The Art of Recycling the Unrecyclable
Planet-obsessed DTG Recycle innovates to keep difficult-to-recycle materials out of landfills
DTG Recycle (DTG) is on a mission: to achieve zero landfill for its clients, today and every day.
The company recycles construction and demolition debris and industrial and manufacturing waste for customers in the Seattle/Tacoma metropolitan area. With headquarters in Mill Creek, Washington, DTG’s expansive network of recycling facilities spans the Puget Sound area, from Tacoma to Everett. Customers are never more than 10 miles from a DTG facility.
DTG’s clients include demolition contractors, large residential and multifamily construction companies and Seattle’s iconic retail and industrial manufacturers. “We love finding clients as planet-obsessed as we are,” says Tom Vaughn, CEO of the company. Founder Dan Guimont started DTG in 1999 “with a truck and a dream,” collecting drywall scrap from newly constructed houses. That lone truck was his own; that dream was to find a better way to deal with the construction site waste he encountered on a daily basis in his previous work.
Today, DTG is the largest owner of designated recycling facilities in King County, with locations in Maltby, Redmond, Renton, Seattle, Tacoma and Woodinville, as well as a dedicated gypsum recycling facility also in Maltby. The business has more than 250 employees and owns 1,500-plus roll-off containers and recycling containers and a large fleet of end-dump trailers, side dump trailers, wood chip trailers, walking floor trailers, belt trailers and flatbed trailers.
Born to Recycle
“I felt like I was born to do this work,” Tom says. He has a deep resume of environmental stewardship and an obsession with diverting waste from landfills. Originally from Georgia, he moved to Washington state to pursue graduate studies. He began his career working in environmental cleanup and remediation and pioneered technologies to clean contaminated soil in urban areas. He later transitioned into the recycling industry and started his own company.
Tom was in Hawaii riding his bike down the side of a volcano when Don, his then-competitor, called to propose joining forces. “The marriage of the two companies made sense to both of us. We were able to put the deal together within a few weeks,” Tom says.
The company has since increased its portfolio to include material recovery facilities and additional hauling companies. Tom became CEO in January 2019. Dan transitioned to Chief Strategy Officer to focus on acquisitions and other growth opportunities.
Zero to One Hundred: A Passion for Change
“We strive for zero landfill and 100% customer satisfaction every day,” Tom says. The company’s motto is its driving force: “Customer Focused • Planet Obsessed.”
DTG loves working with clients who are as planet obsessed as they are and as committed to keeping materials from being dumped into landfills unnecessarily. The company will pick up items at a job site or customers may deliver them to one of DTG’s facilities. DTG does not require that recyclables be sorted by the customer—they handle it themselves.
The company also helps its clients design effective recycling and sustainability programs. “We help them become more efficient in how they deal with waste and by not generating waste in the first place,” Tom says. Strategies can include simple, supply-chain management changes—for example, using less cardboard and foam in packaging—as well as innovative new sorting technologies at customers’ facilities developed in concert with DTG.
Documentation is a key deliverable. Tom attributes the firm’s ability to provide verifiable recycling data to its clients as a key driver of growth. Many of the companies they work with are Fortune 500 corporations. Reporting accurate, highly defendable data in annual reports and corporate social responsibility communications is essential.
Creating Revolutionary Technology, Manufacturing New Products
DTG is developing a new optic sorting system that will be used at arenas, stadiums, cafeterias and other large food service providers to keep food waste and recyclable materials out of landfills. The optical scanner “reads” materials placed under it, such as leftover food and containers and indicates which of three bins to place it in: compost, recycle or landfill.
The enterprise is also leading the recycling industry in innovative manufacturing to create products from reclaimed and recycled materials. For example, the company now manufactures architectural building components from reclaimed gypsum. Drywall scraps are converted to gypsum fertilizer. Urban wood waste becomes biomass fuel and non-recyclable plastics are converted into an alternative fuel used as a natural gas substitute in large industrial facilities.
The DTG team recently launched its own clothing brand: Planet Obsessed. They now produce and sell clothing, hats and socks made from recycled plastic content.
