July 21, 2009 | General

Keeping Compost, Mulch In The Community

BioCycle cover, June 2009BioCycle July 2009, Vol. 50, No. 7, p. 34
Full-service green and food waste processor strives to put 100 percent of the raw materials it receives back into the community as mulch and compost products.
Nora Goldstein

BioCycle cover, June 2009
IT’S FITTING that “vision” is part of the name of a growing organics recycling company based in Fremont, California. Started in 1994 by landscapers Tom Del Conte and Roberto Aguirre – who bought their first tub grinder to process landscape waste – Vision Recycling has evolved into a full-service mulch producer and composter with two sites and the capability to service generators around the state of California. But its vision, and thus its emerging business strategy, is to be an organics processor that “takes 100 percent of the green waste out of a community, and puts 100 percent of the finished product back into that community,” says Steve Patton, Vision Recycling’s Business Development Manager. “That is our niche and our operational plan that we present to municipal governments.”
The seeds of this business strategy were planted about three years ago, but implementation has only been in full swing for about a year. “Ten years ago, 90 percent of the material we processed was sold to biomass energy plants,” explains Patton. “Today, biomass is less than 20 percent of our end use. We leave a few contracts open with the plants in case we get heavy on the wood flow and need an outlet. But right now, we are having trouble keeping up with local demand for our compost and mulch products.”
The transition is driven in part by higher revenues from the consumer and commercial markets for its products. But it also reflects the company’s origins. “We don’t approach this from the disposal side of things,” says Del Conte, Vision Recycling’s President. “We approach the organics business from the horticulture side. Our vision is and has always been to work toward creating products we can return for use locally to the communities and the soils from which they came.”
Vision Recycling operates at two main sites – the Buena Vista Landfill in Watsonville and the Ben Lomond Transfer Station in Ben Lomond, both in Santa Cruz County, California. It also takes its machines on the road to perform contract grinding for landfills throughout most of California. “We offer grinding and screening services, as well as product coloring,” says Andrew Tuckman, the company’s Sales Manager. “Some product is left on site for use as alternative daily cover. Other is sold to area composters, although in some cases, we keep the material and process it ourselves. The company also services a lot of private enterprises.”
Adds Roberto Aguirre, co-owner of the company: “It is great to go to these facilities and become a real part of a team working toward a common recycling goal.”

In Santa Cruz County, Vision Recycling is a subcontractor to GreenWaste Recovery, which has a contract to provide garbage, recycling and yard trimmings collection services to the county’s residents and businesses. The company recently renewed its contract with GreenWaste for 10 years. Under the contract, Vision Recycling receives a portion of the tip fee paid to the county at the landfill and transfer station, and retains ownership of all the product generated from the green and food waste streams.
A key to its successful processing and marketing of the organic waste stream is being proactive when it comes to feedstock quality. “We have a vested interest in educating our sales force and the community about separating the waste,” says Patton. “We want to make sure we’re receiving a clean feedstock and the only way to do that is to go right to the source. We want the public to know what we’re doing here at the Buena Vista Landfill and how important it is to help the county achieve its goal.”
Quality control efforts include inserting small blurbs in the county’s mailers sent out several times a year about the curbside program to remind households about green waste separation, and working directly with GreenWaste Recovery’s drivers and the spotters at the landfill. “We’ve created a network between county staff, the drivers of the curbside collection vehicles and our staff at the landfill gate to emphasize the benefits to receiving an uncontaminated product,” he explains. “GreenWaste’s drivers remind residents to keep trash out of their green carts and our spotters at the landfill check incoming loads for contamination. We try to run a contest with a cash prize every quarter, looking for the most improved loads in terms of quality. Everyone is graded and we review what can be done to improve the quality of the material collected. Less contamination costs us less in processing and results in a higher value product.”
Incoming material is separated into four general piles – wood and brush, leafy material, pallets and redwood – for processing. Vision Recycling owns Diamond Z grinders, Wildcat and McCloskey screens and an Amerimulch colorizer. It composts both in open windrows and in plastic, aerated pods supplied by Ag-Bag. The latter is used for composting source separated food waste with yard trimmings. In 2008, Vision Recycling processed 1,600 tons of food waste from restaurants, schools and other businesses and institutions. “We have a proposal into the county to expand the amount of food waste and green waste we process at the Buena Vista site,” says Patton. “We handle about 45,000 tons/year of material and would like to double that.”
The company is evaluating a covered composting system manufactured by Engineered Compost Systems. It includes the vendor’s aeration tubes, fans and pile covers. “We anticipate it will cut our processing time in half,” he adds.


Vision Recycling has a retail site at the Buena Vista Landfill where it offers over 11 different commodities, including compost and topsoil blends, colored and natural mulch and wood chips. “About 50 percent of our in-bound feedstock is self-haul, so what we did was turn the landfill site into a full retail presence,” notes Patton. “When people come and see the finished products, there is no question about what we are doing. Many buy a load to take back out.”
With the slow-down in construction, Vision Recycling is receiving less redwood to process into mulch. As a result, it has increased its production of colored, processed chips. “A landscaper can buy redwood bark mulch at $50 to $60/cubic yard (cy), or they can buy our product, which looks almost the same, for $25/cy,” says Tuckman. “So even though construction is down, we have filled the niche with a recycled product.”
Its most popular mulch product is Wondermulch, which is large branchy material and pallets ground to 2-inch minus. That material is then colored. “We can screen that and remove the fines, which we color as well,” he adds.
Vision Recycling’s marketing program includes partnering with a local environment group, Ecology Action in Santa Cruz, to participate in street fairs, home and garden shows and other events. “We have a presence with Ecology Action because they are in direct contact with the community,” explains Tuckman. The company also conducts tours of its composting and mulch facility, and gives coupons for its products to visitors.
Last year, the region experienced an intense fire season in the mid to late summer. Vision Recycling offered its erosion control product called Forest Floor at no charge to residents. “We ended up giving away about 2,000 tons of product,” says Patton. “The program went really well.”
Recently, while attending BioCycle’s International Conference in April in San Diego, where the magazine’s 50th Anniversary was celebrated, it became evident to Patton that Vision Recycling is part of a global organics recycling movement. “Attending the BioCycle Conference was a true inspiration,” says Patton. “We saw so many people passionate about their work and extremely knowledgeable about every facet of composting,” he says. “We want to congratulate the Goldstein’s for 50 years of continuous work and to everyone in the composting field around the globe. We look forward to another 50 years of success and uncountable milestones.”

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