Photos: Laura Watilo Blake

Dover, Ohio-based Kimble Cos. may not be the largest waste services provider in eastern Ohio, but judging from its growth and continued investment in technology, it is certainly one of the most progressive waste companies in its market. The family owned and operated business continues to increase market share, and, despite its rapid growth, it has not lost its focus on providing quality services.

Floyd Kimble founded the company as a solid waste disposal facility in the 1950s. He passed away in 1998, but his legacy still lives on with the second generation of Kimbles who today operate the business.

Keith Kimble is president and CEO of what has evolved to become a diverse company that includes hauling, recycling and disposal, as well as mining and construction aggregates production and oil and gas drilling. His brothers, Greg and Eric Kimble, are involved in the day-to-day operations, while his mother, Doris Kimble, stays involved in key decisions.

“My father was the first generation in solid waste and energy, and he left us in 1998. And we are carrying on that tradition in the second generation,” says Keith.

At the Dover, Ohio, office situated on 1,500 acres of land, Floyd ’s picture hangs prominently in the board room—a reminder of the company’s roots and an inspiration for those moving the business forward.

HANDS ON

Keith describes Kimble’s corporate structure as “pretty flat.” He says, “Folks here wear a lot of hats. We have a really great subordinate leadership team, most with a hands-on mentality.”

Keith himself comes to work wearing blue jeans and work boots. He doesn’t mind getting dirty. In fact, he is more likely to be found out in the field, checking in with his workers, than sitting behind a desk.

Kimble Cos.’ Dover property is an ideal location for a landfill from an environmental perspective, according to Keith. The naturally occurring clays on which it has been built on safeguards water supplies. The 1,500 acres offers plenty of room to expand. The landfill has at least another 75 years of life to it.

Mining operations and production of gravel and crushed limestone take up other portions of the site, which also makes landfill expansion a bit easier because the mined material can be built up to create a barrier to protect the ground.

STEPPING INTO RECYCLING

Recycling at Kimble Cos. dates back to the early 1990s. Kimble built its first recycling facility in Canton, Ohio, in 1993. “When we got our start, it was a very rudimentary process of sorting commingled materials,” describes Keith. “Now we have a more automated process in Twinsburg, Ohio, where we operate two shifts and process about 25 tons an hour of postconsumer recyclables.”

The Twinsburg material recovery facility (MRF) was built in 2010. The addition of recycling has allowed the company to process around 300 tons per day. Kimble has 700 employees, 400 of which are truck drivers.

Kimble Cos. fuels around 175 trucks with compressed natural gas (CNG) from its gas wells. Several CNG pumps are located at Kimble’s material recovery facility in Twinsburg, Ohio, where drivers can fill up.

The company operates its collection, recycling and disposal business in 25 eastern Ohio counties. Its four transfer stations are equally spaced to help corral materials from Marietta to Cleveland. About 3,000 tons per day are disposed of at the Dover landfill.

The company’s municipal contracts typically include postconsumer commingled or single-stream recyclables “and our processing operations are designed to accommodate that and do a good job with that,” Keith says. Kimble’s business customers are often more associated with paper products like corrugated cardboard. The company’s customers are about 50 percent residential and 35 percent commercial, with the balance coming from the industrial sector.

“Our customers really count on one thing,” says Keith. “They want their waste materials and recyclable materials to go away, and they want some kind of controlled price structure they can count on and live with.” Not to say they don’t care about the environment, but they leave that up to Kimble. “So, we have a team of professionals who make good decisions about what is environmentally responsible, and we try to always do those things.”

The equipment Kimble uses to process recyclables includes some of the latest sorting technologies, but Keith says the company doesn’t always go for the newest, most elaborate equipment available. “We try to stay focused on something that is a little more tried and true and dependable,” he says.

As with other recycling processors, Kimble has taken a hit with lower commodity prices for its recyclables for the last two years. “We are seeing some movement from the bottom, but it is still not back to a level that recyclers had become accustomed to,” Keith says. “It is a difficult spot to be in. The industry in general has felt the pain.”

A driver for Kimble Cos. fuels his vehicle after his shift at the company’s Twinsburg, Ohio, material recovery facility. Kimble considers itself one of the largest users of CNG fuel in Ohio.

He says recycling based solely on commodity prices is proving to be volatile for sustainability. “As an industry, we need to promote a sharing of the risk with our municipal and business partners to assure financial viability through the ups and downs of the markets,” he says.

Keith notes many companies are trying to create pricing floors in their municipal contracts to allow them to at least break even.

Some of the counties in Kimble’s territory have flow control. While he says the idea initially was intended to ensure all residents access to available disposal back in the 1980s, he says it has proven to be a barrier to competition in many cases and ultimately has ended up causing the residents and municipalities to pay more for solid waste disposal.

“It is something that should be re-examined to make sure that it is beneficial and not more of a hindrance to innovation or competitiveness,” Keith says.

Eastern Ohio also has some stiff competition for waste and recyclables, with large national waste companies, such as Republic Services and Waste Management, owning some of the market share.

Kimble Cos. processes 400 tons per day of recyclables from thousands of residential and hundreds of commercial customers. At its Twinsburg, Ohio, facility, pictured above, recyclables are dumped onto a tipping floor and mixed before being processed.

“It’s a pretty competitive market that we work in,” remarks Keith. “There’s a number of major waste conglomerates that operate in our region, and we compete with them and sometimes some very small mom-and-pop type waste collectors in the business as well. We sit somewhere in the middle of that.”

SAFETY AND FUEL EFFICIENTLY

Moving all of that waste and those recyclables around requires a fleet of some 350-plus trucks of all shapes and sizes, including front-load, side-load, roll-off, rear-load, transfer tractor trailers and dump trucks. No matter what the application for the truck, Keith says Kimble focuses on safety first. The company’s second goal, according to Keith, is efficiency. Both goals have prompted the company to move toward more automated trucks.

“We are tending more toward automated-type systems and waste containers that help to avoid the strains and sprains that our men and women would incur if they were still all just throwing bags,” says Keith.

The company also decided it would put the natural gas it was producing to work in its trucks. Kimble owns wells in the Ohio counties of Harrison, Guernsey and Tuscarawas. “Having that core business, we thought it would make sense to utilize that gas in our trucks,” Keith explains. “We built two gas compression filling stations thus far and have acquired about 175 new trucks that are compressed natural gas (CNG) fueled.”

Kimble considers itself the largest user of CNG vehicles in Ohio. The benefits of CNG have been tenfold. The vehicles run more quietly and have lower emissions than diesel-powered trucks. Using CNG vehicles also ensures job stability for Kimble’s oil and gas operations and means the company is not held hostage to foreign oil prices. “We are one of our own best customers,” notes Keith.

KEY TO SUCCESS

Keith says the key to success is “to work hard and surround yourself with smart people who also like to work hard and put safety first every day.”

He calls himself a graduate of the school of hard knocks. “I just went to work and have been doing that every day, and it is exciting for me,” he says. “It is exciting for my family to be involved with and work with such great people in eastern Ohio.”

Keith says he gets satisfaction out of making a difference in people’s lives with the services Kimble is able to provide to so many people. “What I enjoy about the waste industry is all the great people I get to work with and feeling satisfied that we’ve been able to make a difference, especially with recycling, which has been one of my pet projects and why we got into it so early on,” he says.

The author is editor of Waste Today and can be reached at ksmith@gie.net.