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Running the obstacle course; from its modest 90,000 square feet location, Conigliaro Industries handles a variety of recycling tasks. (Company Profile).

Trying something new can often be a risk for a business owner. For Greg Conigliaro, it is also a challenge, considering the limited acreage his company occupies.

Conigliaro is president of Conigliaro Industries, Framingham, Mass., a 12-year-old recycling company that handles several materials from its limited space.

Innovation is a a key word at Conigliaro, where traditional commodities like old corrugated containers (OCC) are processed alongside materials with less established markets, such as mattresses, furniture and electronic equipment.

THE STARTING LINE

In 1990, recycling was a hot topic and was perceived as a hot growth industry. At that time, Greg Conigliaro was a consultant to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

Conigliaro was working in the hazardous waste clean-up division, but got a chance to review the state's new solid waste master plan, which aimed to boost the state's recycling rate from five percent to a targeted 46 percent. While at a trade show promoting an environmental product, Conigliaro's booth was next to that of a recycling company. "Between talking to him and studying the master plan, I dropped everything and started the company," says Greg.

He purchased an old moving truck and became the sales manager and truck driver of his start-up company. "When people thought recycling in 1990, they thought of paper, so that's what I concentrated on," says Greg. "At that time, everyone was talking about recycling, and I could get appointments with presidents of companies pretty easily."

The company concentrated on office paper, and still collects and processes paper generated at office locations.

But not long after it's start, Conigliaro Industries began its first attempts at branching out into other commodities. "In the early '90s, the big issues was Styrofoam, with fast food restaurants and food service companies under pressure to find ways to recycle it," recalls Greg. "I knew of a Massachusetts company that recycled Styrofoam, so I added a service for company cafeterias to recycle foam."

Greg says it became part of his job to convince purchasing managers to stick with foam as a choice for plates, cups and trays, since he would be able to supply a recycling service for the material. "At one point we ramped up to collect and process 5,000 bags of foam plates and cups per week."

But the negative publicity that foam received from environmental groups ultimately led to a lot less of the material being used and generated as a recyclable at cafeterias. "We're not in that business anymore, but it set the tone for the company to try other things," says Greg. "The whole culture of the company is not to instantly say `no' when people ask whether we'll accept something for recycling."

CLEARING HURDLES BY ADDING VALUE

Perhaps one of the more remarkable things about Conigliaro Industries expanding its recycling business is the fact that the company is not just a recycler, but also a manufacturer.

"We have seen that we can take in materials no one else can take in if we are innovative enough to make a product out of them," says Greg.

"Can it Be Recycled?" is the name of a program the company began in 1992. Says Greg, "We prepared a brochure that contained a form people could submit along with a sample, and we would analyze the materials to see if they could be recycled."

Among the most commonly submitted items were packaging foams, he notes. So although the company has left the foam plate and cup arena, packaging materials have kept it squarely in the foam business.

Finding solutions to the foam dilemmas has required some innovative thinking--an area in which Greg gives much credit to his father Anthony. Though Anthony had been semi-retired from his previous job, he came on board full-time with Conigliaro Industries in 1995. "He's quite an inventor," says Greg.

Experience in the solid waste, recycling and transportation markets was gained with the addition of Richard Garrison, a former BFI manager who now serves as general manager of Conigliaro Industries.

The combined talents of the management team have led to a culture of risk-taking and experimentation balanced against an ability to work the numbers to see if profitability can be squeezed from an endeavor.

The trick--especially when working from limited space--is to make sure the timing between supply, processing and shipment works out.

The period between designing a process to recycle packaging foam and implementing it provided one hectic interlude. "At one time, we had 100 tractor trailers of foam I think," recalls Greg.

That foam--and much more that has been brought through--was eventually turned into a new packaging product. "We used lawn mower motors to make a machine that chopped foam, conveyed it and screened it to create a white, chunky `peanut' that is used for packaging," says Greg. "We've run that line every single work day for the last eight years. Companies that operate distribution centers and mail order houses buy the product."

FRONT LOADING

If he wasn't aware of it in 1990, like all recyclers Greg Conigliaro has subsequently learned that fluctuating commodity prices can play havoc with a recycling company's budget forecasts and revenues.

One of the safeguards the company has set in is selecting generators who will pay for steady pick-up service, and who are willing to accept partial remittance of the sale value of their recyclables.

