Recycling after superstorm Sandy
When Superstorm Sandy hit New Jersey and New York in October it was defined by the National Hurricane Center as a post-tropical cyclone. No matter what it was called, Sandy clobbered the east coast with the most destructive and costliest storm in the area’s history. Rebuilding will be a monumental undertaking with demolition and site clearing of condemned structures leading the way. Recycling as much of the ruined material as possible will help mitigate the cost of rebuilding and lessen the strain on landfills.
Sandy is being blamed for tens of billions in damages, the majority of which occurred in New York and New Jersey. It’s being estimated as the second-costliest storm in U.S. history, right behind 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, which caused an estimated $128 billion in damages.
In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo estimated the storm damage at $42 billion across the state. That estimate included $9 billion for preventive measures for future storms.
New York City Mayor Bloomberg announced that they red-tagged 800 to 900 homes and estimated that up to 300 will have to be demolished.
Governor Chris Christie gave a preliminary estimate of $29.4 billion in damages for New Jersey. “This preliminary number is based on the best available data, field observations and geographical mapping, and supported by expert advice from my cabinet, commissioners and an outside consulting company,” Christie said.
New Jersey officials claim that 72,000 homes were damaged. An aerial analysis of the Jersey shore by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) showed more than 500 buildings were totally destroyed. An additional 5,000 structures suffered major damage and 24,000 suffered minor damage. FEMA expects the number of damaged homes and businesses to increase as closer inspections proceed.
In any case, billions will be spent to collect and dispose of material wrecked by wind and flooding to remove collapsed structures and demolish condemned buildings before even more billions are spent on reconstruction. If black clouds have silver linings, this is one for the waste industry, demolition contractors and many other businesses – an unwelcome, but short-term financial boost in a sluggish economy. For municipal, county, state and federal agencies, it means unexpected spending and additional workloads to deal with the aftermath.
To get an update on the demolition industry and how it relates to Sandy, American Recycler News interviewed Mike Taylor, executive director of the National Demolition Association (NDA). His association represents approximately 900 U.S. and Canadian companies that offer demolition and related services.
“It’s been a good time for us over the past six or seven months. The last three years were pretty dry and the recession had an impact on the association’s membership. It tended to cull the herd. When the recession was in full bore the number of people showing up for bid-walks tripled. You had everybody and his brother; little general contractors in the home improvement market, small builders, even pool installers and landscape contractors trying to get into the business. In that environment margins dropped precipitously. But now we are seeing a decent amount of work almost everywhere.
“Sandy, just like after every other major event, whether it’s a big fire in California, or Katrina, or Hurricane Ike in Texas, our industry expresses great interest. If you consider the nature of the structures along the Jersey coast when you head north from Atlantic City for 50 miles, there are some real pockets of significant damage. Most construction in those areas are wood, pretty standard shore houses many dating back to the 1950s and older. Many of those washed out and collapsed. It’s not dissimilar to the World Trade Center in that there isn’t that much demolition, it’s really a lot of site clearance. I think very little of the material will be recycled. Speed is of the essence here to give the impression that over the next six months they are making progress. The infrastructure will be repaired and the shore will be open for business. I think ideally they would like to recycle a lot of this material, but I don’t know if they have the time. I envision them crunching the vast majority of the wood so they can increase the volume that can be removed with each truckload that will be landfilled,” Taylor concluded.
Metal recycling is another matter. One prime destination for Sandy metal is Universal Recycling & Scrap Iron (URSI) in Bayville, New Jersey.
Located just five miles from the hardest hit section of the Jersey shore, URSI has been inundated with materials and is providing a host of services to help with the Sandy cleanup.
“Since Sandy, there has been a great increase of scrap from residents, municipalities, local scrappers, electricians, HAVC companies and contractors,” said Damon Kozul, Professional Engineer and Certified Hazardous Materials Manager and safety officer at URSI.
“We are obtaining scrap metals either through our own container and trailer pickup service or via clients bringing the scrap metals and cars to our facility. Because of the strategic location of our yard, people who are providing debris removals and recycling services are bringing materials here. We’ve seen a tremendous influx of white goods, refrigerators, washers and dryers all that stuff and lot of copper, white iron, flooded equipment from people’s basements, aluminum siding and a steady stream of flooded cars. Any metals you would find in a home or commercial structure are arriving.”
Before Sandy, the yard was receiving 30 to 40 junk cars per week. After the storm, they are averaging more than 70 cars per week. The yard has gone to a seven day work week schedule to meet the increased volume.
Due to the increased supply of metals, URSI has seen an increase in revenues, but says it has invested this back into the company by hiring additional manpower and purchasing additional trucks, containers and equipment. In addition, URSI purchased a mobile car crusher to facilitate the recycling of flooded vehicles, but also to provide clients with a mobile alternative to process the sizeable stockpiles of flooded cars in the area.
“For customers who do not have trucks or have larger loads, we are providing container and trucking services. We also have a 16 acre, fenced-in area to safely store flood damaged boats, campers and vehicles,” Kozul continued. “Our Universal Companies are also experts in demolition and debris removal. We provide complete building demolition, home demolition and debris cleanup services. We are fully insured, have safety trained employees and own specialized demolition equipment to perform any project safely and efficiently.”
In Long Island, New York the entire south shore and parts of the north shore were decimated by Sandy. At Winters Bros., a Progressive Waste Solutions Company, volume on its residential routes doubled in the weeks after the storm. Winters, recently acquired by Progressive, handles residential and commercial waste, contractor debris and operates several MSW C&D transfer stations on Long Island.
Winters’ employees suffered from the storm, some losing homes and vehicles, yet most worked seven days per week on heavy overtime during the cleanup because the volume of the storm debris was so huge. The company had about 185 people working on storm debris; 4 came up from Maryland and 4 down from Toronto each with a truck. In addition, Winters brought in 50 extra roll-offs from outside the area. Because of the unavailability of hotel rooms, the out-of-town crews slept on cots at company offices during the first week and a half.
Peter Casserly, director of government affairs at Progressive said, “Our experience was probably very similar to all the other companies on the Island. We were just inundated and overloaded with material, not only the hauling and disposal but also the actual cleanup in the streets. We work for a number of municipalities, actually going down the streets, providing dumpsters and tractor trailers and hauling the material to disposal sites. There were a number of temporary disposal sites set up. By the second day of the cleanup, all of the facilities on the Island, including ours, were backed up and the material was flowing out into the streets. No one could handle the overwhelming amount of debris that we were faced with.”
“Depending on which municipality we were working for, a lot of material went directly to other processing plants for which we were doing just the hauling. We have picking lines at all our three C&D facilities to pull out the metals, paper, plastic, wood, stones and concrete. Typically, we recover 9 to 12 percent of the volume. With C&D the percentage usually goes up a bit,” said Casserly.
Sandy has meant heartbreak for countless people as well as a historically large cleanup. This disaster was not welcomed by anyone, but the demolition industry and scrap yards were there and ready to work overtime to help the victims recover from this tragedy.