Mining mountains of garbage

John Voortman is owner of Countrywide Recycling

John Voortman is owner of Countrywide Recycling

By Lisa Marr

The mountains of garbage were getting to John Voortman.

Voortman – son of the Oakrun bakery Voortmans – was working in the construction industry until he was approached by a business associate four years ago about a solution to deal with the garbage that accumulates at every residential construction site.

He agreed readily – he figured there was a way to mine those mountains.

The solution was to build a 60,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art indoor facility – one of only three in Ontario – that could sort the demolition and construction waste, put it in piles that could be reused or recycled, sell it for use in landscaping, greenhouses, paving – he even has a bin where he places the odd bicycle among the waste for shipping to Africa – and make money.

So they built the multimillion-dollar facility on Nebo Road, bought a few trucks and hung out a shingle. The business partner left, but Voortman, who had invested pretty much his life savings into the new venture, stayed.

Besides, the idea of recycling started to grow on him

And it wouldn’t have been possible without a slow but certain change in the thinking of some construction companies – Voortman counts Multi-Area Residential and Losani among them – which have a strong sense of environmental responsibility and investigated where and how their waste is handled.

But he is also cheaper, even $1 or $2 cheaper than other transfer stations, just enough for companies to consider giving him a chance to pick up their waste.

“You’d think they’d pay more to recycle, but business is business and they go for the dollar.”

He also found a competitive edge in offering waste audits for companies building LEED-certified structures.

But he said a whole industry could be supported if the government forced Industrial, Commercial and Institutional (ICI) companies to recycle. Current legislation only applies to large manufacturers and leaves out many businesses, particularly small- to medium-size businesses in other sectors.

Countrywide diverts about 80 per cent of the material trucked in from construction or demolition sites, Voortman says.

A complicated system of conveyor belts throughout their building will sort metals, wood, paper goods, concrete (aggregate), dirt, glass and a dizzying range of household items: cameras, dolls, magazines, newspapers.

Those goods then go to a wide range of buyers: wood goes to landscaping companies or greenhouses that use it for fuel; metals for scrap and ground brick is used by paving companies; and even dirt is used as a way to top landfills.

Voortman says he is frustrated with the lack of regulations in the industry, and is pleased the Ontario Waste Management Association has engaged the Canadian Standards Association to create some voluntary standards that will help customers understand who is really in the recycling industry and who is just pulling out the valuable bits and sending the rest to landfills.

Frustrations aside, the satisfaction is there.

“Huge. We put in 12 hours a day here, minimum, ” he says. “It’s been more gratifying than building a house. Even though there’s a million problems, you’re also seeing what you’re doing what you’re doing here and it’s great.”