Giraffes. A landfill. Monkeys. A retail compost operation. An on-staff scrap artist. An eco-industrial park. A fundraising event center. Tigers.
Texas Disposal Systems Inc.’s 1,750-acre headquarters facility in Creedmoor, just south of Austin, is not your typical waste company operation. But it’s all by design and it all fits together, says President and CEO Bob Gregory. “We don’t have to run a landfill in a way that’s bad,” he says. “You can run a landfill and operate at peace and harmony with the surrounding property owners.”
Started up by Gregory and soon joined by his brother, James, in 1977 with one truck and one account, Texas Disposal Systems (TDS) now has revenue just less than $100 million and employs more than 600. James is co-owner, vice president and landfill manager. TDS provides waste collection for more than 91 cities in central Texas, 71 of which also use the company to collect recycling. It processes all the recyclables for more than 175,000 homes in Austin.
The privately held company handles landfill disposal for the cities of Austin and San Antonio. Last year the TDS landfill processed about 575,000 tons with almost 32 years of remaining capacity. The company also operates a two-year-old material recovery facility (MRF) that processes 300 tons per day of residential and commercial recyclables. The composting operation produces material sold under the Texas Organic Products and Garden-Ville brands.
In addition to Austin and San Antonio, the company has expanded into the Texas cities of Georgetown and Alpine. TDS’ services also include construction and demolition (C&D) recycling, scrap metal recycling, green building consulting, carbon forestry development, alternative fuel production, disaster cleanup, greening schools and citizen drop-off and resale centers.
Starting From Seeds
Like many working in the waste and recycling industry, the Gregory brothers were born into the business. Their father, James Sr., owned a scrap yard that never had more than 20 employees. The volatility of the business made an impression on Bob.
“I wanted something more local, less susceptible to international market fluctuations,” he says. “And that was the collection of waste and recycling.”
Gregory helped put himself through college with an electronic scrap company he started called Texas Alloys. By the time he graduated from the University of Texas he had 10 employees and decided he wanted to diversify into solid waste collection.
As befitting his penchant for finding uses for old materials, Gregory hasn’t cast off his roots. He bought his father’s company in 1984, still owns Texas Alloys and now operates their first account: a transfer station in the town of Bee Cave, Texas.
TDS started as a roll-off hauler. The Austin area has a lot of cedar and oak trees, so the company hauled a lot of brush. “I wanted to do recycling. I had a vague idea of what composting could be. I knew there was a product there. I’m always looking for ways to do something out of nothing,” he says.
With the scrap metal business TDS landed a recycling contract with IBM, and that revenue helped the Gregory brothers buy equipment and build up the company over time.
In 1988 TDS got a permit not only for a landfill but also for a recycling and composting facility. It opened in 1991. It was the first permit on all three activities in the history of the state. TDS already had been grinding wood waste and composting and was well on its way to having an integrated facility. “We were using whatever resources we could rather than just landfilling it,” Gregory says. “That has been our philosophy since day one. It just was slow getting the money to pay for it. Our family was a pretty poor family. And when you don’t have much you can’t borrow much.”