The Green Giant
Isaac Danesh leads Bronx-based recycling company to new heights
A lot of people think of recycling as a magic act; you put a piece of junk into a recycling bin and—poof!—it vanishes like a rabbit into a magician’s hat.
In reality, recycling is infinitely more complicated, says Yitzchak “Isaac” Danesh, General Manager of Zevel Transfer, LLC.
“People don’t realize all the labor that goes into recycling,” he says. “They don’t think about where the garbage goes, where it actually lands.”
Every day, tons of garbage makes its first stop at Zevel Transfer, a fast-growing company in the Bronx that specializes in recycling construction and demolition debris from across New York City. Danesh and his team of more than 25 employees take all types of waste—rocks, metal, bricks, concrete, wood—and they sift, sort, crush and ship the recycled material off to “green” destinations. The goal is to send almost nothing to a landfill, he says.
“We’re the most environmentally friendly recycling facility in New York City,” Danesh says. “We repurpose everything, which helps the environment by preventing the filling up of the nation’s landfills with garbage.”
Rocks and concrete are processed into crushed aggregate, which helps build streets and highways. Dirt gets cleaned and reused for new construction projects. Bricks that might be 100 years old are rescued from the scrap heap, cleaned and repurposed for new buildings and remodeling jobs.
“They don’t make quality bricks the way they used to,” Danesh says. “Old bricks are much more structurally sound, from a foundation perspective, and they have a certain charm that the bland new bricks don’t have. No two old bricks look alike—the old bricks might come from 10 different job sites, which gives a house a look that’s completely different.”
Turning Wood into Fuel
The largest wood recycling facility in the Bronx, Zevel Transfer repurposes old lumber for use as low-cost “biomass” renewable energy, which cuts down on the use of dirty fossil fuels like coal. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP), wood-waste fuel is green and clean. Not only does it divert material from landfills, it doesn’t add any new carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.
“It’s cutting-edge technology—taking wood materials and producing electricity for residential and commercial use,” Danesh says. “We are the only Bronx-based facility that produces biomass fuel for production of electricity, and we’re the largest wood recycler in the Bronx.”
Not only is recycling good for the environment, it’s good news for Zevel Transfer’s customers. The company sends clients a LEED report detailing how much of their waste has been recycled. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is the most widely used green building rating system in the world.
“Customers love it, because they can take those LEED reports and receive other grants or funding for recycling the materials—it ultimately means lower cost for the customer,” Danesh says.
The Faster, the Better
Zevel Transfer also tries to save customers money by getting trucks of debris weighed and unloaded as fast as possible.
“If you go to a facility where there’s a two-hour wait, it automatically costs you money because you have to pay your driver for that time he’s waiting,” Danesh explains. “We’re the only facility in New York City that has four scales, which drastically minimizes the wait times.”
His approach to growing his customer base is the same approach he uses to keep his staff happy. “It’s a very simple philosophy: Keep close relationships with everyone inside and outside of the workplace, every single employee, every single customer,” he says.
“I’m accessible all the time, to all employees and customers,” Danesh says. “You’ve got to go out and visit your customers on the job sites, meet them and understand their concerns.”
The company has also recently branched out into trees—specifically, the recycling of trees that are infested with Asian longhorned beetles, a species that arrived in the United States in the 1980s and has been killing hardwood trees throughout the Northeast ever since.
“Receiving approval to dispose of these insect-infested trees is a major milestone for us, because only one other New York City facility has that approval,” he says. “The process involves grinding the trees down to a size where there’s no way for the insect to survive.”
Changing Global Market
The Asian beetles aren’t the only global concern for Zevel Transfer. The company is constantly monitoring and reassessing which overseas markets need which type of recycled materials.
“International markets are opening and closing and changing all the time,” he says. “The big thing now is that China isn’t accepting any plastics from foreign countries. That puts a big damper on where plastics can go.”
As the global marketplace evolves, Zevel Transfer continues to expand locally. Danesh says the company has doubled its size in the last two years and is investing $5 million to buy new recycling equipment.
“Upon its completion in the next few months, it will be the most state-of-the-art construction and demolition recycling facility in the entire Northeast United States,” he says.
And as methods improve and concerns over waste and pollution keep growing, the recycling industry is likely to expand for years and years to come, he says. “It’s do or die,” Danesh says. “Either you recycle, or you’re going to go out of business because the cost of disposal keeps going higher and higher.
“The goal for us is to keep up with the latest and greatest technology, to find newer ways to recycle and achieve the highest recycling rate possible,” he says. “The ultimate goal is zero waste.”