“We love finding clients as planet-obsessed as we are.” Tom Vaughn, CEO, DTG Recycle
Recycling the Unrecyclable
DTG’s innovation and creation of new markets for recycled materials is particularly timely, with the China and Southeast Asia markets closing their ports to shipments of American recyclables.
The company recycles cardboard, concrete and asphalt, drywall, mattresses, metal, plastics, roofing materials and wood. They provide dumpsters, rock boxes, land clearing and on-site recycling services.
A track record for processing typically non-recyclable materials brings them new customers with new challenges. “We have material coming to us that’s never been recycled before,” says Tom, for example, industrial plastics that are contaminated with dirt and other materials. “We’re able to recycle those.”
Mattresses are notoriously difficult to recycle and a big problem in landfills because of their size and quantity. DTG processes several hundred mattresses a day for customers in the cruise ship and hospitality industries and for county facilities. By separating textiles, foam and metal, they’re able to recycle over 90% of each mattress or box spring, saving a significant amount of landfill space.
Employees Committed to the ‘Why’ of DTG
All DTG employees share a common core value: complete buy-in to the company’s planet obsession. “The way we foster employee commitment to our mission is by communicating how their work impacts our zero-landfill goals,” Tom says. The company collects and shares large amounts of data that tells them how many trees they are saving and the tons of carbon dioxide emissions they are preventing.
Tom comments: “I can’t tell you how many times a DTG employee has called to tell me about material they spotted being sent to landfill and said, ‘Let’s find a way to recycle this!’ “
Communicating the “why” of the business to employees has been transformational for the company. Their team is provided with their weekly reports on the individual impact for their area of responsibility. For example, an individual sorter may find out that she saved 500 trees this past week. Beyond a paycheck, employees earn a sense of pride and accomplishment in their work, and in turn, share it with their families and friends.
Dan and Tom regularly recognize individual employees through social media posts detailing their contributions. Besides medical benefits, paid vacation and an employee assistance program, there are quarterly pay increases. There is also incentive pay for those who join the safety committee, referral bonuses for recommending new employees and a tuition reimbursement program.
Unsurprisingly, turnover is low. Many employees have been with DTG since the company began.
A strong safety culture permeates every facet of the company. In fact, every employee has a right to stop work, without any fear of reprisal, if he or she sees a situation or a process that seems unsafe. “An individual employee can stop the entire facility from working until a situation is rectified,” Tom says. In 2019, the company received the Gold Award for Best Practices in Safety from the Construction & Demolition Recycling Association.
Every team meeting starts with a Safety Moment; that’s part of standard operating procedures. The meeting doesn’t progress until someone raises a safety-oriented topic, whether on the job or at home. “The longer our employees stay with us, the safer they get,” Tom adds.
There are monthly safety meetings for all and a biweekly safety status check with scrappers. Heavy equipment operators are responsible for performing safety and maintenance inspections before each shift. No one gets into or onto any mechanized equipment without completing a pre-trip inspection.
Building Recycling Awareness in the Community
DTG is an active advocate of recycling awareness and education in the Puget Sound area. The company has partnered with Boy Scouts of America to conduct Christmas tree recycling at DTG facilities each year. Later in the year, children have the opportunity to climb inside a DTG truck and learn how materials are recycled during family-centric, hands-on Touch-a-Truck events organized by the Junior League of Seattle.
The company also partners with local nonprofits for beach cleanup and fishing gear retrieval initiatives that work to remove plastic and other items from beaches and the ocean. DTG sponsored a local beach cleanup in September as part of International Coastal Cleanup Day and in association with Puget Soundkeeper Alliance.
“Our heart and soul have been construction and demolition debris recycling. We’ve added significant new capabilities for industrial and manufacturing waste recycling,” Tom says. “We’ve created a portfolio of products that stimulate further recycling of these formerly difficult-to-recycle materials. We truly live our company mantra: Customer Focused • Planet Obsessed.”
When your employees, customers and vendors all buy into your “why,” great things happen.