The world needs more positive recycling stories. Article after article paints an inaccurate picture of our industry, often implying that recycling is pointless. Beyond the depressing side effect of being constantly inundated by negative news, what is the true cost of this type of media coverage and what can we do to protect our industry from it?
Crushing it at Silver Creek Recycling
Changing with the times in the scrap business means employing customer-oriented strategies and maintaining high-level operational efficiencies
Silver Creek Recycling, located in Redcliff, Alberta, is a family business owned by Danny and Twila Luba and their son Bradyn. Bradyn's wife, Amanda, is a registered social worker. Danny and Twila Lubas' two daughters are Tajia, a business graduate working in commercial lending, and Taryn, a registered nurse. The family has operated Silver Creek Steel Mobile, a mobile recycling operation, since the late 1990s, servicing industrial locations throughout Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta, from large auto wreckers and landfills, to estate cleanups and oilfield demolition.
"During that time, we were able to observe many aspects of different scrapyard operations," explains Danny Luba. "We saw what worked and what did not, and that really laid the foundation for us to establish a stationary yard with very effective and efficient operational strategies." Silver Creek's scrap recycling yard in Redcliff was established in 2016, on 15 acres, with a 23,000-square-foot facility.
"We have kept our mobile division running strong with our established clients. It's like a family with them," says Danny, adding that their stationary yard is different, has different clientele, with bin service and a high-tech scale, but it does operate hand in hand with the mobile division. A lot of Silver Creek's stationary yard customers bring material in from cleanup at industrial sites and farmyards, and they see a range of scrap material from public, commercial and residential drop off.
With their combined mobile and stationary operations, the Lubas say their client base is growing every day.
When asked how the recycling industry has changed since they've started, Bradyn Luba says, "A big thing that we've seen change is logistics, trucking. We have been flattening our cars, and now we are diversifying and moving to baling them - because we're having a harder time getting trucks." By baling, he says, they can fit more in a given load. "It's because of the logistics. We can get more drops and it's more user-friendly for the driver, because he's not 13 feet in the air with his load and he can just throw straps over the material and be on his way back to our yard."
"We can pump out 1,000 tons, we can crush it and put it in a pile, but if we can't get it to the mill it's no good to us."
He says they have built up a fleet of four trucks to help decrease the need for outsourcing their hauling and operational needs.
"We have a roll-off that picks bins and so forth. We have super B truck going with number 2 [heavy melting scrap] to Calgary, back and forth. And then we have two trucks for our mobile division, one with a demolition trailer, which is how we're cleaning up oilfield sites and farmyards and other sites like that."
On mobile jobs, Bradyn says they take an excavator with a shear, magnet and bucket. Some call this setup (with the excavator and attachments) the Swiss Army knife for scrap "because it can do everything for us."
"We also have loaders that can go out, and we take our OverBuilt mobile lid crusher along with our logger/baler."
"With all this, we have pretty much everything we need to clean up any industrial spaces."
Key equipment: the lid crusher
Silver Creek has been using an OverBuilt car crusher since 2011. The Lubas refer to it as a lid crusher.
"We just have the one OverBuilt. We do use it at our home base, but its primary purpose is for mobile jobs," explains Bradyn.
"We had three other lid crushers previously. When we saw the OverBuilt, we saw how much speed it had. It does almost twice as much as our previous machines. So we actually decommissioned the other lid crushers and kept only one, mainly just for our yard for small volumes."
He says their OverBuilt machine on the other hand is for large volumes. "We matched a loader to go with it and that's where we can produce and process vehicles very quickly."
According to Danny Luba, on mobile jobs, they can be six to nine hours away from home, and the longer they are out of town on a job, the more their costs.
"The sooner you can get in and out, everybody's happy and we're making more money," says Danny. "But if we have to stay because our machine is slower, that costs money. The OverBuilt design has really impressed us."
"It's also a very user-friendly machine," adds Bradyn. "The lid opening is a lot bigger to accommodate bigger vehicles, like with farm equipment for example. Even having an air compressor on board - things like that speed up production. One less thing you have to carry in a truck or your tool trailer."
"I would say our OverBuilt lid crusher has doubled our production, easily."
Bradyn continues, talking about the machine's remote-control system, "Having the ability to fully control the machine from start up to shutting it off, and independently controlling each side - it's like having another guy or another set of hands."
He adds that having onboard field tanks and having a catch tank at the back for waste fluids also contribute to the great design of their OverBuilt car crusher.
In addition, easy maintenance is part of the design. "It's got a John Deere power plant which has had no issues at all. It is easy to maintain."
The way that scrapyard owners need to deal with customers is one element of the industry that has changed in recent years according to the Lubas.
Part of their strategy in this area involves engaging with customers and the community at various levels. Silver Creek participates in various community initiatives and generates a significant amount of business through the company's user-friendly website. According to Twila Luba, it's also about creating a clean, non-intimidating, safe yard for customers to come into.
