In the Spotlight: Balcones Resources: Building on Success and Longevity
Transforming from paper recyclers to a full-service environmental company, Balcones Resources works with their customers to reach zero waste goals, educate employees, achieve LEED certification and take the first steps towards a new recycling program.
Kerry and Becky Getter founded Balcones Resources in 1994 in Austin, TX. At the time, the only commodity being actively recycled commercially was white paper and the Getters saw the need to change the way Texas recycled. Balcones Resources first introduced the Anything that Tears™ program, which simplified office recycling and allowed property managers to quickly quantify their efforts through monthly environmental reports and a reduction of costs related to landfill hauling fees.
Now, 25 years later, operating in three locations with 210 employees, Balcones Resources has facilities in Austin and Dallas, TX as well as Little Rock, AR, and they have grown to become one of the top 50 recyclers in North America. In each one of the company’s markets, the recycling programs are a little bit different. In Dallas and Austin, Balcones Resources serves primarily the commercial sectors, providing the recycling for office buildings, corporate campuses, universities, hospitals and commercial printers, while the Little Rock market is more focused on the distribution centers. “We service approximately 75 percent of Austin’s A Class office buildings and 80 percent of the Class A buildings in downtown Dallas. In addition to multi-tenant facilities, Balcones Resources is also the chosen recycling partner for several corporate campuses, manufacturing facilities and distribution centers,” says CEO Kerry Getter. On the residential side, the company processes not only for the city of Austin, but also for about 15 other communities in Central Texas. All of the residential material is brought to the company’s facilities by contract with third-party haulers and the city of Austin who operates their own fleet of trucks. Commercially, Balcones Resources has their own fleet of trucks and picks up the material as a normal course of business. In Austin, from January to March, the company processed 14,000 to 15,000 tons of inbound material, in Dallas, they processed 5,000 tons, and in Little Rock, between 2,000 and 2,500.
Each facility has its own processing capabilities, sorting and baling the different material at each site. Balcones Resources operates five balers from Sierra International as well as recycling equipment from Bulk Handling Systems and CP Manufacturing. In Austin, they process traditional, residential, single-stream material—glass, all types of plastics (#1 to #7), paper, ferrous and non-ferrous metals that are household related. “The city of Austin has an aggressive zero waste plan and we set up our facility in this market to accommodate their goals,” says Getter. In Dallas, the company processes commercial, single-stream, which constitutes all types of paper and cardboard products, a variety of plastics and aluminum beverage cans. The same material is processed in Little Rock, but on a smaller scale. Dallas and Little Rock also process post-industrial plastics at both of their respective sites.
Not only does Balcones Resources serve roughly 200,000 homes in the Austin market, but they also provide service to the outlying areas where there are thousands more. At each of their sites, they provide tractor trailers for collection (30 to 50 trailers in Austin and Dallas, and 15 in Little Rock) as well as operate 10 to 15 vehicles in those locations. In addition to the tractor trailers, the company provides front load service and a number of roll-off trucks at each one of their sites. In the Austin market, the processing facility handles about 1,500 inbound trucks per month, from front load trucks and rear load trucks to roll-offs and tractor trailers. In Little Rock, there is about 200 loads of inbound material per month, and in Dallas, it is about 400 loads per month.
Balcones Resources is also in the document destruction business in all three markets, dealing in both on and offsite shredding. Getter explains that the company got into the shredding business in the 1990s because they wanted to create more fee-related revenue in their business. Company trucks will go to customer’s location, shred material and bring it back for processing. While they deal mostly in paper, the company also performs some hard drive destruction at each of their sites. Once the material is processed, Balcones Resources sells it to sources like Georgia Pacific, Kimberly-Clark and into Mexico. “When handling shredding jobs offsite that require a lot of capacity, we use large tractor trailers and Vecoplan shredders that are capable of doing 6 to 8 tons per hour. These are located at our Dallas and Austin site, while we have a large Saturn shredder on our site in Little Rock. With this great amount of capacity, this service is something that we like to provide for our customers,” says Getter.
Developing Business Relationships
According to Getter, the primary affect that China’s National Sword ruling has had on the company is material pricing. However, as far as material movement is concerned, the ruling has not affected them because they have agreements with domestic end users that take everything generated, selling their material every month and turning their inventory over completely three and a half times per month on average. “We have long-term domestic relationships with our partners. Because of our geography in the middle of the country, our access to the China market has never really been that significant. While we shipped material to China on a spot basis, for the most part we sell domestically all over the U.S.—primarily into the upper Midwest, the southeastern U.S. and into Latin America,” says Getter. “We have been doing this for 25 years. My brother sells all the materials and he has established some very good relationships with consuming entities.”
As far as the industry is concerned, Getter points out that creating a consistent set of recycling expectations for consumers would be a start to dealing with the impact of the Chinese ruling. “I think we need to create an awareness of the challenges that face the industry. For the most part, the industry’s high fixed costs and variable revenue streams make those who operate recycling facilities capable of making a lot of adjustments to different market conditions on the fly. We definitely need to clean up our materials stream, especially the non-conforming items that get into recycling that are problematic and expensive to handle. When you boil it all down, the number one challenge is education and awareness and there needs to be a more consistent message of the challenges that are faced.”
