A-1 Organics

COLORADO’S OLDEST AND LARGEST ORGANIC RECYCLER TURNS WASTE INTO HIGH-QUALITY COMPOST

Feb 7, 2013

Komatsu WA500- quality equipment and dealer support

Going green. Environmental sustainability. Ecological responsibility. All those buzz words and catch phrases are used so frequently these days that they almost begin to lose their meaning. Boiled down to their essence, they all mean the same thing: conserving resources is something each of us can do to help ensure the long-term viability of Planet Earth.

That’s the basic thought behind a thriving Colorado business. A-1 Organics, based in Eaton (north of Greeley), is a national leader in organics recycling. What is organics recycling? It’s the recycling of organic materials such as food waste, yard waste, biosolids (treated sewage), animal manures and industrial/ packaging-plant byproducts — much of it through composting. A-1 also grinds wood into mulch, for use in compost or in the decorative mulch production process.

“Keeping material out of the landfill is one of the most important things we do,” said A-1 President/CEO Chuck Wilson. “Organics make up a fairly large portion of the waste stream — 50 percent or more during summer months. Since our founding in 1974, we estimate we’ve diverted more than 8 million cubic yards of waste that otherwise would have gone into landfills. We take this waste and turn it into high-quality compost — an additive that improves soil quality for better plant growth — and mulch products.”

Like many businesses, A-1 Organics has evolved through the years. It didn’t start out as a recycling operation designed to accept waste material from far and wide. Rather, it was the solution to a specific, internal business problem.

“My family had a large (75,000-head), commercial, lamb-feeding operation,” Wilson recalled. “Obviously, 75,000 lambs create a lot of manure and it was becoming a significant expense to haul off the waste. So my father, Duane Wilson, started a manure composting business in 1974 to get rid of the waste, reduce transportation and tipping fees and, at the same time, create a product that we could sell to area farmers to help them grow crops. That was the beginning of A-1 Organics.”

Pride in industry

A-1 has grown considerably since those early days. Today, it accepts a wide-range of waste material and makes up to 20 different types of products and compost blends. The company works with some of Colorado’s largest and best-recognized manufacturers, such as Coors Brewing, and has four separate Colorado operations (Eaton, Keenesburg, Denver and Golden), as well as two facilities in Las Vegas.

Wilson relies on a talented and experienced executive team to help him oversee short-term operations and plan for the future. That team consists of Chief Technical Officer Bob Yost, COO Kent Pendley, CFO Tim Tribbett and Controller Zac Griess.

A-1 sells its compost and wood chips to landscape contractors, nurseries, greenhouses and large national companies that package and retail the products under their own name brands. The company is now a $20 million-a-year business with about 65 employees in the two states.

“Fortune 500 companies and other major corporations, along with many smaller, local businesses, want to be good corporate citizens and community leaders,” said Wilson. “They want to do the right thing, and that includes recycling. Of course, traditional recyclables such as metals, plastic and cardboard are well-known, but organics also make up a large portion of the waste stream for manufacturers and other companies, as well as the general public.

“At A-1, we’re the oldest and largest organics recycler in the region,” he added. “Our No. 1 priority is product quality, while customer service, both on the intake side and the outgoing side, is a close second. We take great pride in always being honest and ethical in our dealings. We also take pride in the organics recycling industry as a whole because we believe it provides an important and beneficial service.”

Established composting standards

A-1’s commitment to organics recycling was why it took a leading role in developing Colorado’s standards and classification program. Wilson, who serves on the U.S. Composting Council’s Board of Directors, and A-1’s Chief Technical Officer Bob Yost, helped establish a classification system to identify compost quality based on factors such as original material and method of processing. Additionally, the USCC developed a classification system which led to a national Seal Test Assurance (STA) program that guarantees compost quality.

“All compost is not created equal,” Wilson explained. “If landscape contractors or homeowners use a poorly made compost or incorrectly apply the products, they are not going to get a good result, and that reflects poorly on the entire industry. The STA program, which is essentially a seal of approval from the U.S. Composting Council, ensures a high-quality product and proper use instructions. At A-1 Organics, all of our compost is STA-approved, and we’re pleased that more and more large-volume end users, such as DOTs, are requiring STA compost material in their project specs.”

For its work to make the industry better and more accountable, A-1 Organics was named U.S. Compostor of the Year in 2007, and this year, was honored by the Colorado Association of Recycling with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

High productivity with Komatsu WA500

To help turn waste into high-quality compost, A-1 Organics uses wheel loaders at its production facilities to receive material, blend it, create and flip windrows and finally, after about 120 days, load it out. The company’s two newest wheel loaders are Komatsu WA500s.

“Our goal was to maximize production and minimize operational costs,” explained Wilson. “Because the WA500 is the introduction to Komatsu’s mining class wheel loaders, it’s ruggedly built, which we believe will improve its longevity. We also have long tram distances at our Keenesburg yard, which is where we use the new loaders. Because the WA500 is bigger, it can carry more and therefore needs to make fewer trips, which further saves machine wear and tear, as well as reduces fuel costs. We also like the 500-hour service intervals.”

“In addition to the machine itself, we’ve been very impressed with KOMTRAX,” added COO Kent Pendley. “It not only reports on machine issues and keeps us up to date on services, it also gives us a utilization report that tells us how much a machine is working. We like it so much, we installed KOMTRAX on an older wheel loader we own. Frankly, from this point forward, I don’t think we’ll buy a piece of equipment that doesn’t have KOMTRAX.”

Thanks to KOMTRAX and a conscious effort to lessen idle time, the utilization rate for A-1’s WA500s stands at about 86 percent, which is outstanding.

“Machine utilization at that rate means we’re being productive,” said Pendley. “We’re not sitting there, idling the time away, we’re working. We attribute that to our Keenesburg Site Manager Diego Gallegos and his machine operators, who’ve really bought into the program and our effort to reduce idle time.”

“In addition to the quality of the equipment, dealer support is an important part of the buying decision, and Power Motive is great to work with,” added Wilson. “They taught us how to use KOMTRAX. Their techs came out for the first 500-hour service to make sure our guys knew what they were doing. We do long-term rentals, and our PMC salesman Jeremy Griebel does a great job finding us quality rental machines. We also use PMC to supply parts for our Morbark grinders. Bottom line, we count on Power Motive for support, and they deliver.”

Recycling food waste and more

Organics recycling is growing and one area that A-1 Organics has emphasized in recent years is the recycling of food waste. The company’s Las Vegas operations were largely set up to handle food-waste recycling from the large Strip hotels. A-1 also works with many Denver-area restaurants and other food-service establishments to recycle their food waste.

“As much as 75 percent of restaurant waste can be composted,” said Wilson. “We place specially marked bins throughout the kitchen area, then we send out trucks to pick up the bins and bring the waste to our facilities for recycling. Eventually, it ends up back in the earth to help grow food, completing the cycle of sustainability.

“That’s what we’re all about and we’ll continue to look for new opportunities to do more of it, such as oil and gas drilling,” Wilson concluded. “For any business or industry, if the cost to recycle waste is less than or comparable to the cost of disposing of it, we believe they’ll want to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. And that’s going to be better, not just for us, but for everybody.”