Transportation, size present challenges to recycling plastic
By: Steve Christen, "The Recycling Guy", Superior Telegram
Greetings one and all to this month’s column on local recycling issues. The question of plastic recycling keeps coming up in conversations that I have with the public over the past several years. People understand that post-consumer plastics (beverage bottles and such) are accepted by our local curbside recyclers. But how about the lawn furniture, 5 gallon buckets, or the big wheel your husband secretly keeps in the garage? Items such as these have been a bug-a-boo to recyclers for years. The problem isn’t that these items aren’t recyclable, they are. It’s the fact that they are large, cumbersome and weigh very little. The cost of pickup, transportation and baling such items makes the whole endeavor very expensive. To make recycling of big plastic items feasible, we must tackle each of these problems.
Working with Tim Lundell of the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District (WLSSD), at their Materials Recovery Center in Duluth, and with Randy Larson of Deltco Plastics in Ashland, we are making an attempt to come up with an economical way to collect, process, and market these types of materials as a pilot project. The Recovery Center can collect vast amounts of these types of plastics from the public when they drop off refuse. Having these materials in mass quantities solves the problem associated with the expense of the collection. Instead of trying to bail these items, we are working with a grinder. This grinder was developed for taking scrap wood and turning it into mulch and biofuels. With a little alteration in the operation of the machine, these hard plastics can be ground to a spec of 4 inches. In doing so, we reduce the material in size by a ratio of five to one. Once ground, these pieces are loaded into a gaylord. These gaylords are then loaded into a semi-trailer and sent to Ashland where Deltco takes these 4 inch pieces and reduces them further to a small pellet that is designed to feed a plastics extruder used by various manufacturers in their production of consumer items.
As with all pilot and start up programs there are a number of bugs to be worked out. While the main goal is to establish this new recycling endeavor and keep these plastic items out of local landfills, the fact that the costs of prepping the material and transportation is more than the cost of simple disposal. Cheap local disposal is a two edged sword. Certainly we all like the idea that our refuse rates are lower than the national average, this is in large part due to the cost of local disposal. While disposal locally can be found for $45 to $50 a ton, cities such as St. Louis Mo. charges $150.00 a ton for local disposal. It’s much easier to make the dollars work in recycling when the cost of disposal is high, but the incentive to recycle shrinks in the face of cheap disposal. We are putting our thinking caps on though and thinking a little outside of the box to make this successful!
Dear Recycling Guy:
A lot of companies are now making an effort to lessen the amount of waste they produce as a result of the manufacturing processes they conduct. Are there any “zero waste” companies locally?
There are no manufacturing companies that I know of (if any of you readers know of one please let me know via the email at the bottom of this article, and I will gladly give them due recognition in an up-coming article), but I do know of one company that has made tremendous strides in this direction. In talking with operations manager, Phil Matson, at Field Logic here in Superior, one has got to be impressed with the progress and commitment they have made in that direction.
Field Logic makes targets for the bow hunting industry. They use a variety of substances in the making of these targets. When they make injection molded targets there is a certain amount of waste created. They have invested in equipment that takes this waste and recovers it in a way that allows them to reuse it in production. Phil states that a considerable amount was spent to purchase the equipment. The waste material must be returned to a pellet state and then put through a type of plastic extruder that returns the material to spec that can once again be put through their injection molding process. They have also initiated a process by which they recycle all the cardboard. They have purchased an industrial baler that creates an industry desired mill sized bale. These bales are then shipped to a cardboard plant. Field Logic makes products for the outdoor industry, and creating these products in a fashion that reduces landfill waste is a top priority to them. Way to go Field Logic! The fact that I can’t hit your targets with my bow, doesn’t lessen the contribution to our environment that your company has made.
In closing, I want to share with you an observation. I have one grandchild that lives in Denver. When she comes to visit it’s always a learning experience for my wife and I. I have observed the following. 1) If she sees it first … its hers, 2) If she is building something … it’s all hers, 3) The more stuff that is hers … the better (in her eyes). The other observation I’ve made is that when its broke ... it now belongs to me. While working in my recycling station, and seeing some of the discarded items, I wonder, have we as adults really changed that much?
Please keep your questions coming to “Ask the Recycle Guy” at aarolloff@