Putting a Stop to Granite Landfilling with Recycled Granite’s Julie Rizzo

As recently as 2010, granite recycling was not practiced — virtually all granite waste was making its way to landfills. Recycled Granite aims to change that.

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re so excited to have with us today Julie Rizzo. She’s a CEO and founder of Recycled Granite. Welcome to Green is Good, Julie Rizzo. JULIE RIZZO: Thanks, John. Thanks for having me on. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Julie, before we get into your great company and talking about Recycled Granite and recycledgranite.com, can you share a little bit about the Julie Rizzo story. Did you grow up wanting to be an entrepreneur or is this something that evolved over time or came from mom or dad or college? Who and how did you get here? JULIE RIZZO: You know, I worked in the investment world for about ten years and that was fun and then I had a real estate company for about 15 years and that was also really fun. I love real estate but I always like construction and building things and I think all of the TV shows kind of taught me to reuse and repurpose things and I liked that. I loved the fact that you could reuse things instead of throwing them away so when I was doing some consulting for a granite company after the real estate market took a hit, I saw this huge dumpster of stone and I just knew there was something that we could do with it. JOHN SHEGERIAN: For our listeners out there, you started a company called Recycled Granite and as a URL, you’re recycledgranite.com. What year did you start recycledgranite.com? JULIE RIZZO: I purchased, I think, in 2008 but I didn’t start using it initially very quickly. I had to do research and develop the market and see what the market was. There was this large mountain of granite at this granite fabricator’s shop and come to find out, there were between five and ten thousand and at that time, back in 2008, up to 20,000 fabricators, some people said, at that time because the building market was still fairly good. It was going pretty well then so 30,000 pounds times 20,000 fabricators on average, the numbers are astronomical. I knew there was a ton of stone out there. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Right, right, right. So you launched the company in what year then? JULIE RIZZO: 2010, I’m going to say. I always sold stone. I did a lot research. I started out with mosaics and the machinery wasn’t really developed to do what I wanted it to do. I was selling landscaping pavers and I would work at flea markets and do all of the entrepreneurial things and every time I was at a flea market or one of these trade shows, I would bring these little pieces of stone, these little slivers we called them, and at that time, everyone would stop by because they were really sparkly so people would stop by my booth and they would say, ‘Do you have more of this product?’ and I never had it because the machine wasn’t developed so I met a gentleman at another trade show who built a smaller version of a machine that made that product so the moment I saw that machine, I knew that I could make this whole business explode so that’s what I did. I started out with that little machine and from then on, I improved the machines and kind of made them bigger and better. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow. Talk about 2010 to now. How small was it when you started? How many orders did you do the first year and how big is now in 2014, now that you’ve evolved the business, you’ve kept investing in more machinery and better machinery? What’s the evolution been like? JULIE RIZZO: We started with nothing. Recycled Granite didn’t really exist. No one did anything with it because they would throw it in landfills. It started out with pavers and I started selling pavers and that was good but people would look at the pavers and they would say they were only one and a quarter inches thick because they’re the countertop thick and that kind of made them believe that it’s too thin. It’s not strong enough to be made as landscaping pavers. In fact, it’s three to five times stronger than any concrete paver that you’ll put out there but I had a problem with perception so I had to figure out how could I take that material and turn it into a variety of products rather than just one product that I know is great but if I can’t sell that, it doesn’t help anybody so I had to figure out how to turn all those into different things and I worked with a bunch of machines and so now we manage the stone so now when I go out to network members throughout the country, I teach them how to manage that stone. Back in 2010, I started out having a little hard time with the pavers, with $100,000 a year. I don’t remember the exact numbers but now we’ve sold, with my network of over 35 people throughout the country, we’ve sold over $5 million out of Recycled Granite products. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You’re saying prior to 2008 and 2009, no one was recycling granite in the US? Everyone was basically just landfilling it when it came to its natural end of life? JULIE RIZZO: Absolutely, and it still happens today. We haven’t even touched the market yet. No one even believes me that there is even that much waste. When people are tearing down these buildings, I think they don’t realize that when you walk into a metropolitan city, if you look at every high rise around you, or if you’re in any big hotel, on every single building in the ground, it’s all granite. All those buildings are flanked with granite and I get calls from contractors all over the country who don’t want to throw it away. No one wants to throw this stuff away because it’s beautiful. It’s millions and millions of years old so they’ll want me to go to New York City or California or wherever to pick up all this demolition material to do something with it but because it’s too far and I don’t have enough granite recycling plants throughout the country yet, I can’t do that. It breaks my heart but it’s not feasibly possible. