Thursday 14 July 2011

Shercom Industries, Saskatoon

Turning scrap tires into playgrounds, driveways, road repairs, and ramps

Picture 80,000 tires cluttering up the landfill. They take up an absurd amount of space. If they catch fire, they smoulder for days. And the tires hold water, promoting mosquitoes and rodents.

Now picture Shane Olson, a local business owner who has been turning tires and waste rubber into useful products for over 15 years. Shercom Industries collects and processes approximately 80,000 tires every month. That’s one and a half million pounds of waste – and not a single pound goes back to the landfill.

The rubber is turned into child-safe paving for children’s playgrounds, into durable paved surfaces for walking trails and tennis courts, into parking curbs, speed bumps, ramps and garden mulch. The steel is recycled, and the nylon fibre is used by the oil industry to clean up oil spills.

That’s pretty impressive.

Too stubborn to quit
Shane Olson grew up on a farm near Melfort and spent a number of years operating the family farm, so he’s no stranger to business. He’s learned how to hang in there when times are tough, how to improvise and how to reach out to new markets. He’s needed all those skills, and then some, as he developed Shercom Industries.

Tire recycling was a brand-new field when Shane started up his business. In fact, for the first few years, he was recycling rubber buffing, a by-product of applying new tread to semi tires. In those early days, the company made wheel chocks and later developed an automotive riser that was distributed nationally by Canadian Tire.

In 1998, the provincial government introduced an environmental levy to encourage tire recycling. Now, Shercom Industries had a steady supply of material, but the specialized equipment required to shred and crumb the tires wasn’t available. Shane improvised, researching the technology, piecing together the necessary equipment, finding the money to buy a second shredder when the first one never worked.

When money got tight, Shane took a welding job on the graveyard shift in order to support his family, while spending the day developing the technology and finding markets for his products. Later, a fire destroyed the plant, just days before they began shipping their product after a major overhaul.

But Shane didn’t quit. “I was too na├»ve to know what I was getting into and too stubborn to quit,” he says. And that’s fortunate for Saskatoon and Saskatchewan. Shercom Industries now employs 30 people, is building a second manufacturing line and operates a secondary plant in Ontario.

Changing the shape of the tire
Shercom Industries is dedicated to putting recycled rubber to good use in a wide range of different products. “We’re farming tires,” explains Shane. “The true recyclers are the individuals, corporations and municipalities that purchase products made from recycled rubber.”

Consider the tires on your car. They’re tough. They resist extreme heat and extreme cold. But they’re also flexible. Recycling changes the shape of the tire, opening up an ever-expanding range of ways in which the rubber can be put to good use.

The first step in tire recycling is shredding. Shercom Industries has a portable shredder so they can go directly onto a site to clear up landfills or private stock piles, immediately reducing the volume by about 65%. There’s a twofold benefit as you get rid of waste and save on the costs to the environment of hauling large amounts of material from place to place.

Next, the shredded tire is processed into crumb, and the steel and fabric are removed. Shercom Industries produces a range of crumb from very coarse to very fine. The finest crumb is like icing sugar and goes into asphalt paving. Coarse crumb provides a flexible base for children’s playgrounds; there’s lots of give so children won’t hurt themselves if they trip and fall.

Shercom has just purchased state-of-the-art rubber paving machines that are self-propelled and lay down a continuous layer of rubber. The rubber paving provides an ideal surface for walking trails, jogging tracks or tennis courts. It’s permeable so there are no puddles. It’s non-slip; it has some give; and it’s durable.

Shercom Industries paved their first driveway in 1998. “It doesn’t have a crack in it to this day,” says Garry Gelech, Shercom’s General Manager.

Rubber Mulch
Shercom Industries is constantly expanding its range in order to provide products at all different value levels. The new manufacturing line will screen, colour and bag the crumb for use as garden mulch.

The mulch is available in four different colours. It’s non-toxic, deters insects and rodents, drains rapidly, resists mold and doesn’t compact.

Curbs, Ramps and Tiles
Shercom products can be used by families, businesses or municipalities. Recycled rubber ramps come in various heights, providing easy access for everything from wheelchairs to lawn mowers to trucks.

Rubber parking curbs weigh 40 pounds; concrete curbs weigh 200. They’re easy to install, environmentally-friendly and come equipped with high-visibility reflective tape.

Interlocking tiles are easy to install over existing hard surfaces.

Home-grown solution
Shercom Industries not only collects our garbage – they transform it into useful products. And they’re local. “Working with communities, corporations and consumers,” says Shane Olson, “we can provide a home-grown solution to recycling all the scrap tires in the province and provide cost-effective, valued-added products.”

By Penny McKinlay (originally published in the Spring 2011 issue of Fine Lifestyles Saskatoon as well as on Penny’s blog, Wanderlust and Words)