to build the stream bank and backfilled with compost. The media contained in the socks enables a root base to grow in and stabilize.” With another recent project, VDOT hired YardWorks to fill in rills that kept forming on a slope that had a fair amount of grass growing on it already. In order to fill the rills without disturbing the existing vegetation, filter socks were placed in the rills and compost topdressing applied. “The goal was to turn the channel flow into sheet flow,” he adds.
Among real estate developers and construction companies, YardWorks is starting to see the fruits of its outreach and education. “Developers are starting to work with us,” he says. “Just a few weeks ago, a contractor got a stop-work order due to a violation. The inspector suggested the developer call us. We find that we often get our foot in the door by solving a problem.” A recent job involved installing a landscape garden with compost topsoil and a sand mixture. The installation cut down on the size of the storm water detention pond that the developer had to put in.
YardWorks owns two Peterson Pacific blower trucks, originally purchased for large-scale mulch application jobs. What the company has learned over the past several years is that blower trucks have a higher value end use than simply using them as an outlet to get rid of mulch. “It’s not the value of the product but the value of the job,” he says. “We have realized that if we want to stay in the blower truck service industry, we want to be in erosion control. There is a whole lot more money given the cost of operations and manpower to run the trucks. Additionally, the seed injection system on the trucks has come a long way, which enables us to inject seed into soil mixes for roadside applications. Next year, we are going to try to wean out of mulch blowing and move totally toward soil erosion and sediment control applications.”
According to General Manager Turner, Grind-All’s culture relies heavily on equal parts hard work, good people and solid business decisions. And it’s paid off nicely: where they once had to seek markets for their products, they are now able to utilize every bit of what they take in on an annual basis, with continued growth on the horizon. “We’ve worked hard to get to where we are today and a lot of that success is a result of the decisions we’ve made on products, markets and equipment,” he concludes.
Larry Trojak of Trojak Communications is based in Ham Lake, Minnesota.
EXPANDING THE EROSION CONTROL TOOLBOX
OVER the years, Filtrexx International has provided its certified installers with a wide array of compost-based erosion and sediment control and storm water management Best Management Practices. Ideas for applications have been a two-way street between installers and the company, based in Grafton, Ohio. But what both installers and Filtrexx International also have learned is that compost-based BMPs can’t solve every problem. “They are not the whole tool box,” says Robbie Urbine, of YardWorks, a Filtrexx installer. “That’s why we have set up a Certified Erosion Control of Virginia division of YardWorks. It will allow us to provide the full-range services of an erosion control consultant, from job installations, maintenance and clean-up to being contracted to do site inspections and create storm water pollution prevention plans (SWPPPs).”
Certified Erosion Control, a national service company providing complete erosion and storm water solutions, was started by a handful of Filtrexx’s certified installers looking to broaden their scope of services. These services include installation of nearly any BMP, maintenance ongoing throughout the project, inspections of the project, removal/disposal ofBMPs, and ongoing replacement when BMPs are damaged from on-site activities. CEC has been able to assemble a national network of installers to perform these functions nearly anywhere in the continental U.S.
In addition to working with known successful products, CEC has focused on training both its members and their clients about the storm water and erosion control industry. Annually, several field day-type workshops are held to show what the variety of BMPs look like when installed properly and what to expect under field conditions. “We originally set up the workshops for our installers to teach their employees, but we later found nothing else like it in the market, so we have now extended them to the ‘end consumer’ or customer,” says Rod Tyler of Filtrexx and CEC. “This is normally the builder. A field day like ours is ideal for them to see all the BMPs. The only other more ideal location is a living, working, breathing site, but then you are limited to only the BMPs that are actually installed there. At our training location, we have, for example, about 30 inlet devices, staged at one inlet structure, so they can be discussed while we are all there at that station.” – N.G.