Playing to their strengths
Wednesday, July 22, 2015
Posted by: Anne Piacentino
Source: Construction and Demolition Recycling Magazine
JULY 8, 2015
Brothers Troy and Torrey Lautenbach continue to grow their C&D recycling and hauling business in the Pacific Northwest by looking for strategic opportunities to expand.
When Troy Lautenbach couldn’t find a job after he graduated from Central Washington State University, he took matters into his own hands and created one by starting his own company.
“It’s good to be young and naïve,” he jokes. Troy started T&T Recovery in 1991 and began recycling scrap drywall into bedding for dairy cattle, a logical fit since Troy grew up on a dairy farm. His recycling business spiraled from there. He bought his first roll-off truck in 1994 and began recycling wood and demolishing houses shortly thereafter.
By the time 1999 came around, Troy says, “The company needed to invest in bigger equipment along with expansion. I brought in my brother and started another company called Laut Inc.”
Today Troy and his brother Torrey each own 50 percent of the business, collaboratively known as Lautenbach Industries. Of the decision to bring on his brother, Troy says, “It was the smartest thing I have ever done.”
In 2001, Laut Inc. expanded into commingled construction and demolition (C&D) debris recycling. Troy recalls at that time having to haul all of the company’s recyclables to Recovery 1, a mixed C&D recycling facility in Tacoma, Washington, about two-and-a-half hours away.
“Eventually it made more economic sense to process the materials ourselves and save the trucking to Recovery 1,” Troy says.
Troy and Torrey began searching for a location to develop their own mixed C&D recycling facility—the first facility to process C&D debris in northwest Washington.
“The market crashed in ’07 to ’08 so we slowed the process and in ’09 broke ground on the facility that we now operate in Mt. Vernon, Washington,” Troy says.
Troy remembers the crash and recalls that another facility in the state, Glacier Recycling, had to close its doors after investing heavily in equipment right before the crash, then 25 to 50 percent of the market dried up. “There is no way to forecast that kind of a swing,” says Troy. “The infrastructure was built around that stream and then the stream went away, and the infrastructure put into place fell apart because the stream was gone.”
The Lautenbachs were able to withstand the economic downturn by taking a conservative approach to expansion. “We call it the ‘creep and crawl method’,” Troy says of their business style. “Debt is not our friend, and we try to limit our exposure by limiting our debt. That really helped us with the economic downturn.”
Still, Troy says it was a bit of a gamble to move forward with a C&D recycling facility in 2009. “We were hoping at that time the market had bottomed out. We based our investments surrounding that bottom-out place, but at that time it felt like a big roll of the dice to go after it,” he says.
The company also was under pressure from Skagit County where it is located. “They wanted to see us go to the next level with some permitting issues and zoning issues that surround being able to put a facility together,” Troy says.
Sorting it out
Lautenbach Recycle Park (LRP) is made up of a mixed C&D recycling yard, an asphalt roofing recycling facility and the San Juan Transfer Station for MSW and curbside recyclables. It is located on 5 acres. The company uses the concrete it takes in, crushes it and uses it on-site.
“We take in a year’s worth of concrete and use that to expand our facility,” says Torrey. “We are doing it in phases.”
The facility is set up to work in a circular motion. Commingled roofing or sheetrock goes to one end of the property, while haulers with clean wood or concrete continue driving around the building and unload into piles designated for those materials. “We also have some metal customers too,” notes Troy.
LRP uses a recycling system from Bellingham, Washington-based Krause Manufacturing, which the company purchased from a now closed C&D landfill. Traditional C&D materials such as wood, aggregate, plastic, cardboard and metals are sorted using the mechanical system. Sheetrock and roofing materials are pulled off and placed into containers.
“We do both ground sort and line sort depending on the type of material coming in,” says Troy. “We identify it before we dump it whether it takes a little bit of sorting, then we do a ground sort on it rather than run it all the way across the line. If it takes a lot of sorting then it goes across the line.”
Expansion work usually happens in the winter months, when business is slower. Torrey says the company may spend this winter changing the direction of the sort line and adding more screens and magnets.
LRP operates 20 trucks, various trailers, excavators and wheel loaders to move and load material. It also uses a tub grinder to process wood. Asphalt shingles are usually cleaned up via a ground sort to remove contaminants such as plastic packaging, flashing and gutters. The remaining roofing material is ground down and hauled by Lautenbach to asphalt batch plants throughout the state.
