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A Q&A with owner Jim Graham

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Bill Graham and Jim Graham pause for a photo at TRY’s 25th Anniversary celebration event.

TRY Recycling Inc. celebrates its silver anniversary this year, marking 25 years of leadership, innovation, and growth within London's waste management sector.

Jim Graham has played a key role in that growth ever since purchasing the company from his father, Bill Graham, and two co-founders, Ralph Thompson and Tony Aarts, in 1997. And while a lot has changed since those early days, TRY Recycling continues to pursue growth through its unwavering focus on service, innovation, and industry advancement.

To mark this 25-year milestone, OWMA Waste Edge sat down with Graham to trace TRY Recycling's origins, its perspectives on the industry, and its predictions for what's coming next. 

Congratulations on the anniversary. Can you take us through a history of the company to date?

My father and his partners, who all came from the construction industry, founded the company as something of a side business near the end of their careers. They had a strong vision for construction recycling, so they soon realized they were either going to have to invest more personal time into the company or sell it. And that's where I came in. 

I was in the sand and gravel business at the time, but looking for other opportunities. I asked them if I could try out the company for a year and see if it was a good fit. Within six months, I saw what they were doing and recognized the company's potential, so I bought it in 1997.

When I purchased the company, there were six employees and one facility. We were primarily servicing the general public and a few select contractors, and receiving probably about 30,000 tonnes of material a year. Today, though, we have 60 employees, two facilities, and several satellite facilities and drop off depots. We work with 18 different municipalities in different forms of contracts, and process an average of nearly 200,000 tonnes a year from construction waste,  80 per cent of which is diverted into new products. On top of that, we do about 40,000 tonnes a year of leaf and yard waste composting, and have the largest southwestern Ontario regional leaf and yard waste composting facility for municipalities.

What do you believe has has fueled all your company's growth?

I think it's a combination of things all coming together. The waste industry is still relatively young, so a lot of the ideas about how to divert materials haven't been written yet. That's left room for creative approaches when it comes to figuring out what products can be manufactured out of recycled materials and how to do go about that process, and we've done that. I also believe we've grown because of our very real focus on the consumer experience. The bar for customer service was low when we were starting out and we've (hopefully) raised that bar by making it a more pleasant experience for consumers in terms of how they get rid of the material, and how they know that material is going to be recycled.

What do you consider your biggest milestones?

We started municipal composting in 1998, and shortly thereafter we got an adjacent property and green field license to compost and do more construction demolition at our original facility. After that, in 2006, we opened a new processing facility for construction demolition waste in the south end of our city close to Highway 401.

Another major push for our business has been the growth of our municipal business between 2000 and today, where we offer new services and increased diversion rates through moving their construction demolition material from residential drop off materials.

What role has technology played in your company's growth?

I would like to say there's been some magic boxes that do all the work for us, but those simply don't exist yet for the scale we need in North America. There are some neat ideas in Europe, but they do it on a much smaller scale. The best technologies we do have access to, however, have been the tools that help us monitor our costs and production systems. It's been the ones that allows us to better track our material and equipment producing material, and make sure we're able to offer those services at a decent price but still be profitable.

What's next for TRY Recycling?

We hope to offer our services further afield in Ontario. We also want to work with municipalities to help their diversion programs with our type of recycling further east towards the Kitchener and the Greater Toronto Area.

We're also looking at the different materials we can recycle. Anything we can't recycle, we have to pay to take the landfill, so it's in our best interest as a business to maximize what we can turn into new product. We're spending a lot of time focusing on things like mattresses, different uses for various types of drywall, and other materials. In most places, that stuff is all just dumped into the same dumpster as construction material and hauled off to be buried, so those are some of the fun little things we're doing.

What is your perspective of the industry in whole?

For me, it's been very interesting. The industry in general has grown up a lot over the the last 20 years. Other folks in the waste industry have gone from being kind of a necessary services to a very engineered and professional industry, and that's been fun to watch and be a part of.

Personally, however, Ive been proud to work with a great team, made up of engaged team members throughout our organization. I really enjoy seeing opportunities come along that keep them challenged, because that's the enjoyable and rewarding part of the business. No one has written a book on how to do it in the volumes we're currently doing it, so we're sketching a guide every day. It's that creativity and those opportunities still excite me.