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it, and to a layman like me and for our listeners out there that mostly are laymen at this, what’s the difference between new granite and recycled granite? Would any of be able to ever tell the difference? JULIE RIZZO: Not at all. Recycled Granite is when you order a granite countertop and you really, 55 by 120 inches, it’s a big slab so they take that slab, lay it on a surface, and cut out your granite countertop, which is usually straight edge pieces. From that slab, there’s up to 30% waste, so we take that waste so it’s essentially new granite but according to LEED, it’s post-consumer waste because the consumer did purchase that slab but it’s the waste from that slab so that’s what it is. It’s still new granite but it’s generally going straight to a landfill. JOHN SHEGERIAN: For our listeners out there that are developers and want to build these gold LEED certified buildings, if they used your product, that would help make them closer to their goals in terms of building Gold Certified? JULIE RIZZO: Oh absolutely, yeah. Our material, since it’s 100% waste because it was headed to the landfill, they get a multitude of points for using it, and because of the granite recycling centers throughout the country we’ve strategically placed to help builders achieve those LEED points everywhere, except for New York. I need more people in New York and California. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Basically what you’re creating here, it didn’t exist and you’re creating a whole brand new marketplace in recycling. JULIE RIZZO: Yeah, exactly. It’s an industry. They talk about electronics and all the other plastics and everything is wonderful but granite, the dollar that we’re getting for our granite after it’s manufactured and repurposed into a variety of products, I can get 25 dollars for a necklace that is handcrafted by individuals with disabilities. We’re literally sending billions of dollars to the landfill without even thinking about it. My innovation has been recognized in the Congressional Record, which is really good, but I’m self-blended. I don’t have any investors so I use every single one of my dollars to create this industry. It’s difficult but the rewards are amazing. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Let’s talk about that. You brought up something about necklaces and other things so let’s talk about how does using recycled granite not only help the environment but also the greater sustainability movement at large? JULIE RIZZO: Not only does it divert the waste, we like that, but it creates tons of green jobs throughout the country, not only for the manufacturing side, which is what I’m mainly involved in, but for installers who are installing the tiles, who are installing the landscaping pavers, the salespeople who are selling the tiles. It’s just so many factors and our aggregates, we’re tapping more into aggregate products right now that will be pervious so those are amazing products that we haven’t launched yet but they’re touching everybody. They are a new product that is creating tons and tons of jobs on multiple levels. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Also, when I was reading about you, Julie, and learning more about the great work that you’re doing and for our listeners out there that just joined us, we’ve got Julie Rizzo on. She’s the CEO and founder of Recycled Granite and you can learn more about Julie and go to her website at recycledgranite.com. You’re also very proud of your Green Abilities program. Share with our listeners the great work and the important work that you’re doing there? What is that Green Abilities program? JULIE RIZZO: My Green Abilities program, when I was working with my machine, my manufacturing processes are very monotonous and very repetitive and the average person gets very bored with that and so I have a couple friends with children with autism so I went to my local high school and asked if I could work with some of the students, if they can come in my shop. These students were between the ages of 18 and 22 so they’re a little bit older but I brought them in. I volunteered my time and brought them in and I had no idea what I was going to do. I had never worked with special needs people before so I knew nothing but they came in, they spent a year there. I worked with two different schools and my sister and I created these procedures that they were able to follow so I play off their strength. I knew what I needed to get done so I learned what their abilities were and a lot of these people can’t speak and definitely can’t read and write but they can do every single thing that I do. I worked with over 75 students and 95% of them, including people in wheelchairs and just everything. I have tons of videos on YouTube too that talk about my Green Abilities program so they’re just amazing people. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, it’s basically, people with disabilities, mental and physical, they’re growing through your Recycled Granite artisan apprentice certification program? JULIE RIZZO: Yeah, exactly. It’s like a college, you know, regular people go to college, and it’s a certification. We put them through a test and now I employee individuals at Opportunity Enterprises in Valparaiso, Indiana. They’re the first special needs facility in the country, in the world, to ever open a granite recycling center and now we have others lined up, ready to go, to open more granite recycling centers in locations throughout the United States. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So far, you’ve recycled over 20 million pounds of granite, what it says on your website. JULIE RIZZO: It’s higher than that now. It’s about 30 or even 40 million pounds. There’s just so much. I was trying to give you a number of how much granite waste is in the world or how much we’re throwing away and the numbers are just crazy. It’s over 5 million tons, which is a lot, and 1 pound can be worth anywhere from 10¢ cents to $10, even more than that, $20, because if we’re making jewelry and wine stoppers, we can make a lot of money out of that waste. The revenues are amazing. The potential is amazing. JOHN SHEGERIAN: The potential is amazing. For our listeners around the world, this isn’t just a United States opportunity for you. You could take Recycled Granite around the world, I take it. JULIE RIZZO: Yeah, you know, shockingly, I get calls and emails from people all around the world. The website gets hit from 15 countries every single month and I don’t pay anything for search engine optimization and just this morning, a gentleman from India contacted me saying, ‘Can you help us with our waste here?’ so we are definitely the global leaders in this industry that I’m creating and it will affect people throughout the world. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Let’s talk about potential. You’re a businesswoman. You’ve been in banking before and real estate so you know exactly what you’re doing here. What is the potential? We’re down to the last five minutes or so. Can you share with us your vision for the next five years for Recycled Granite and what you’re doing? JULIE RIZZO: It’s so big! I can’t wrap my head around it. I don’t know if I can answer that question. There are so many things that we can do with this stone. It’s just racks. It’s racks that were headed to the landfill and we’re figuring out ways to put those racks to use. Because it’s so valuable, I’ve created, as an example, aggregates in between permeable pavers. Right now, they’re mining all over the country and all over the world. We have a special formula size that works well because granite is angular and the color blend we have matched too so if we can use that in between our permeable pavers instead of mining stone, it only makes sense. There’s just so much money. There’s so many different ways, so many profitable things to do, it’s definitely billions of dollars and I’m excited. There’s so much. I’m very excited about it. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Speaking of the largeness of the market, how is it? You are a woman entrepreneur before it was cool to be a woman entrepreneur. Before the whole lean in vernacular had permeated society, you were already leaning in 25 years ago with regards to banking and breaking ceilings and real estate and now of course, on your own with Recycled Granite. What is that like and where is that going? Where is that movement going? Is this now the generation for a woman to take over and really make their mark? How has that evolved in your lifetime and where do you see that going in the years ahead? JULIE RIZZO: I don’t think of myself as a woman. I don’t need all that woman stuff. I think it’s great that people do that but I think if people see a vision and a goal and they see opportunity, they should take it and that’s always what I’ve done. When you see an opportunity, especially in a marketplace that’s not being tapped into, and something just tells me to do it, it’s always very difficult and I have a lot of pushback but I just keep going because if I know it’s a good thing, it’s a good thing. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Right, which is great advice for the young entrepreneurs that we have with us that listen to the show because we get tons of emails from entrepreneurs, not only in the United States but all over the world that want to be the next Julie Rizzo so when you started the company to where it is, how has it gone? What were you expecting to happen and what were you expecting or not expecting that also happened? How has that broken out since 2009, 2010? JULIE RIZZO: Everybody told me no, no, that will never work. No one’s doing it. It will never work and I think that’s true for most entrepreneurs. Most people say no, that’s not going to work because no one has done it before. In my opinion, you must believe in yourself. You’ve got to believe in whatever is that you do because if you don’t believe in it, you’re not going to be able to sell it and it’s not going to work and it’s okay to fail because you learn so much from your failures. No doesn’t mean no. It just means not today so you have to keep going. JOHN SHEGERIAN: We’re down to the last two minutes or so. Right now, if there’s a listener that wants to recycle their granite in a different state, do they just contact you, they go to your website and they contact you and you tell them if you can recycle, pick it up from them, or they get it to you somehow? JULIE RIZZO: On my website, it says ‘Where to buy’ so there’s a list of my 35 network vendors because I license my business model throughout the country to teach people how to manufacture their material, their own waste in their market. We need more network members because I don’t want to ship my garbage from Indiana to California or New York so I teach people in those markets to do it so they can go there and look for a local granite recycling center. If there isn’t one there, contact us because we need you there. Your environment locally needs you there. There’s money there to be made. There’s opportunities to be made. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Although you’re thinking globally, obviously, with your opportunity, as you said, with the email you got this morning from Indiana and others that come in from around the world to you, really this is a local business, as you said about shipping and reverse logistics and things of that such so basically, you’re franchising the model and licensing the model with your proprietary machinery and your know-how? JULIE RIZZO: I do. Exactly, yes. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s brilliant. JULIE RIZZO: Yeah and listen, it doesn’t make sense. There’s enough business in these local markets to make business, so that way, we don’t worry about the logistics and shipping because once you add the shipping on it, it’s going to double the price and cost of your product so that’s no fun. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So you’re going to be the Ray Kroc of granite, it looks like, right? JULIE RIZZO: I just hope to make a difference. I hope to change lives and my motto is: Create jobs, reduce waste, and make the world a better place and those are my goals. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Well, that’s great and that’s a perfect way to end today’s show. Thank you for coming on today. Julie, of course, anytime you want to come back, you are always welcome or listeners out there who want to join Julie’s network or talk to Julie or email Julie about recycling granite in their country or in their area, you can go to her great website, www.recyclegranite.com. Julie, you are truly making the world a better place and you’re a sustainability superstar and, therefore, truly living proof that green is good.