Most of the loads that arrive at the facility are hauled by Lautenbach while about 25 percent of incoming loads are from outside haulers and the public. LRP’s location makes dropping off loads convenient for haulers. “We are located right next door to the county transfer station,” explains Torrey. “One of the nice things about being located right here is we are limited as to what we can take into our facility. If a load of garbage comes in our facility, we’ll reject that load and they’ll just drive around the corner and go over to the transfer station.”
Troy and Torrey say getting the public to come to LRP instead of the county transfer station has been a learning curve. “It is an education process as we go along,” says Torrey.
Troy explains that people are sometimes slow to realize when they are building a house, for example, that all the cardboard, plastic and wood banding is recyclable. “They throw it all in the pickup truck because they think it is all garbage, yet, they don’t realize that all those things are recyclable and go across our sort line and we sort them out. So we are constantly trying to promote it and educate people.”
Taking on the issues
Torrey oversees operations for all of the companies, while Troy describes himself more as a liaison for the industry. He is active with both the national Construction & Demolition Recycling Association (CDRA), Aurora, Illinois, and the Washington State Recycling Association.
The long haul
In addition to recycling and hauling C&D materials, Lautenbach Inc., Mt. Vernon, Washington, also hauls wet organics for methane digesters. According to Co-owner and President Troy Lautenbach, “These are materials that were not being handled or being recycled so there was a need.”
The company’s latest venture is the hauling and operations contract for the San Juan Transfer Station on San Juan Island, Washington. Lautenbach says when the municipal solid waste (MSW) hauling and operations contract came up, the company took a look at it and determined it was very similar to what it was already doing. “Transportation was a major aspect of the contract and transportation is a huge facet of our business,” Lautenbach explains.
Immediately when Lautenbach was awarded the contract, it placed containers out for wood and metal drop-offs on the island. All the MSW from San Juan comes to Lautenbach’s Mt. Vernon facility where it is used as a stopover for the material to either be transferred to other recycling facilities or the landfill.
According to Lautenbach, hauling MSW from San Juan is a long process as ferrying to and from the island takes about an hour and 20 minutes each way, and it’s an additional 30 minutes back to Mt. Vernon.
“Everything is by ferry to out there. It basically takes a whole day to go out there and back,” Lautenbach says.
Lautenbach says so far, handling the San Juan material is going well. The company has met its targets and is gearing up for the summer tourist season when volumes will pick up.
Troy says it is important to have a relationship with regulators and recalls having U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulators tour a mixed C&D recycling facility in the District of Columbia area. “It was very instrumental to help them understand that we [the industry] are doing good things,” he says. Federal regulations such as National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) and Non-Hazardous Secondary Materials (NHSM) Rule have major ramifications for the industry.
“Biomass fuel markets are extremely important to our industry,” Troy emphasizes. “If C&D wood was considered a hazardous waste, it would have crushed the C&D world.”
Troy recognizes that Washington state is better positioned than in other areas of the country when it comes to recycling. “One of the advantages that we have is that we are lucky enough to have quite high tipping rates in our state for garbage, which helps recycling,” he says, noting, “It’s all about economics.”
Lautenbach is in constant communication with regulators, says Troy. “When we make changes, they know about it. When they need changes, we listen and make it happen.” He adds that the public, elected officials and regulators are invited to tour LRP on a regular basis.
“We strive to earn a trusting relationship. We need to continue to have open lines of communication with our regulators,” Troy says.
In his nearly 25 years in the recycling industry, Troy says he’s seen many companies come and go. “This industry is not for the faint of heart,” he cautions.
He warns against speculative piling. “The first thing that crushes recycling is taking stuff in when you don’t have a market for it. If you don’t have a market for it, don’t take it in.” He explains that usually regulators are forced to go in and clean up these sites, then when a legitimate person comes in and wants to recycle, regulators don’t want to allow it.
Relationships are important to the Lautenbachs. In addition to being family, Troy and Torrey say they treat their employees like family and have many long-term employees working for them. They also have many longstanding relationships with customers. But the most important relationship that exists at the company is that between Troy and Torrey. Each has a set of qualities that make for a winning combination.
“Our relationship is unique in a sense that we both have our areas we are good at. We collaborate and game plan and give each other opinions, but for the most part, we leave each other alone and respect each other’s qualities,” Torrey says.
Torrey is supportive of Troy’s advocating for the industry, and Troy says, “When it comes to the nuts and bolts, Torrey is the guy that makes it all happen.”
Troy agrees the partnership with his brother is what makes the business work. “I enjoy working with my brother. My brother brings a lot of qualities I don’t have and then I have some qualities he doesn’t have, so it is really a great mixture and that dynamic in and of itself had led to the success we have been able to enjoy,” says Troy.”