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Not A Chip Off The Old Block
EPI Concrete Products Inc. produces concrete blocks that by and large are made of recycled glass. But the Grandville-based company doesn't just manufacture the building blocks; it also collects the used glass, crushes it, then mixes the crushed glass with cement, sand and other items before reusing the material to make the blocks.
Products made by EPI Concrete are being used in the construction of the JW Marriott Hotel and the River House condominium project going up next to
That is a pretty good track record in a fairly short amount of time because EPI Concrete is a relatively new kid on the, well, block. The company was formed in February of 2006, but didn't begin making its blocks until last November.
"We currently produce a standard grade, or what we call a standard unit, that is a regular gray concrete block, and that one carries 60 percent recycled content. In the past, the industry standard was 25 to 30 percent," said EPI Concrete CEO Chris Harkema.
The company also makes blocks for the architectural market. These blocks are textured, come in colors other than gray including multiples, and add an aesthetic look to a design.
"Those units are 45 percent recycled material," said Harkema.
"But what brings us value is we're bringing it to market at no additional cost to the owner. So there is no premium for using our products," he added.
That wasn't always the case. Until sustainability issues took center stage, environmentally friendly products always carried a higher price tag. But a big reason why EPI Concrete can offer its "green" blocks at "gray" prices is that the company is also a waste management firm, meaning it gathers its own discarded glass and other non-hazardous materials.
For instance, Harkema said EPI removed about eight tons of three-quarter-inch tempered glass from the Steelcase World Headquarters on 44th Street SE. Recovery work like that has helped to triple the amount of glass being reused in the county.
"We're a concrete-block manufacturer first and foremost. The second thing is, we're a waste management company. Third, we are a glass recycler. Fourth, we're in community service. The community service aspect of our business really comes from the glass recycling business," said Harkema.
"We use both industrial cullet waste and we use curbside-waste glass. We're working with the
The EPI in EPI Concrete Products stands for EnviroProducts International, a firm in
"We share ownership with EnviroProducts International, or EPI, for some of the technology they have to offer. They're basically a company that sources waste and tries to incorporate it back into saleable products," said Harkema.
Because glass is completely recyclable, because the triple-bottom line has been adopted by over 100 local businesses, and because LEED certification is very popular with architects and builders, Harkema sees a bright future ahead for EPI Concrete Products, and he wants to share his vision with the public.
To do that, Harkema is holding an open house at EPI's place,