It Takes Two

How to succeed in recycling by teaming up with the right corporate partner. Since 2008 we have collected and recycled between 75000 and 90000 lbs of PVC per year, in total we have diverted over 650 000 lbs from landfills. In 2014 Decor Innovations was mentioned in an article in Recycling Today, outlining our partnership with Versatex.

March 5, 2014

John Pace

When I mention recycling to other plastics processors or manufacturers, their typical reply is that a corporate-wide recycling program is just too demanding.

For some this position grows from simple reluctance to commit time and resources to environmental protection. However, I’m convinced that among manufacturers the most common obstacles are:

  • honest skepticism (Can recycling programs add measurable value for companies and communities?); and
  • a lack of practical role models (Although there’s a lot of noise about green products, we seldom hear the specifics of a company’s green agenda.).

It doesn’t help that environmentalists frequently target the plastics industry and that myths about plastics manufacturing and biodegradability are often the focus of media attention. To make matters worse, the plastics industry has overused the word “green” to the point that it has lost much of its credibility.

To clear the air, let me tell you how one real-life recycling initiative has succeeded in producing measurable bottom-line results by recovering material, diverting it away from landfills and reprocessing it into useful products. This is the story of two companies that understand how corporate values, as well as processes and materials, have to be compatible before recycling can reach its full potential.

Waste Stream Economics

At Versatex, we manufacture extruded cellular PVC (polyvinyl chloride) mouldings and other trim products for residential construction. Concern for the environment is never far from our minds; in fact, we spend our workdays in a plant built on a reclaimed brownfield site.

For us, recycling really is a way of life. We encourage all of our employees to recycle everything from office paper, cans and plastic bottles to packaging scrap and scrap from our extrusion process. Our goal is to keep as much material as we can—especially materials that are considered non-biodegradable—out of landfills.

Landfill waste reduction pays off in two ways. First, it lets us trim our disposal costs. Second, it conserves natural resources that can’t be renewed. It means that materials that would have been discarded become assets rather than liabilities to the communities where we work and live.

In the past two years, we’ve taken our recycling philosophy beyond our plant walls to our customers, particularly lumber dealers and architectural millwork original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). We’ve explained our campaign to keep cellular PVC scrap and dust out of landfills, and we’ve offered to work with these companies to make that happen. Once they experience measurable benefits from cellular PVC recycling, they tend to widen their focus to include material streams such as scrap metal, paper, cardboard, banding, cans and plastic bottles.

Here’s an example. Décor Innovations, in Oakville, Ontario, is a pioneer in recycling cellular PVC scrap. A custom millwork shop, Décor takes materials from Versatex and molds, mills and cuts them into exterior building components, such as brackets, louvers, ornaments, columns and capitals and ornamental railing systems.

Currently employing about two-dozen people, Décor has served the greater Toronto area for 30 years.

Like-Minded Partners

When the material you want to recycle gets a cool reception from conventional recyclers, it may be time to create your own system. For Bill Hutt of Décor Innovations, Oakville, Ontario, that meant building on an existing relationship with a company he knew shared his values.

“This is about partnership,” Hutt says. “It takes two to make something like this succeed.”

Several years ago, Hutt says he grew frustrated with the available alternatives to landfilling in his region. “We had a hard time finding a group that would take our type of [cellular polyvinyl chloride (PVC)] materials—and we were paying them to take it away.”

He continues, “When I mentioned that to John Pace at Versatex—the company that makes the cellular PVC we use—he was blown away that we were paying them.” Later I would go down to Pittsburgh from time to time, and we’d have chats about it. And all the while I still couldn’t find anyone local to pay us for our dust and scrap.

“There are other PVC manufacturers, but none with the quality, none with the tolerances I need and none with the human commitment that John and his group have made. So, finally I said, ‘John, I’ll have to send it down to your plant. Even if we just break even, at least you’ll get the benefit of it.'”

