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July 13, 2005

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Publication Date: Wednesday, July 13, 2005

From dumping to recycling: the Greenwaste story From dumping to recycling: the Greenwaste story (July 13, 2005)

By Marion Softky

Almanac Staff Writer

When Jesse Weigel and his partners bought an inactive landfill in 1985, it had an expected life of five years.

"Now we have about 20 years," says the general manager of Zanker Road Landfill and Greenwaste Recovery in San Jose. "We accomplished this by recycling."

Since then, Mr. Weigel and his associates have built a network of companies that recovers between 78 and 99.6 percent of the waste that comes through their doors from Peninsula communities ranging from San Jose to Woodside and Portola Valley.

At Zanker Road, near Alviso, huge machines crunch concrete and asphalt and demolition debris. Concrete products are turned into material that can be sold for road base and other uses; wood waste is converted into sawdust, wood chips for fuel, or mulch.

Some 2,600 tons pass through every day. "We average about 90 percent recovery," says Mr. Weigel.

The Zanker Road facility got quite a boost from the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, notes Marketing Manager Michael Gross, who joined the company then. In sorting debris from the Marina in San Francisco, he says, "We found purses and money and jewels."

More recently, Zanker handled 35 truckloads of interior debris from demolition of the Depression-era building fronting the historic San Mateo County Courthouse, Mr. Gross says. It will also handle the interior debris when Rickey's in Palo Alto is demolished.

In 1991, Mr. Weigel and associates founded Greenwaste Recovery, and began recycling yard waste for San Jose. This is processed at the Z-Best facility near Gilroy, where windrows of ground yard-waste are converted to compost that nourishes nearby corps. "With yard waste we get 99.6 percent recovery," says Mr. Weigel. "There's 0.4 percent residue."

Later, Greenwaste began its program to compost household garbage -- which has traditionally gone to landfills -- for several Peninsula cities at the Z-Best facility. Now 78 percent of the garbage from Woodside and Portola Valley becomes mulch for gardens and golf courses.

Portola Valley is very happy with Greenwaste, says Assistant Town Manager Barbara Powell. Not only does it give good service, "Greenwaste is innovative and continues to improve the process."
Tour of transfer station

Noise and dust and mist. Giant machines pushing at 30-foot piles of ground wood. Masked men heaving two-by-fours out of piles from debris boxes. The scene suggests hell without the fire and flames.

Welcome to the main Greenwaste transfer station in San Jose. Here 900 tons of garbage and debris -- including from Woodside and Portola Valley -- come every day to be sorted and reloaded into bigger trucks. These take them to Z-Best for composting, or other locations for further processing.

Black plastic, buckets, pvc pipe, and a purple plastic scooter are piled up, ready to go to the dump. "There's no market for that, but there will be," Mr. Gross says. "We take in almost 1,000 tons a day of yard waste and food waste."

In another giant shed next door, bottles and cans and paper climb a conveyor belt to be sorted and baled so they can be sold and converted to new products. "We've got markets for all of this," says Mr. Gross.

The key to success in recycling is in creating new value. "You're creating value from the materials you separate," says Mr. Weigel. "You create value that gets passed back to residents in lower rates."

When Mr. Weigel started as a garbage man more than 40 years ago, they didn't recycle anything, he recalls. "Now I'm a firm believer in zero waste," he says. "I've proved it to myself. It's just a matter of selling it. It can be done."

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