"We have been fairly conservative in our approach, and we try to insulate ourselves from the wild price swings," says Greg. "We charge upfront for trucking, then give back 80 percent of the market value [of what is picked up]. It goes over well with customers who don't want to make 45 phone calls to get the best price for their corrugated. In effect, we become their recycling departments."

To become the in-house recycling department dovetails nicely with the company's flexibility in handling multiple materials.

In addition to foam packaging, Conigliaro Industries has added wood pallets and steel cans, and the company has worked toward obtaining Massachusetts DEP grants that allow it to try out recycling methods for other materials generated by corporate accounts, including furniture and electronic equipment.

The company's willingness to try new things has resulted in growth. "We now have 40 employees," notes Greg. The company also uses outside brokers to help move material.

NOT TAKING IT FOR GRANTED

Greg Conigliaro's familiarity with grant writing and a string of innovative ideas have helped Conigliaro Industries receive partial funding for recycling projects each of the past three years.

In 1999, Conigliaro applied for a grant from the DEP to seek partial funding for a system to accept plastic CRT housings as a recyclable. The company grinds the plastic (which can be one of several types of resins) and mixes it with other ingredients to make a cold patch pothole filler.

The company's 2000 grant also involved finding a new use for mixed plastics. "We applied for Plas-crete, a viable concrete product," says Greg. "We put a silo and batching plant here at our site, where we mix sand, the plastic and water and make blocks. The market for the Plas-crete blocks has exceeded expectations. "They're selling like hot cakes," says Greg. "We're pouring 50 to 80 blocks per day. Up to 15,000 pounds per day of mixed plastic is going into that one product. We needed a bigger shredder."

In 2001, Conigliaro Industries secured its third straight grant, this time taking on another large-volume load: mattresses and furniture.

An AZ80 shredder built by Shred-Pax will accept up to king-size mattresses. After the shredding, two magnets draw out the iron, which Greg says makes up 60 percent of the mattress and box springs flow by volume. Some types of furniture are also accepted. The company draws material from area hospitals, hotels, universities and retailers.

"The wood is basically a small negative market. We get rid of it for about $16 per ton in the much markets and the biomass fuel markets," he notes. "The urethane foam goes to makers of carpet backing." That market has been volatile, with prices going as high as 50 cents per pound while at other times falling to as low as two cents per pound.

MAKING IT ALL WORK

Moving from the sidelines to the front line of the recycling industry has brought its challenges, but Greg Conigliaro is proud of the nearly $5 million company he has helped build.

Although he has been in the business for just 12 years, veteran recyclers will recognize Greg's warning regarding what it takes to succeed in the industry. "In this business, any time markets are good, everyone with a pickup truck is in the business. We have business relationships with a lot of generators who have had recyclers disappear when markets are down. We're not going to do that."

Spoken like a true recycler--one who intends to guide a business through the good times and the bad.

AN OPEN BOOK

Promoters of Internet trading sites have long touted "price transparency" as a benefit of using their systems, but is such transparency really possible?

It is if you're doing business with Conigliaro Industries, Framingham, Mass., where the company posts the price it is paying for many of the 150 commodities in which it deals.

"We post our information live on the Web and invite generators to look into what we're paying," says company president Greg Conigliaro. "We also offer detailed invoices on pick-up charges, processing costs and prices of what is marketed. We've been very open, which can be considered a departure from older methodologies that kept companies in the dark."

Greg believes that in a few years, the company's methods will not be all that unusual for recyclers. "The industry is going through a major change right now, where a younger generation is willing to look outside the box. Keeping an open book is our philosophy. It's irrelevant to us what the other person [competitors] charges. You have to charge what you have to charge," says Greg.

Using the Internet as a key part of the business has been enjoyable for Greg, who admits that during the late '90s he was envious of college and high school friends who were making their living in the booming tech world.

"People I knew from college were making six figures while we were slogging through the recycling business here," says Greg. "But we have a nice company that supports 40 families. We're very family-oriented, have a profit sharing plan and have an open book philosophy with our customers. Now, after 12 years, it's finally time for us to shine."

The author is editor of Recycling Today and can be contacted via e-mail at btaylor@RecyclingToday.com.
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Author:Taylor, Brian
Publication:Recycling Today
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2002
Words:1779
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