CDRA Member Spotlight: Terrell Garrett

 Terrell Garrett, Founder & CEO at GreenWay Recycling

Terrell Garrett


What materials do you recycle? Can you describe the volume and types of incoming materials you process?

GreenWay Recycling operates a successful mixed construction and demolition sorting and processing facility on an inner-city tight, sloped brownfield that the company remediated in Portland, Oregon. We are celebrating our 20th anniversary with a $7 million rebuild, giving us the region's highest recycling rates. We are also the only facility in the area that’s RCI Certified, so we can provide recovery rates for projects to obtain the coveted LEED Gold and Platinum ratings.

Wood is our largest commodity, and we produce the cleanest hog fuel available for local paper mills. We screen and crush concrete, brick, rock, and glass for fill and road base. Of course, we recycle all the metals we can using several magnets and pull copper and aluminum. We also send ADC to regional landfills, along with manufacturer scrap roofing for roadway and landing base.

Thanks to our recent retrofit, we’re seeing recovery rates of 60% or better, more than twice that of other regional facilities. Our capacity has also doubled, and we can now handle up to 45 tph and up to 120,000 tons annually.

How did you get started in the business?

Growing up around my family’s major grain elevator business and 40,000-acre farm and ranch operation in New Mexico, I gained experience with machines that sort material. When the agribusiness collapsed due to a relative’s misconduct, I came to Oregon to get an MBA at a University near Portland and met my future wife. I enjoyed remodeling our starter home and got into inner-city redevelopment work. Several years of refurbishing older buildings and high-end historic homes followed until an elbow injury meant finding another occupation. I bought a small garbage hauling company in Portland, updated the equipment, and sold it a few years later when we started GreenWay at its current location. Initially, we were a yard debris reloading operation. By 2004, we were transferring C&D and installed our first sort line in 2008. 

What are the biggest challenges in your market and C&D recycling?

Overlapping regulatory and economic conditions in recent years have created many challenges. During the pandemic, Metro, the agency overseeing the regional solid waste system, suspended rules requiring waste to be sorted, so more is going to landfills. The City of Portland no longer requires builders to use LEED standards, and other governments aren’t doing a good job promoting solid waste policies either. It’s difficult to get government leaders to require third-party certification for recovery rates, which has created a marketplace of inaccurate data and a frustrating competitive environment. That compounds the pandemic’s economic hangover, which has caused a slump in private-sector construction projects, and getting bids on public works projects is hard.

The closure of several paper mills is a big challenge for our hogged fuel. Fortunately, our upgrades give our high-grade wood preferred delivery status to our customers. However, the mills will keep closing, so we need a market that doesn’t involve burning. I’m exploring markets for some kind of packing material or fiber material.

Where are the most significant opportunities?

Oregon has a great reputation for recycling, from the bottle bill in the 1970s to a new mattress law in 2022. We have a successful curbside recycling program that’s expanding with a new producer responsibility law, and it’s time we step up for C&D. Some people get excited about reusing 2,000 tons of material. Still, there’s potential for so much more. If we could bring the recovery rates for most facilities in our area up to a minimal number, there could easily be an additional 100,000 tons a year recycled in this market. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel; we just need to do the right thing.

How long have you been a member of CDRA?

I joined a few years ago when I came to my senses.

What inspired you to join CDRA?

After running a sort of line for several years, I realized I couldn’t do this alone. I need the collective wisdom of others in the industry. Talking with various members of CDRA who have similar equipment and sharing experiences has led to many exchanges, and everyone benefits. Running our new system, we’re encountering significant market problems requiring more than my limited knowledge. Being aligned with CDRA gives me access to much expertise to move forward.

What do you find most rewarding about working in this industry?

Many things but mostly innovation and family. I love to invent and build things. This industry is constantly changing, which keeps me thinking ahead; I have to be better, faster, smarter, and that’s fun. I’m a builder at heart. I love designing things, taking them from other industries, and using them for different purposes to work in better ways.

We call it the “family way” at GreenWay because my twin daughters run companion businesses. One, along with her husband, operates a trucking company that hauls our outgoing recycled and residual products, and the other brings C&D material into GreenWay with her Thunderbird Drop Box roll-off trucking company. It's rewarding to pass along generational business experience to help them gain skills for the future, but I want my children to forge their own paths to success.

What challenges have you faced over the years, and how have you overcome them?

Manual labor and positive sorting worked well for many years. Still, when we wanted to invest in the next generation of equipment to improve our recovery rates, financing during Covid was problematic. After extensive research and visiting C&D operators around the country—many introduced through CDRA—we decided to overhaul our site with automation and negative sorting. Metro awarded us around $700,000 in grant funds to help pay for some of the devices, including a primary shredder and a ballistic separator. We cut costs by repurposing and rebuilding machines and conveyors from other facilities for 40 new and used pieces of equipment onsite. All the work was completed in-house over the past three years while conducting regular business.

We’ve also overcome challenges with Oregon’s tight labor market. When it was tough to stay in business during the COVID crisis, we used PPP funds to turn our workers into journeymen millwrights and craftsmen, figuring out how to build and repair compactors, grinders, and other equipment.

What’s something about you (a fun fact) that not many people know?

I am passionate about riding horses and competing at reined cow horse events. I fell in love with horses when I was around six years old and started riding on the farm in New Mexico. Growing up as a cowboy, we punched cows, fixed fences, and did almost everything on horseback. I hung up my spurs for about thirty years, but I got into it when my daughters started riding again. My quarter horse is a National Reined Cow Horse Association World Champion, and my wife Chris and I travel all over to compete. It takes lots of skill, discipline, training, and patience, but also lots of fun.

How do you think the industry is changing, and what trends do you see coming up on the horizon?

If we’re going to honor our recycling commitments, it’ll take significant investments because equipment is improving by leaps and bounds. Some local operators are planning and moving forward, while others, due to age or whatever, are not investing for the future. Recovery rates are even more critical considering changes on the horizon for verification standards in the LEED certification program.

Vertical integration of national collection companies is also making it harder to compete in the marketplace. Some of these businesses take their own C&D waste to their franchised facilities instead of sites like ours despite being less expensive and having higher recovery rates. Unfortunately, government leaders aren’t enforcing current solid waste codes or implementing their recycling goals, so that’s a challenge we’ll have to keep working on.

What advice would you give to someone interested in this industry?

Do your homework and network with colleagues in CDRA to find out what worked and didn’t work for them. One size doesn’t fit all, so research your local markets, regulations, and practices before you design your facility. I believe half the operations are unsuccessful economically because they haven’t done that. We’re doing well in part because we did extensive research, and we also used a DIY system. I think it pays to use a combination of new industry-standard equipment as well as rebuilding used equipment if you have in-house expertise. For example, we’re getting more mileage out of some concrete decks we repurposed from a bridge reconstruction project and using them to push up the walls in our barns. 

Best piece of business advice you’ve gotten or learned over the years?

It’s okay to take risks if you understand them. When risks come up, weigh potential losses versus potential benefits. Additionally, don’t be afraid to ask others for help outside your expertise, even if it’s a dumb question. I asked a CDRA member in Georgia for help with dust control, and he suggested a Dawn detergent foam system with a dispenser used on chicken ranches. We found a similar, cheaper way, and now GreenWay is the only one on the West Coast using it as a spray foam for dust control on garbage.


Share this post:

Comments on "CDRA Member Spotlight: Terrell Garrett"

Comments 0-10 of 0

Please login to comment