Each of Balcones Resources commercial customers are required to go through their Single Cycle program, which educates them on the protocol of what can and cannot go into the material mix. On the residential side, Balcones Resources is very aggressive in dealing with their providers in order to create an understanding of what is allowed in the stream and the company gives them regular feedback. “We have a terrific relationship with the City of Austin and they have been great in dealing with educating the citizens who participate in the program as well. We have a formal program but a lot of it is related to keeping to lines of communication open,” says Getter.
Following a precise protocol when onboarding any new employees, Balcones Resources ensures that safety is their number one priority. The company has a full-time safety director who is responsible for overseeing all of the sites, performing regular voluntary safety audits. With a strong background in safety protocol, the safety director has the authority to make recommendations and changes to the general managers. In addition, Balcones Resources has a Vice President of Operations who oversees the safety protocol for the entire company, both internally and externally.
Balcones Resources is very much involved in the communities they serve and view it as a big part of their company from a cultural perspective. “We are involved in a number of environmental and educational organizations and we encourage all of our management to be involved at their respective sites,” explains Getter. “We have people involved in Keep Austin Beautiful, North Texas Recycling Association, Keep America Beautiful, Dell Children’s Hospital and others.” One of the educational initiatives Balcones Resources has been involved in since its inception 15 years ago is called Breakthrough. Growing out of the Austin area with more than 1,000 participants, the program prepares those students who are first in their family to go into college, giving them the educational background and assistance in applying for college, scholarships, etc. “It is a very fulfilling program that has been highly successful. The program is expanding and we have been a big part of that,” says Getter. Another non-profit, Eco Rise, is involved in environmental education. A curriculum is taken into elementary, junior high and high schools in different school districts, and the teachers are taught how to administer the program. Originating in Austin, Balcones Resources has been a part of their inception about 10 years ago. “As an international organization, Eco Rise’s Executive Director has become a real pioneer in the area of environmental education,” says Getter. “We’ve been with them a long time on a personal level as well as a professional one. It’s same with Breakthrough, we’ve had several kids do internships at our administrative office during the summer and it’s been a great relationship.”
Balcones Resources also gives tours at their facilities and has a classroom in Austin that accommodates about 40 individuals, depending upon the age of the group. Getter says the company hosts groups from elementary school age through college and graduate school and has also had the University of Texas classes at the facility. “Most of the education and tours we provide now is really focused on high school and college students.”
Finally, the company is also involved in local Austin initiatives related to the restoration of some areas in the central business district and have been pioneers in east Austin as well as the Dallas markets with respect to restoration projects for economic development.
Creating a Better Work Environment
Balcones Resources is not without its challenges. Although they cannot control the current markets, Getter points out that they can make the best finished product and bale possible to meet mill specifications day in and day out regardless of market conditions. Consequently, the company has been able to sell everything that they produce, so they are very much conscious of meeting or exceeding mill requirements where their materials are sent. Getter believes that one of their biggest challenges right now is labor related, especially in the area of equipment operators and truck drivers. While they do not favor a particular strategy for recruiting, Balcones Resources has had very little turnover in the past several years. Getter has found that many of inquiries that they get when they need to hire people come to the company through word of mouth through current employees. “We have certainly raised wages dramatically and that is very difficult to do in light of falling commodity prices, so we have had to adjust our fee schedules upward so that we could pass that additional revenue onto our employees in the form of weekly pay. We have also created a little more attractive benefits package. We have a 401(k) that many people participate in, we have different insurance types of benefits and we try to be sensitive to people’s needs at home. For example, when we run different shifts, we try to allow people to be home in time to meet their kids after school, etc. Combining all that, we have just tried to create a better work environment for folks.”
Balcones Resources has also maintained a great relationship with the City of Austin throughout the company’s 25 years in business. Says Getter, “We are very proud of our people. Our management group that has been with us for a number of years shares our vision and passion for what we do. They have the ability to execute our business plan, regardless of market conditions. They have done an outstanding job and without question, they have been the reason for our success and longevity that we’ve had thus far. We have also been involved in some economic development in Austin and some opportunities related to education. It is hard to pick one item that we are most proud of, but it would certainly be a combination of all of the above.”
Continuing to Grow
Currently, Balcones Resources is focused on continuing to grow in their respective markets of Austin and Dallas and they would also like to expand further into Arkansas, exploring possible expansion opportunities in each of those markets. In addition, the company will be doing a significant equipment upgrade on their Austin and Dallas facilities, adding in some sorting capabilities both optically and robotically. In the Austin area, they will be adding sorting and baling capabilities. Says Getter, “This has been a year and a half process. We expect to commence that project sometime at the end of March to beginning of April.”
Getty concludes, “We started as paper recyclers, but we’ve transformed in a full-service environmental company that works with our customers to reach zero waste goals, educate employees, achieve LEED® certification or simply take the first step towards a new recycling program.”