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Atomic Recycling: The business of recycling construction waste

Large dumpster reading "Atomic Recycling"

A big metal dumpster in your neighbor’s yard probably means they’re remodeling. If it’s green and in the Twin Cities, it’s likely an Atomic Recycling bin, where they recycle nearly 75% of the construction waste they receive.

Residents planning a remodeling project who are concerned about the environmental impact of their construction waste should ask their contractor who will supply the dumpster services and where the waste will go – if it isn’t Atomic or DemCon, chances are good the waste will go to a landfill.

While recycling is good for the environment, it’s also a market-driven business. To better understand, we asked Brian Pieti, vice president of Atomic Recycling, to explain the business of recycling construction waste.

What does Atomic Recycling do?

Brian: “We supply dumpsters for construction sites and recycle everything we can. It goes back to our MRF [material recovery facility, pronounced murf]. We recycle cardboard, wood, any type of metal, and some of the shingles get more of a reuse.

There are only two companies in the Twin Cities that do this—it’s us and DemCon. DemCon is in Shakopee. Occasionally I use their place, they use mine. We’re competitors, but we’re also friends.”

Note: Construction sites include new building construction, full-building demolitions or deconstructions, and renovation projects. Utilizing a construction waste recycler like Atomic Recycling for your project reduces the amount of waste going to landfills and supports local recycling markets. Construction waste recyclers also make it easy and efficient for costumers by using one dumpster to collect mixed waste from projects.

What happens when a dumpster comes to your MRF from a construction site?

Brian: “[The contents] go up a conveyor belt [and] over what’s called a vibratory finger screen. Everything 8 inches and above stays on what we refer to as our A line and that’s hand sorted [for wood, concrete, cardboard and metal.]”

“Everything 8 inches and minus, first it goes across the magnet, so if there’s a loose screw or nail in the load, the system will find it. Then [a star screen] screens out everything 2 inches or minus. Then an air knife blows off all the light stuff. Typically, after that all we’re left with is small pieces of concrete or maybe a doorknob or small chunk of wood. The last three people do quality control for all of our concrete. The stuff that’s not recyclable they just throw it over shoulder on to another belt, and all the non-ferrous metal, they have a little bucket for it.”


How is business?

Brian: “Once the warm weather hit, construction picked up. We are booked out until we can find more dumpsters. Every year we try to prepare, and every year we buy more. [Because of] the cost of steel, the cost of a dumpster is up 50 percent. Plus, by the time you get them, the summer would be over. And that’s the issue facing us and just about everyone else right now. We’re also having trouble finding drivers. The employment market is tight right now.”

Is it more expensive to use your dumpsters versus ones that dump in a landfill?

Brian: “I don’t have to be more expensive. Granted my facility has large monthly operating costs, we have 35 people working there, and some expensive equipment, but we get it back through our commodities.”

Note: Market research shows that construction waste recyclers’ prices are comparable to sending material to landfills. Whichever route you take, it’s important to consider the costs in the planning stages of your project to make sure your budget accounts for recycling and disposal. Additionally, if you are working with a contractor, communicate your recycling goals at the start of your project and coordinate with a construction waste recycler.

What advice would you give to a homeowner who wants to rent your service?

Brian: “We’re just telling everyone to plan ahead right now.”

Now that warm weather has arrived – and with it, the desire to clean and declutter – this a great time to get serious about donating usable goods that are taking up space in your overcrowded home.