With an extensive background in construction, all it took was a choice project for Mitchell Stephens—now the owner of Atlanta-based Metro Green Recycling—to spark an interest in the business of C&D recycling.
Getting his start at his father’s construction company, John D. Stephens Inc., Stephens had an early introduction to C&D recycling working on a project at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
For the project, the family-owned construction business was tasked with supplying and conveying over 20 million cubic yards of embankment to help build the airport’s fifth runway, also dubbed “the most important runway in America” thanks to its ability to alleviate travel delays at the country’s busiest airport once constructed.
To achieve this, a 4-mile conveyor stretched over Atlanta’s I-285 highway was utilized to create a cost-efficient and more environmentally beneficial means of supplying the fill needed to complete the project.
The fill was sourced from roughly 485 acres of property adjacent to the airport that was acquired by Stephens, his father and his two brothers, Mike and Mark, under their company Stephens MDS LP.
Upon completion of the project, Stephens says his father recognized that the current residential and commercial development trends in the region would produce a demand for C&D waste disposal options. In an effort to tap into this demand, he sought a permit to construct a C&D landfill at the site responsible for providing virgin aggregate, fill material, as well as a variety of recycled aggregate products to the airport’s expansion projects.
“To get the landfill to the grade that it needed to be, there was a lot of rock in the area that we needed to take care of,” says Stephens. “So, we basically started crushing and shooting the rock, and that’s how we got into the aggregate side [of our current operations]. That was probably the first reason that we got into concrete [recycling.]”
According to Stephens, this new endeavor was a turning point for the company’s operations, creating a new recycling side of the business known as Stephens Industries.
FINDING A SOLUTION
With construction on the rise in Georgia, coupled with the convenience of the location, the landfill quickly became a choice dumping ground for contractors. As a result, the Stephens family began devising ways to preserve the landfill space through recycling.
“Once we got the permit and [the site] was up and running, we were trying to figure out how to preserve the landfill,” says Stephens. “My dad and I went around mostly in the Northeast and the Northwest looking at different recycling operations, different equipment and trying to determine how we [needed to move forward] to set those operations up. Through that process, I came up with an idea that we needed to have numerous sites around Atlanta that could support the landfill.
“So, that’s how I came up with [the concept]. I kind of did that on my own and came up with Metro Green Recycling.”
The new company acquired its first property in 2010 in Gwinnett County, known as Metro Green Recycling One. For the next two years, the 17-acre site went through the necessary zoning, permitting and construction to support its recycling operations, which include the processing of concrete, wood, metal, cardboard and more.
In 2014, Metro Green expanded to include a second location, called Metro Green Recycling Two, that solely concentrates on the processing of concrete. “Basically, there’re two sides [of our business],” says Stephens. “One side is all concrete, and then the other side is strictly construction and demolition.”
The 12-acre site in northwest Atlanta houses an assortment of stationary equipment to process aggregate material from Metro Green’s customer base. This equipment includes horizontal screens and cone crushers from Yankton, South Dakota-based KPI-JCI; screens from Fort Wayne, Indiana-based Deister; and jaw crushers from Cudahy, Wisconsin-based Lippmann.
Stephens says Metro Green also utilizes a TeleStacker Conveyor from Morris, Minnesota-based Superior Industries Inc. to help prevent desegregation.
“As far as where our concrete comes from, we get concrete that could have been a sidewalk or patio behind someone’s house all the way up to interstate bridge decks and bridge beams that have been dismantled or high-rise buildings that have been torn down. We even [process] airport runway concrete,” says Mark Black, general manager for Metro Green. “We [process] about 400,000 tons of concrete per year at each facility.”
“We feel like the aggregates we produce here are much higher quality than most of the portable plants that people maybe use around town,” says Stephens. “It’s a higher degree of quality control over most portable concrete crushing operations, and cleanliness and gradation are much more controlled. We’re also using destoners and air knife systems as well.”
Metro Green produces several grades of recycled aggregate, including DOT-approved Graded Aggregate Base, 57 stone, 34 stone and surge, which are sold back to contractors for various applications on job sites.
BUILDING ON SUCCESS
According to Stephens, much of Metro Green’s success can be traced back to a need within the state for C&D recycling infrastructure.
“Landfills are filling up, so people are having to travel farther and farther to dispose of their waste,” he says. “As they’re filling up, we need to preserve them and preserve the airspace, so it makes sense for contractors and people in this business to use a local facility like us.”
Since the company’s inception, over 6 million tons of construction debris have passed through Metro Green’s facilities. In 2020 alone, roughly 5.3 million tons were diverted and processed into a recycled commodity that would have otherwise been disposed of.
The company has also been pursuing several expansions to meet the needs of local commercial and residential construction contractors, road work crews and homeowners involved in renovations. This expansion included the opening of a new C&D landfill in January of this year.
Through this new site in Carnesville, Georgia, Metro Green says it hopes to support northern Georgia’s economic development and help the area grow by providing a convenient landfill for C&D projects in Franklin County.
Metro Green has also just finished construction on a third recycling location in Stonecrest, which Stephens says should be opening in the near future.
“As Atlanta continues to develop and grow, Metro Green will remain dedicated to preserving the environment by promoting beneficial and cost-effective recycling means for our community,” the company says.