ENVIRONMENT: Two new recycling companies can save you time and money

TRAVERSE CITY – We are a disposable society. Americans produce more per-capita garbage than any other country in the world. Rather than fix a broken washing machine or vacuum cleaner, we simply haul it off to the dump and buy a new one. Often this is the quickest, cheapest solution.

The unseen consequences, however, are that our overloaded landfills are quickly reaching capacity. As more virgin land is developed to accommodate our vast amounts of trash, it becomes increasingly obvious that something must be done to change our wasteful ways. Fortunately, two new environmentally-minded companies have recently opened for business in northwest Michigan with precisely this goal in mind.

“I’m very environmentally conscious,” said Art Leffering, co-owner of Enviro-Choice Grinding Systems in Kingsley. “And so is my partner. Our main goal is to reduce the amount of waste going to the landfill.”

Leffering and partner Dave Fettes are the proud owners of Michigan’s only maxi-grinder–an amazing, mobile machine which is used to grind up and recycle building materials that would otherwise be headed for the dump. Asphalt is ground up to be used for roads; trees and stumps become compost and landscaping mulch; bricks and cinder blocks are used for ornamental landscaping and erosion control; porcelain converts to drainage aggregate and pipe bedding; and construction and demolition debris can be utilized as landfill cover. With the exception of steel and concrete, there’s virtually nothing the maxi-grinder won’t pulverize.

In addition to benefitting the environment, Enviro-Choice’s maxi-grinder also saves contractors money by reducing the volume of construction debris hauled to the landfill by as much as eight times.

“We present a justifiable cost to businesses,” explained Leffering. “If you figure it costs, on average, about $65 an hour to operate a dump truck, and a 10-yard load costs about $150 to dump, well, we can reduce 20 loads to say four or five loads, depending on the material. And we can do a job in four to five hours that may have taken two days to do before. The contractors end up saving money because they increase their profit margins.”

Fettes and Leffering got their start four years ago with a small Caboda-tractor landscaping business. Enviro-Choice was born last year when the two started to figure all the cost and waste involved in dumping their landscaping debris.

“Most of this stuff was recyclable, but we ended up having to pay to dump it,” said Leffering.

“I’d heard about the maxi-grinders and knew they were doing it all over the Midwest,” added Fettes. “And I thought, ‘why doesn’t Michigan do anything like that?'”

Their next task was to find someone willing to finance and insure the $400,000 grinder. Not an easy proposition since construction materials recycling is a relatively new concept in Michigan. In fact, there are only 58 maxi-grinders operating throughout the United States.

“No one in Traverse City wanted to finance us because they had no clue as to what this thing was,” said Leffering. “We ended up having to go through a company in Kentucky.”

So far, their gamble has paid off. After only two months in operation, Leffering and Fettes now employ a full-time staff of four. They also hope to add another grinder as soon as possible. Perhaps Enviro-Choice’s biggest measure of success, though, has also been the most intangible.

“I got into this because I have an 18-year-old daughter and a 16-year-old son, and I want to make sure we’re leaving something for them,” said Fettes, an avid outdoorsman, who also owns Fettes Trout and Wildlife Farms in Kingsley. “I don’t want to give up any more Michigan land.” (263-3111)

WANTED: YOUR GARBAGE

Chris and Trisha Suski, founders of Enviro-Tech in Traverse City, also have their eyes on the future. Enviro-Tech recycles business waste around northern Michigan in an effort to reduce the amount of garbage going to landfills. The company got its start a few months ago when the Suskis became fed up with the trashing of state lands.

“My wife and I walk all the time, every weekend we go for hikes on state land,” Chris said. “We started doing our own trash clean-ups because we got so sick of all the dumping that goes on out there. We would gather up all this garbage, old appliances and stuff, but we couldn’t haul it all out. So I would call the DNR and ask them to pick it up, but they said they didn’t have the funds. I called the state so often that they basically told me to put up or shut up!” he laughed.

He decided to put up, and Enviro-Tech was born. Here’s how it works: Businesses pay Enviro-Tech to recycle their waste. In return, they save money by reducing the amount of garbage going to the landfill, which is charged by weight. Suski estimates that 90 percent of office trash (mostly paper) is recyclable, and up to 98 percent of automotive waste (such as oil containers and old car parts). Though Enviro-Tech specializes in office and automotive recycling, Suski is quick to point out that they are not limited to these areas.

“My main thing is, I want to give people an option,” he said. “We do all kinds of businesses. I also do free appliance pick-up within Grand Traverse County. We don’t make money doing that, but if it keeps the stuff out of the woods and out of the landfills, then it’s worth it.”

Chris Suski’s altruistic ideals are the driving force behind Enviro-Tech. Since it’s inception, he’s been working 24-hour days trying to keep up with the growing business, as well as his full-time job running a trucking company. In his practically non-existent spare time Suski also refurbishes junked bicycles which he donates to area children in need.

The Suskis are currently seeking non-profit status, which they hope will enable them to devote their full energies to the company within a year’s time.

“I don’t get much sleep,” said Suski, who often stays up until 3 a.m. hand washing oil bottles. “But this is something I really believe in. I want to do as much as possible for community gain. This is all the land we’ve got. Maybe someday my kids can play, and they won’t be playing in a landfill.” BIZNEWS

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