“We shook hands, and I thought, ‘This will be real recycling.'”

Hutt says he had his work cut out for him. “The biggest challenge was convincing everyone in our shop that waste is a resource. It’s been satisfying to see that attitude spread until everyone understands it and lives it. Our shop foreman, for instance, took the initiative to build a storage silo that makes it easier to handle PVC dust and keep contaminants out of it.”

He continues, “As far as physical changes go, we have had to set aside a certain amount of square footage for storage. But that dovetailed with another of our waste reduction initiatives; we already hoard just about every inch of cut-off material until we have the chance to incorporate it into a new project or into a product we’ve designed specifically to make use of cutoffs.”

Hutt says Décor is always trying to improve its recycling program but is recouping more than three times the cost of shipping the scrap it sells back to Versatex. “Working alone, my company would have had a much harder time making this work. But with a partner who shares your vision, who can help keep you on the path, it’s just incredible.”

Made for Each Other

Décor’s President and CEO Bill Hutt is a longtime advocate for reducing manufacturing scrap disposed of in landfills. He got his start in construction and remodeling and understands waste’s true cost.

“My staff and I take the responsibility of good stewardship, and the impact of waste on landfills, very seriously,” Hutt says. “We optimize our use of materials and implement cost-efficient processes. Those two strategies have made a significant difference in eliminating unnecessary waste.”

Despite his commitment, Hutt says he realized that his in-house program was only part of the solution. He went looking for a recycling partner, and the search took him surprisingly far afield.

During a tour of the Pittsburgh-area Versatex plant, Hutt mentioned that his processes were generating high volumes of dust and scrap, but Canadian recyclers weren’t interested in it.

We quickly put our heads together and established a joint recycling plan.

Basically, Versatex agreed to accept Décor Innovations’ cellular PVC scrap (produced by fabrication, CNC work and cutting operations), reintroduce it into our extrusion process and pay Décor a fair price for the recyclable material.

We trained the company’s team to separate foreign materials, such as nails, screws and wood, from the scrap, because contaminants in our regrind could lead to the shutdown of a production line or to equipment damage at Versatex.

Décor started packing scrap in double-wall, 4-foot corrugated Gaylord pallet boxes. To control shipping costs, the team warehoused these boxes until it had enough to fill a 53-foot trailer. The second shipment (42 Gaylords, roughly 27,000 pounds, of easily recycled cellular PVC) pulled into our Aliquippa, Pa., loading bay in January 2014.

From that shipment, we ground 27 Gaylords full of clean cut-off scrap into feedstock for our extrusion lines. We sold the remaining 15 boxes, containing cellular PVC dust, to a third-party processor. Eventually, the dust will be recycled into products such as fencing, decking, railings or concrete filler.

Meanwhile, we issued Décor a credit for the value of the scrap, minus shipping. That credit, plus the savings of a truckload’s worth of waste container and landfill hauling fees, gave Hutt proof that recycling has dollars-and-cents value.

“Although recycling cellular PVC scrap requires some effort in our plant,” he says, “it’s had no bearing on our expenses or product cost. In fact, it saves us money.”

The Versatex-Décor collaboration has worked smoothly because both of us did our homework. By identifying a partner with compatible values and complementary needs, each of us gained greater control of our scrap streams, thus reducing the overall carbon footprint of the companies and the products we manufacture.

John Pace is founder of Wolfpac Technologies Inc., Pittsburgh, Pa., an extruder of cellular PVC sheet and board materials that has been serving the building products industry since 2003. He is also president and COO of Versatex Trimboard, www.versatex.com, a subsidiary of Wolfpac Technologies. Pace has grown Versatex Trimboard into the second largest player in the PVC architectural trim marketplace. Versatex was awarded the Green Seal of Approval from the National Association of Homebuilders for meeting the requirements of certain mandated practices in the National Green Building Standard.

Photos courtesy of Versatex.

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