Concrete Recyclers is Closing the Loop
By Natasha Ashenhurst, this story was originally printed in the April 2017 VOICE Magazine, published by the Thurston County Chamber.
In 2001, the Nisqually earthquake damaged Olympia’s Fourth Avenue Bridge beyond repair. The City demolished the bridge and replaced it, but what happened to the 12,000 tons of concrete from the old bridge?
Prior to 1994, the debris would have been buried. Instead, remnants of the old bridge were broken up and the crushed material was used in the base of the new bridge. Using recycled asphalt and concrete in local building projects was not always an option.
“For decades European countries have recycled their concrete and asphalt as an important part of overall sustainability and waste reduction efforts. These countries were not burying their concrete—they were reusing it. I read about Europe’s success recycling concrete and asphalt and saw a business model and income base, as well as a way to promote environmental responsibility at a local level,” said Diana Wall.
Wall helped change existing policies regulating concrete and asphalt waste, and then generated a market for recycled concrete and asphalt.
“It took a lot of work with Thurston County Solid Waste to change the regulations within Thurston County in order to make concrete and asphalt debris a regulated product. Prior to these changes, old asphalt and concrete were most often buried and often ended up in low spots of wetlands. Once the County created an ordinance making it regulated debris, that changed,” said Wall.
In 1994, she launched Concrete Recyclers, located along Black Lake Boulevard. Diana Wall is president and her husband, John Specht, is vice president.
From Old to New
Today, demolition contractors tearing out an old building, road or sidewalk, or homeowners tearing out an old patio, can take the debris to the landfill, but it will cost them $120 per ton. The affordable option is to take it to a regulated recycling facility, like Concrete Recyclers, and pay only $7 per ton on average with $20 minimum for a pickup load. Concrete Recyclers accepts asphalt, brick, concrete and anything masonry, as well as glass—but more on that later.
Dump trucks drive up, scale in, unload and scale out.
Concrete Recyclers then preps the debris, using equipment to break the material into pieces no larger than 2 feet by 2 feet. Then, the crew runs the pieces, often embedded with rebar, through the rock crusher until it is the desired size. The crushed concrete and asphalt goes into a pile ready for the market and large magnets pull out any metal embedded in the material for further recycling. Concrete Recyclers sells the finished crushed asphalt or concrete in sizes ranging from ¾ inch to 2 ½ inches.
Contractors and homeowners buy the recycled product for new building projects, landscaping projects and road building and repair.
“When you buy finished recycled product not only is it less expensive, but it is an excellent sustainable building material option. From an environmental perspective, sand and gravel are not a renewable resource. Our aggregate is keeping the natural resource in the ground, and our recycled products are excellent,” said Specht.
Every year, Concrete Recyclers diverts thousands of tons of concrete and asphalt from landfills.
In addition to concrete and asphalt, Concrete Recyclers recycles used glass—mostly bottles, but also old computer screens. The crew crushes the glass into a uniform size that contractors use as a substitute for sand and gravel in backfill and foundation projects. Glass cullet is another name for crushed glass. Contractors use glass cullet as a landscape mulch, for drainage media in pervious pavements, backfill for retaining walls and bedding material under sidewalks and small-diameter water and service lines, substituting fine-grained glass cullet for the two-inch sand cushion layer they normally use.
Concrete Recyclers saw an opportunity to divert waste from the landfill and turn it into an affordable and sustainable building material. They earn a living by recycling materials that were difficult to dispose of. They have taken what was old and useless and made it new again. Concrete Recyclers is a local company, working hard to close the sustainability loop. ●