"Our vision right from the beginning when we set up this yard was that both inside the shop and outside, we want everything to be organized, we want everything to have a place and everything should be in its place," says Twila.
"We also want to touch materials a minimum number of times. Just keeping an organized yard helps us to maintain a high level of operational efficiency. We're not touching things unnecessarily and adding costs to them by having employees handle them multiple times.
She continues, "When you come into the shop as a customer, it doesn't matter what day of the week, you'll come into our drive-through non-ferrous bay and it is clean, it is swept. There's nothing sitting around. It's a safe environment and allows people to unload their materials outside of inclement weather, if it's winter or if it's raining."
On-site at Silver Creek Recycling, commercial and public customers continue through after drop-off, circle around the building and back up to the scale and office for payment.
"When you drive on to the yard, we have signs directing people where they need to go," says Twila. "We don't allow customers onto the yard unless they are supervised by the employees, so they know where to go. And we always know where people are. It's part of our safety program."
The right people
Because the Lubas come from a farming background, they come from a culture where everybody learns to do things for themselves and to be self-sufficient, whether it's mechanical or otherwise.
"We really have the same mentality here," explains Twila. "Bradyn is as a journeyman Red Seal mechanic; he's an excellent welder. So we do all of our maintenance in-house. The odd time we do have to outsource work like that, but very seldom, and so that's really a cost-saving measure for us. We really don't get outside people to come in and do very much for us.
One example of this kind of self-reliance, is their tracked material handler, which they designed and built themselves.
"I put a cab riser on a 240 Hitachi [last winter]," explains Bradyn. "We actually have been using that a lot, mounted with a thumb and bucket. We find it best for picking and pulling wire and sorting."
According to Twila, "The other thing that we have done is that when we established our group of employees here we really wanted our people to have specific skills. We also wanted people to have a specific attitude. We need our people to be team players because we want everyone to pitch in and help everyone else when they need to.
"As owners, we're all very hands-on," she continues. "If we need to, we'll be in the shop, sweeping the floor on Friday, helping employees if things get too busy to finish up what they need to by 4:30 on Friday."
A sense of community
"We come from a very small farming community and we are always actively involved with community fundraisers," explains Twila.
She says that they wanted to present community groups with different ways of raising funds in the local community.
"We try to get people to think outside of the box a little bit," she says. "Instead of asking people to donate cash or different things, you can ask them: would you be interested in getting rid of some scrap metal off your farm?"
Silver Creek Steel will come to a site, process and haul material away for recycling, with proceeds going back to the community groups involved.
"We also designate a collection site in partner communities and people can come and bring all of their material there."She continues, "Every year we have local fire departments that come here to our facility, and we set up mock collisions and other scenarios for them. They practice using the jaws of life and so forth and training new members. We really enjoy doing that.
"In the spring, we have primary schools come on site. We offer field days for them. We bring the bus on location and then we have different demonstrations with our large equipment. "I think recycling in all areas, whether it's cardboard or plastics or anything is really becoming more and more mainstream all the time," says Twila.
"It's really exciting to have the opportunity to talk to the kids about metal recycling, because they hear about recycling their plastic water bottles, but nobody really talks about metal too much." She says they have some activities to teach the basics of recycling non-ferrous metals, and then the kids get ice cream.
But the most exciting thing for the kids isn't the ice cream. "We pick one name out of a hat, and then that child gets to use the remote for the OverBuilt to crush a car," says Twila. "They just go wild!"
Markets determine volume
With respect to material volumes processed by Silver Creek Recycling in a given month, it varies. For example, they have one customer who sells them around 5,000 tons every two to three years. "He'll stockpile it and he'll call us when the price is good, then we go in there," he says. "So our volume changes follow the market."
Bradyn says that lost global markets such as China have not affected their business because of their good relationships with their mills. "They keep us going through the good and the bad.
"Usually January is a time of the year mills are starting to look for material. Otherwise, it changes all the time and every year is different."
Commodity prices currently are definitely month to month. "So that determines how much work we're going to be doing. When it does come time, we have to be prepared to get in and get out."
"When the mill wants material, we have to be efficient and not waste time."
Silver Creek Recycling has three established mill buyers, all based in Canada. "We don't source out different buyers every week or every month," explains Danny Luba. "We have a good relationship with our buyers and we're sort of a family, we stick together. They need us, we need them.
"When we have a push, when our buyers tell us the market is going up, or it's going down, that determines how much material we move. One example in our mobile business, in November, we had a short window and we pushed out 1,400-plus tons in 21 days. Then again in May we processed and shipped over 900 tons in just seven days."
"But if the market is down, like it is now, we start to pedal a little bit, and we're stockpiling. We move 1,000 tons every month, or every week.
"It all depends on the market." RPN
This article was originally published as our Cover Story, July/August 2019 edition of Recycling Product News, Volume 27, Number 5.
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