JUNE 2009

 

A Closer Look E-mail the author

Plastic Revolutions
Ed Handy • 888-532-9274

In the beginning, Plastic Revolutions was an equipment manufacturing company, according to Ed Handy, the vice president and general manager. A prototype was built and used as a demonstration model, but “sales of the equipment never took off,” according to Handy. What did take off was the recycling business.

Plastic Revolutions mainly concentrates on processing high molecular weight HDPE.

Founded by John Hagen in 1991, the company now has about 50 employees and buys material “all over the east coast” for process in the North Carolina facility. Material comes in from municipalities, plastics manufacturers and container companies.

While the company can and does process a variety of plastics, Handy said, “we are specialists” and high molecular weight HDPE is the company’s focus. Handy said that the high molecular weight makes the material ideal for applications where the material has to be really tough, like chemical and food drums, underground pipes, and blow molded trash cans.

The company also processes one of the items that has become a recycling nightmare for so many municipalities – plastic film. Handy said that the problem with recycling the thin plastic bags is that there has to be someone local who can collect and bale the bags. “When it’s compacted into bales, there’s a market,” he said.

Plastic Revolutions granulates incoming plastic to a half-inch size, then washes and dries it. The clean grind is then sold. Some of the material gets processed further and is pelletized.

While Handy wasn’t with the company at its inception, he has been there for ten years, and in that time he’s seen a lot more material being labeled as recyclable that used to end up in landfills. For example, plastic underground pipe used to be considered too much trouble to clean, but now it’s commonly recycled.

Handy said that waste drums and playground equipment are more commonly recycled as well, and there’s a move now to find ways to recycle more types of plastic. “Every type of plastic is being studied,” he said.

Before he worked for Plastic Revolutions, Handy worked for a company that made blow-molded plastic flowerpots from 100 percent recycled material. But at that time, the recycled label wasn’t a selling point. Competitors bragged that they used virgin plastic in their flowerpots, so the recycling angle was downplayed where Handy worked. “I was in recycling before it was cool to do so,” he said.

All together, Handy said that he’s been in the plastic recycling business for 24 years, and before that, he was in the military. From his first recycling job, he said, “It got in my blood quick, and I really enjoy it.”

Handy also enjoys the fact that recycling has become cool, and that people are so interested in participating in the process. While government regulations in North Carolina are doing things like making certain bottles taboo in landfills, Handy said that the big push is with the public. “I feel it and hear it everywhere,” he said. “It’s not just lip service.”

Not long ago, Handy gave a tour of the facility to a community college group “and I guess they liked me,” he said, since they asked him to speak at a ceremony honoring inductees into the college’s honor society. The event was attended by a wide range of people including the faculty, students and families. “When you see the interest in recycling, it blows your mind,” Handy said.

The interest wasn’t just in the speech. Handy said, “I was mobbed like a rock star afterwards,” with people asking all sorts of questions about recycling.

Plastic isn’t the only thing recycled at Plastic Revolutions, though. The water used for washing the plastic is never sent out through the drains – every bit is treated and reused in the washing process. The company is also trying to reduce its carbon footprint by using a more efficient heating system, using eco-friendly light bulbs, and is also considering installing solar panels and skylights. “We’re committed to being the greenest recycler in the country,” Handy said.

While the economy is making things tough for everyone in the recycling business, Handy said, “I think for good companies that do it right, the future is very, very bright.” He said that for some companies, the current sale price for plastic isn’t covering their costs for processing and shipping, but “it don’t get any tougher than it is right now. I think it’s bottomed out.” He expects an upturn before the end of the year.

As for the future, he said that the recycling business will be “an excellent job source” and will “create millions of jobs.”

On a smaller scale, he enjoys the fact that by going to work every day, he’s “made a difference on planet earth,” and at the same time the company has provided good jobs for people who work there. “We don’t even have anyone who hires people,” Handy said, “because we don’t have turnover.”