ROCHESTER, Minn. (WCCO) — Let’s face it: Americans produce a lot of garbage.

And even when it’s sorted, recycled or burned, truckloads of waste ash have to be hauled off to landfills.

“Ash is the number one by-product that goes into our landfills, whether it’s coal or incinerator ash. It makes up between 40 to 60 percent of every landfill we have,” said Paul Schmitt.

He’s the president of Rochester’s Envirolastech company, a firm he founded as a way to research, test and develop better ways to deal with garbage.

The former building contractor spent the past 19 years experimenting with different mixtures of mineral ash and recycled plastic to produce building materials, or “better lumber,” as he calls it.

The company has already produced and tested a wide variety of construction materials – from dimensional lumber, like 2×4’s, to railroad ties and landscape blocks.

“We’ve produced and developed over 30 products already,” Schmitt said. “We can build a complete house out of garbage.”

His company intends to do just that within the next couple of years.

Not only is Envirolastech’s product several times stronger than conventional wood, it contains no wood fiber, so it won’t promote mildew or mold. After 10 years of testing, the product shows an incredible resistance to fading, a problem for other composite lumbers now on the market.

But what’s most impressive is the potential to help solve the garbage and landfill problem. In a city the size of Rochester, at over 100,000 in population, that’s huge.

According to the city’s former waste manager, Geno Wente, there’s 100 tons of single-sort recycling that gets collected per day in the area.

Envirolastech already has the plans to build a sorting and production facility next to Rochester’s waste-to-energy incinerator. The plant would take recycled plastics and ash and produce marketable building materials — something that would make Rochester the nation’s first city where nothing goes to waste.

“Our technology is just one part — or I would say the final part — of a closed loop recycling system,” Schmitt said.

Wente, the former waste manager, added: “I think it’s a game changer.”

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