Envirolastech Offers Green Construction Alternative
Envirolastech is turning garbage into gold.
The Rochester startup, which recycles plastic, glass and other landfill-destined materials into building products, as an alternative to lumber and concrete, broke ground in November 2016 on its first commercial manufacturing facility, an 18,000-square-foot factory in St. Charles slated to open in May.
Envirolastech isn’t the first business to manufacture substitute wood and concrete products from recycled materials. But what is unusual is the quality of its products, particularly the simulated wood. The company’s plastic composite material can be sawed, hammered, screwed and drilled just like regular wood used in housing and other construction projects.
Another upside to the material is its durability. Unlike other plastic building materials that become brittle when temperatures drop, the Envirolastech products gets stronger in cold weather. Company officials estimate their materials will last for hundreds of years.
An MN Cup winner
The product is so promising that it caught the eye of MN Cup judges, who awarded the business first prize in the statewide contest’s clean technology category in 2012. Judges were impressed that the company’s products are made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled waste.
That’s also what impressed Jeffery Mintz. After practicing law for 26 years, Mintz is closing his Rochester law office to devote his full attention to Envirolastech, where he is the company’s majority shareholder and CEO. While Envirolastech has much financial promise, the chance to build a business that will help the environment was what really attracted Mintz.
"The opportunity to do something meaningful that will have a healthy impact on how we treat the planet, that is an opportunity that I could not resist, and that I did not want to resist," he says.
The product has many conventional building applications, including decking, siding, bricks, blocks and pavers. Mintz sees other potential markets down the road, including seawalls in coastal cities and highway construction material.
Envirolastech is the brainchild of Rochester native Paul Schmitt, a veteran contractor and entrepreneur who incorporated the company in 2011 after spending 20 years working to develop the technology.
While working on large animal barns at the University of Minnesota, he noticed that traditional wood stalls were difficult to sterilize because they retained viruses. And plastic wood products that existed at that time weren’t strong enough to last.
Schmitt set out on a mission to find a substitute. Working with a team of scientists and other experts, he eventually developed a thermoplastic material made from fly ash and recycled plastics and glass. Equipment and production processes were developed, but getting the company off the ground was delayed by the recession and efforts to line up financial support.
Creating new jobs
One form of financial support came from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), which approved the company for a $183,766 grant from the Job Creation Fund last November. Envirolastech will receive the funding after meeting its hiring and investment goals.
The hiring commitment includes 26 new jobs that pay wages averaging $15.47 an hour. The jobs were welcome news in St. Charles, a community about 30 miles east of Rochester that was devastated in 2009 when a fire forced the closing of a North Star Foods meat processing plant.
Envirolastech chose St. Charles for its $3 million manufacturing facility because the city is located along Interstate 90 and near Winona State University, which has a polymer engineering program that could provide interns and job candidates for the business.
Along with Mintz and Schmitt, the company’s other principal is Geno Wente, who is logistics director. All three men live in Rochester.
- Published February 2017