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What goes up must come down-it’s an old adage that rings particularly true in the construction industry. When an aging and ailing structure has outlived its useful life, it’s time to bring in a demolition company to take it down and make way for a new one.
While demolishing an existing structure is at times necessary, it also creates tons of waste and scrap-materials that unfortunately often end up in local landfills. However, with today’s increased emphasis on preserving and protecting the environment, demolition companies-or as some are now calling them, “deconstruction companies”-are finding ways to recycle the materials left behind when a building comes down.
HMF Recycling of Lisbon, Ohio, is one such company that’s found a niche by proactively combining both demolition and recycling into one efficient family-owned business.
“We started the business in our house back in 2002, so we’re celebrating our 10th anniversary this year,” says HMF owner Lee Houlette. “Now we have a dedicated scrapyard and office that’s allowed us to take our recycling knowledge and apply it to structural demolition projects.”
Doing It All
Lee’s brother, Robin Houlette, dabbled in the industrial factory cleanup business before he and other family members decided to take the plunge and start their own business. In addition to three primary owners, the Houlette family employs four other people. According to Lee Houlette, the recycling business has expanded significantly over the past 15 years.
Among those recyclable items are the metals that HMF removes from the properties it demolishes. The company recycles just about anything metal, from steel beams to kitchen appliances and everything in between. HMF’s ability to recycle demolition waste has resulted in numerous advantages for the company. Because most of the structures they demo have already been stripped of their most valuable material-such as copper pipes-the company does not necessarily make a profit by recycling what’s left over. However, because they can remove and recycle materials on their own, HMF is able to win more projects put out for bid by local agencies and businesses.
“As any contractor knows, the lowest bid typically wins the job-especially when it comes to demolition,” Houlette says. “Because we don’t have to pay someone else to remove and recycle the debris at a project, our bids are usually lower, giving us a leg up on the competition right from the start. And, the fact that we recycle these materials helps our customers feel better about tearing down an old building. They know that at least some of the building materials will serve a useful purpose once again.”
When it comes to demolition projects, HMF does it all, from residential homes tagged as unsafe for habitation by city and county authorities to commercial sites such as automobile dealerships. Their demolition equipment of choice includes heavy equipment from their local JCB dealership, JCB of Ohio in Macedonia.
“We use our new JCB JS330 tracked excavator to tear down larger buildings, and we use a JCB 807 excavator for smaller projects,” Houlette says. “We also own a few JCB 300T compact track loaders, a number of their Loadall telescopic handers and the first JCB WasteMaster wheel loader ever sold in the United States. It’s a wheel loader designed for enhanced traction and power with larger capacity buckets and high-lift arms that make it easier to remove recyclable items from debris piles.”
After reducing buildings to rubble with heavy machinery, the HMF staff on site attaches large magnets to those machines and uses the magnets to separate the recyclable metal from the rest of the scrap. By doing this, HMF is able to process the material on the project site rather than incurring the time and expense of hauling it back to the scrapyard and separating it there. Using their JCB excavators and Loadall telescopic handlers that can lift heavy loads high, Houlette says they’re able to load up their own tall-sided trailers and roll-offs. Recyclable materials then make their way back to the HMF scrapyard, and the remaining debris takes its final journey to the local landfill.
Following the Rules
As with any business, HMF Recycling experiences its own day-to-day challenges, including keeping up with the rules and regulations associated with both demolition and recycling.
“We have to abide by EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) regulations and keep up with constant changes in environmental law,” Houlette says. “For example, some cities have strict rules about the level of dust created during demolition, so we have to ensure that we’re watering down the site regularly to abide by those regulations.”
The constantly changing value of recyclable materials also keeps Houlette and his staff on their toes. Prices paid for steel and other metals fluctuate at least once or twice per month; recently, they’ve risen and fallen up to five times in a single 30-day period.
“We get regular phone calls and emails from local steel mills updating us on the current values established by American Metal Markets,” Houlette says. “Those values are calculated based on trade values worldwide as well as stock market performance. We have to stay abreast of current pricing, both for our customers who bring us their old cars and appliances for recycling and for those customers who ask us to bid on demolition projects. Those numbers figure into our final costs.”
As with any company that works in a potentially hazardous environment, HMF has high safety standards, both at the scrapyard and at its many project sites. Each employee must sign off on a safety plan, and the company schedules regular meetings to discuss safety issues and train employees on any new equipment.
“I would never ask any of my employees to do something that I wouldn’t do myself,” Houlette says. “If something looks risky, we just won’t do it. We drop it and figure out a better way; it’s not worth having someone get hurt. When it comes to equipment, we make sure everyone’s been trained before they get behind the controls at a jobsite. Even though manufacturers like JCB are making equipment that’s incredibly intuitive and easy to use, we want our employees to know the right way to use our machines, not just to keep them safe, but to keep others on the worksite safe as well.”
From all indications, the outlook for companies like HMF Recycling is quite positive. Many metropolitan areas, including Chicago and the surrounding Cook County, have passed ordinances that mandate the recycling of demolition waste. In the case of Cook County, 70 percent of the waste from a demolished commercial building must be recycled. Residential properties must recycle a minimum of 5 percent. In California, many cities have passed ordinances requiring 50 percent of the materials from qualifying projects be recycled. It is likely that more states, cities and counties will pass similar ordinances in the near future to divert waste from their landfills.
“Obviously, we’re pleased that more materials are being recycled,” Houlette says. “Over the years, we’ve seen upturns and downturns in recycling-it’s been a cyclical business. Currently, we’re on an upswing. The days of simply throwing things away or shoving them out in the ‘back 40’ are more or less over. And that’s a good thing. More people are taking responsibility for the world we’re leaving behind for future generations.”