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Kansas Recycler Puts Strong Focus on Wood Fiber Products;
Vermeer Equipment Grinder, Rexius Express Blower Trucks Aid Kansas Pallet
By Jack Petree
Date Posted: 11/1/2002
WICHITA, Kansas – Kansas Pallet and Transfer is a pallet repair and recycling business operating in Wichita, Kansas. The company manufactures about 2,000 pallets per day in a 15,000-square-foot building, using semi-automation and assembling pallets manually.
Kansas Pallet and Transfer has prospered as a pallet repair business, but the company’s real story is the extraordinary success it has enjoyed at expanding its recycling operations beyond typical wood fiber products.
The company added operations to grind pallet scrap in the early 1990s in order to avoid the high cost of disposing of scrap in landfills. Since then it has become one of the most complete recyclers of clean waste in the country.
Kansas Pallet and Transfer combines grindings of pallets with green waste, food waste from cafeterias, lumber scrap from manufacturing plants, residue from grain processing plants, and other clean waste. It processes them into a variety of value-added products, including mulch, composts and other specialty products. Its products are sold retail and wholesale within south-central Kansas. The company's growth, success, and contribution to recycling have been recognized by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
Kansas Pallet and Transfer was founded in the 1980s and purchased by Dean Frankenbery in 1993. Dean brought an unusual perspective to the business; he previously had worked in banking. "I'd always been interested in recycling, however," he said. "And this seemed a good chance to act on that interest."
Traditionally, pallet recyclers focus on recovering, repairing and selling used pallets; residuals usually are a secondary focus.
However, Dean regarded pallets as simply one important cog in a much larger wheel. "The pallet operation has been the bread and butter of our organization," he said, "but there are other, complementary opportunities out there capable of adding significantly to the bottom line if pursued."
The opportunity to expand into a broader range of recycling activities occurred when Kansas Pallet and Transfer landed a contract to provide wood chips for a highway project about a year after Dean purchased the company. The previous owner had used a Haybuster grinder to reduce waste wood, and most of the grindings were sold for landscaping mulch. Dean viewed the highway project as a way to create more value out of the resource.
The highway contract required considerably more chips than Dean’s company was capable of providing with its own raw material of pallet scraps, presenting both a challenge and an opportunity. To obtain more wood fiber, Dean expanded with the creation of an associated business, Wood Recycle & Composting Center, which obtains clean wood waste and converts it into value-added products.
By charging tipping fees that were below those set by local governments at landfills, Dean’s affiliated business was able to attract a steady supply of waste wood material. The wood recycling operation got the raw material it needed, and contractors and other businesses that needed a place to dispose of wood waste material benefitted from reduced tipping fees. The pallets, construction material and other clean waste delivered to the company’s yard provided both a large supply of recyclable lumber for Kansas Pallet and the scrap it needed to manufacture chips for the highway contract.
"When we opened Wood Recycle & Composting Center, we were able to see the potential of further expanding the recycling effort," said Dean, "so we began to move towards becoming more of a full-fledged recycling firm -- with the pallet business being a part of rather than the focus of the larger effort."
Wood Recycle & Composting Center is located on 60 acres. A variety of clean raw material is brought by waste haulers, contractors, private individuals and others. The company accepts all types of clean wood waste, yard waste, grain waste, and similar by-products. In addition to material delivered directly to the yard, Wood Recycle maintains a fleet of 20 trailers that can be provided to companies on-site for recycling.
Incoming material is separated by type. Lumber that can be utilized in the pallet business is sorted and sent to the pallet plant. Other material is processed with a Vermeer Equipment TG525 grinder (equipped with a grapple) or a Vermeer TG 400 grinder; the latter machine is capable of grinding whole trees. A John Deere 544 and two 644 loaders move material in the yard and feed material to the grinders.
In the pallet plant, three band saw dismantling machines are used to disassemble pallets and recover used lumber. The company has two Grizzly dismantlers and a third supplied by Pallet Systems Manufacturing. The plant is also equipped with Heartland CS 150 cut-off saws and a Heartland TS 1000 trim saw. A Kent Corp. single-head notching machine forms notches in stringers.
Pallets are assembled on Bronco Pallet Systems semi-automated pallet assembly equipment or simply assembled by hand. Scrap wood from the pallet operations go to Wood Recycle & Composting Center. The pallet plant employs 38 people.
Kansas Pallet and Transfer supplies pallets to manufacturing businesses throughout the nearby region. The company also provides a full range of related services, such as contracting to replace and repair pallets. Kansas Pallet and Transfer provides drop boxes for customers so they have a convenient way to dispose of wood waste. Pallets may be recycled for multiple trips before they are no longer useful and finally are processed by the grinder and converted into other products.
Dean’s company produces seven kinds of natural color mulch that differ in texture, three types of colored mulch (brown, gold and red), playground surfacing (which is double-screened), several varieties of compost, and a proprietary fertilizer product with a name that says it all: Zoomanoo.
In fact, the wood fiber-based products have become so successful and recognized in the region that pallet recycling "has become a side issue," said Dean.
He hastened to add that the company’s pallet operations remain successful, growing, and important to the overall business. Yet, pallets represent only one part of the overall recycling operations. Companies that concentrate solely on recycling pallets are not fully exploiting their potential to springboard into other areas of recycling wood fiber, according to Dean.
A certain type of compost made by Dean’s company is a combination of wood chips and a variety of other organic materials. "We get a wide variety of food wastes," said Dean. "We’ll get by-products from wheat and soybean processing plants, coffee residues, chaff, and other materials. We also pick up food waste from more than 30 schools, a volume that makes our operation one of the largest food waste programs in the United States when it comes to schools. All of that material is processed and combined with wood chips to make a very high quality compost that's much in demand in the market place."
Dean’s two businesses complement each other. "The two separate operations work together in a way that allows us to achieve profitability even as we perform a valuable service for society," he said.
Dean has taken his business a step further by positioning it to provide services to apply its line of wood fiber products on-site. It is equipped with two Rexius Express Blower trucks, an EB 50 and an EB 40, and can deliver and apply products that it sells to garden centers, nurseries, landscape contractors and others. The blower trucks have a large capacity to carry products in bulk form and are equipped with systems of blowers and hoses to discharge the material on-site. The hoses can direct the flow of material to specific areas, such as shrubbery beds, for example.
"We've especially been doing a lot of erosion control and terra seeding recently," Dean added. "We're seeing real growth in that area. We’ve done everything from highway projects to ponds to golf courses."
As part of its mission to get the most out of every scrap of wood, Dean has even gotten into the sawing business. He has a Lucas portable sawmill to cut lumber from larger trees delivered to the recycling yard. The lumber can be utilized in the pallet operation or sold, depending upon the quality.
Dean’s company not only is able to convert recyclable materials into value-added products, it benefits the region in other ways. He is diverting as much as 30%-40% of waste material that previously was disposed of in landfills, Dean estimated. So he is extending the life of landfills, which helps local governments, and reducing the tipping fees that businesses paid. Finally, composts made from recycled organic matter reduce the need for fertilizer that is manufactured from virgin raw material.
A pallet recycling business that does not maximizing revenue from residual material may be missing out on a significant market opportunity, Dean noted. At Kansas Pallet and Transfer, pallet recycling is the starting point, not the end. By using the wood waste generated from pallet recycling and carefully expanding into a broader range of wood fiber recycling, Dean has improved his company’s profitability and provided a valuable public service.