Closing the Loop
Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.
These three words make up an environmentalist mantra that folks have been saying for decades.
We reduce waste at the source by decreasing what we consume, and the amount that we consume. Then we reuse by finding practical uses for items before tossing them into the trash. Finally, we recycle, by diverting end-use materials from the trash to be broken down into their elements and used in new products.
The words, and the practice that goes along with them, are rewarding.
After all, it’s gratifying to know that you’re making a difference in something that affects the environment in a positive way. But what if I told you that you could reduce your carbon footprint, save yourself some money, and remain ecologically compliant by using material that your company has already recycled? It’s called ‘closing the loop.’ Closing the loop refers to the continuous lifecycle of a product—from production, consumption, recycling and ultimately bringing the material back into production. Examples include the use of recycled materials during the manufacture of new products, or the recycling of food waste into composts that are used in agriculture and food production.
Take Stay Green Inc., for example, based in Santa Clarita, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. Stay Green is a full-service landscape company that employs more than 300 people in five divisions: landscape maintenance, plant health care, tree care, water management, design and construction services.
Recognized as a leading provider of high-quality landscape services to residential and commercial clients throughout Southern California, the company exercises positive environmental stewardship through its Sustainable Asset Protection Program (SAPP). The program is applied across all service lines to help clients protect the environment as well as their landscapes, plants, waste and water management assets.
Another corporation devoted to eco-compliance is Agromin. Headquartered in Oxnard, California, the company is the organics recycler for more than 50 California cities.
Every year, Agromin converts nearly 380,000 tons of organic materials into living compost, mulch, and other premium soil products for farmers and landscape contractors. Their products contribute to water conservation, prevention of soil depletion, reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and a decreased need for oil-based fertilizers and chemicals.
These two companies have formed a partnership that focuses on recycling and reusing organic materials that are produced from Stay Green’s landscape services. Instead of sending their green waste to landfills, where it decomposes and releases green house gases like CO2, methane and acidic leachate, Stay Green sends their grass clippings, leaves, etc., to Agromin, to be turned into compost, mulch and soil enhancements.
Here’s how it works. Agromin supplies Stay Green with 40 yard bins, usually one to each location, although some locations have two. The crews at each location usually collect the green waste throughout the day and place it in the bin.
When the bin is filled (it usually takes a day to fill a 40-yard bin), a truck brings a bin filled with compost. They swap out that bin, pick up the bin with the green waste and truck it back to Agromin.
Trucking the material between locations is the most costly part of the partnership, but by bringing in a load of compost and taking back a load of green waste, it ensures that the trucks are filled both ways, maximizing trucking costs.
“We’re capitalizing on reducing transportation costs,” says Chris Angelo, president and CEO of Stay Green. “It would cost us more if we sent it to the dump and paid the dump fees. Equally as important, it wouldn’t be reintroduced back into the landscape. By recycling our green waste, our clients benefit, we benefit, but best of all, the ecology benefits.”
David DuBois, owner of Mission Landscape Companies in Irvine, California, also sees the need for composting. He, however, decided to do the composting in-house. Mission Landscape has offices from San Diego to Sacramento, California.
They set up their own composting unit in Chino, California, to service the Southern California branches. Similar to Stay Green, Mission puts bins at their various locations. Instead of using a waste hauling company to truck the land trimmings from their locations to their composting facility in Chino, the company uses their own trucks to transport the material.
Green waste is generated from landscape maintenance jobs, and dumped in large bins located at Mission facilities. Then, an order is placed with their compost facility to exchange the organic waste for compost.
“We have our own trucks that run back and forth from our mulching facility. We need to make sure the trucks are full both ways,” says DuBois. “It saves transportation costs.” Mulch is placed into an empty container, and trucked to one of the branches where is it unloaded. The mulch is dropped in the yard, and the truck driver then picks up a full container of green waste. “We drop the mulch in the yard, leave the empty container, and take the container of green waste back to the facility to be composted. That way, trucks are full both ways,” he said.
The company even has their own blower truck—those enormous trucks that we see spreading thousands of yards of mulch on the sides of freeways and big jobsites. Someone can order hundreds to thousands of yards of mulch, and with two workers, they can blow 50 yards of mulch in an hour.
So, not only does Mission Landscape save money by reducing transportation, they also reduce the cost of hauling the material and composting it.
Because the operation is all done in-house, composting was set up as a separate division of the company. “We set it up as an internal entity that charges the ‘going rate’ to our maintenance company and our tree trimming company. The whole recycling center in itself returns a profit,” says DuBois. “At the end of the day, my dump fees completely disappear.”
To add to their revenue, Mission also has a limited group of contractors that pay to come and dump in their facility. They even provide compost to some of their competitors.
In addition, Mission offers their buyers a data sheet that demonstrates exactly how much organic material, fine material, nutrients, and pathogens are in their mulch. That way, the buyer knows for a fact that the product they are buying is 100 percent eco-friendly.
Using compost can result in a variety of environmental benefits.
Not only does compost help regenerate poor soils, the composting process can degrade or eliminate wood preservatives, pesticides, and both chlorinated and non-chlorinated hydrocarbons in contaminated soil.
Bringing compost onto the landscape also serves other benefits.
Compost acts as a blanketing layer that is spread over areas of the landscape to protect it from erosion.
Moreover, it acts like a sponge and retains water, which encourages water-wise practices.
“By using compost, we’re reintroducing nutrients like nitrogen, which plants need. We put it back into the soil,” says Angelo. “So, they’re getting those byproducts, which then break down into microorganisms, resulting in healthier soils and healthier plant life. The plants live longer, look healthier, and they’re greener.”
What you might not realize is that the composting process occurs naturally every day. The dark, rich, undisturbed soil that covers the earth is a good example of this. It’s a gradual process, but that undisturbed earth is always decomposing.
When we compost, all we’re really doing is speeding up Mother Nature’s natural process. Decomposition is fueled by millions of microscopic organisms, like bacteria and fungi that continuously devour and recycle organic material to produce a rich organic fertilizer and valuable soil amendment.
In addition to being eco-friendly, there are some major benefits for the landscape contractor who embraces being eco-green. More of your clients, especially the corporate clients, are asking about being ecologically compliant.
More and more corporations now even have an eco-green committee. When you explain what your company is doing, you are also giving them answers that they can use to prove they are good corporate citizens. “We’re able to tell our clients that we completely divert all of their green waste from the local landfill,” says DuBois. “That’s a big deal.” By demonstrating that his company is focusing on the three Rs, and closing the loop in the recycling circle, he’s offering these corporations exactly what they want.
The exciting part is that at every job, Stay Green crews are able to reintroduce recycled compost into the same landscapes that the material was removed from. When it’s feasible, they’ll charge the client for the mulch.
And remember those corporate eco-green committees? Also known as sustainable assets programs, these programs always ask their vendors what they are doing to remain eco-compliant. When they do, Stay Green is able to tell them about their partnership with Agromin.
“With our recycling program, we’re closing the loop in the circle to ensure that we are truly recycling 100 percent of the organic matter that is coming off of our properties,” says Angelo. “What we are removing from our properties is actually going back into those properties.”
So, why not send the clippings to a composting facility? It’s better for the environment than letting them sit and decompose over time in a dump, and you save yourself some money in the process by reducing transportation and dump costs.
Composting is a good option to consider. It benefits the environment, and as these companies have demonstrated, you can even save yourself some money. But more importantly, by focusing on 100 percent reuse, you’re closing the loop.
From that perspective, there’s a whole lot of value and benefit for your company, your clientele, and the earth.