A Closer Look E-mail the author

Deerpath Recyclers
Mike Demski • 269-782-7232

—Mike Demski and mother Lydia

Mike Demski didn’t start out in the tire business or the recycling business. “I have an excavating company,” he explained, “and we could not find aggregate.” Demski’s first foray into the rubber recycling business was when he bought out a small company, and he followed that purchase with another when he purchased equipment from a Canadian company that had gone out of business. That purchase expanded his rubber processing capabilities five-fold immediately.

“Now I’m a full-fledged recycler,” he said. While other companies process tires strictly to landfill them, Demski uses the landfill as the last resort. He explained that some over-the-road tires can’t be recycled effectively, and extremely dirty tires can’t be recycled because it’s not cost-effective to wash them, but all of those tires still have to be chopped up before they can be landfilled.

According to Demski, Deerpath Recyclers handles whole tires “from a loader down to a bicycle” and that after they’ve done their work, only about 10 percent of what comes in will end up in a landfill.

Material is sold to regrind shops who according to Demski, “take it down to 180 mesh crumb rubber.” One of the more interesting uses is for railroad ties that are guaranteed to last at least 60 years, compared to the 10-year lifespan of wooden ties.

Demski said that extruding companies and plastics manufacturers are also very interested in using recycled rubber. The recycled rubber chips are used as a filler material at less than half the cost of plastic filler material. The disadvantage to using tires is that it turns the finished product gray or black, which might not be as esthetically pleasing. But when the end product is something like the plastic blocks behind highway guardrails, the color isn’t important.

When Demski decided to use recycled rubber in place of aggregate as septic chips, he needed to do a lot of legwork to get the rubber accepted in his home state of Michigan. It took 2 1/2 years to get approval, but the advantage of using rubber chips is that they run about 1/3 the cost of aggregate.

Like many other operations, Demski said the tire recycling business is affected by the economy. He explained that when times are bad, people don’t spend money on new tires, so he doesn’t get as many used tires coming in. When times are good, he employs “upward of 20 people” and at one time he was running two shifts a day. He has trailers at about 80 accounts where he picks up tires, and he also accepts tires from the public and from municipal cleanups.

With two lines running, Deerpath processes about 4,000 tires a day. “We try to do at least a million tires a year,” Demski said, but 2009 saw only about 3/4 million tires processed.

Things are getting better, though, and Demski is looking at expanding his tire pickups. He recently applied for a license to pick up in Ohio, adding to his business in his home state of Michigan and neighboring states of Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.

It’s not all about distance, though. “We just purchased a building across the street,” he said, which almost doubled his space. He also plans on expanding his product line by selling rubber buffings. The market for the railroad tie manufacturers is also expanding, and Deerpath is expanding along with it. His goal is to process 2 million tires per year within two years.

On the fun side, the company is doing some R&D work alongside another company. The R&D has been going on for three years, but the payoff will be huge. “Once it’s perfected,” Demski said, “we will not make enough product at our plant to fill the need.” At that point, Deerpath will probably bring in material from other companies to reprocess it.

Most of all, though, Demski is happy that he is able to keep so much material out of landfills, and instead is “turning it into a product that’s reusable for the next generation.”