JULY 2009

A Closer Look E-mail the author

Green Waste Recovery
Michael Gross • 408-263-2384

GreenWaste Recovery is part of a family of companies that includes a material recovery facility in San Jose that sorts and recovers 85 percent of household waste. The sister companies are Zanker Materials Recovery & Landfill and Z-Best Composting.

The companies are privately owned, and got their start in 1984, founded by Rich Cristina and Jesse Weigal, according to Michael Gross, the company’s marketing manager. Gross started working for the company in 1989, after running a garbage company in Arizona.

Gross said that the partners had an opportunity to use an old landfill that had an estimated five years of life left. “We still haven’t filled up that landfill yet,” Gross said, although it is now nearly at capacity. Since then, the company opened a second landfill, but the goal is to fill it as slowly as possible.

The company’s Zanker Road landfill takes in wood waste, yard waste, concrete rubble, demolition debris, cardboard, gypsum, metal, bulky items and green waste, then sorts and processes it and sells base rock, soil amendment, mulch, organic compost, top dress compost, agricultural gypsum and planter mix commercially and to the public.

Gross said if a typical San Jose home was dropped into the landfill, it would take about a half-hour to separate the materials for recycling, and that 90 percent would be reclaimed.

Besides keeping the material out of landfills, Gross said that another benefit to the consumer is that the colored wood mulch is about a quarter of the price of mulches made from virgin materials. “They look good, and they last a long time,” he said.

Gross said that since he’s been involved in the business, the two biggest changes have been the increased use of automation in processing the material and the greater number of markets for the finished products. “People are embracing recycling. In 1989, the company sold about 10,000 tons of soil amendments, but now it sells 130,000 tons of compost alone.” The composting operation is one of the biggest in the state of California, according to Gross.

The company is constantly looking for ways to recycle more materials, and has even found a successful way to recycle asphalt shingles. “We’re doing things that no one has done before,” Gross said.

While some companies feel the squeeze of government regulations, Gross said that he has seen the benefits. He said that when he was a child, the smog was a huge problem in the area, but now, “we can actually breathe the air,” he said. “Now every day you can see the mountains.”

He said that as the company has grown “we’re getting better at what we do.” Gross said that he’s particularly proud of the fact that his company is recovering and selling sand, pea gravel and drain rock, since it lessens the need to import those materials from Canada and Mexico.

But although there are good markets for rock, Gross said that some markets are drying up, such as the market for plastic film. “We can’t sell any right now,” so the emphasis needs to be on reducing waste streams and eliminating items that can’t be recycled or reused. He said that the dependency on foreign markets to buy recyclables is also a problem. “We should be shipping down the street,” he said, adding that we need to bring more manufacturing back to this country.

“We need to get into green jobs,” Gross said, explaining that the green industry requires “a whole cross section of people” from the marketing people to the politicians to the consumers, but that he foresees that the “the greening of everything” is on its way.

But it’s not all about the big picture. GreenWaste has taken the local community of Alviso under its wing and participates in the community’s annual Santa Program. Near Christmas, kids meet Santa, have lunch and receive a gift. Last year, 650 kids attended. “You’ve got to be part of the community,” Gross said.