Plastic Revolutions Inc. is a recycler in Reidsville, North Carolina, that takes in scrap plastics and granulates and washes, pelletizes and packages it to sell to manufacturers that want to make new products, such as drainage pipe, cable jacketing and dumpster lids. It also is a toll processor.
The company operates a reclaim extrusion line that is designed to process high-molecular-weight high-density polyethylene (HMW HDPE); it also pelletizes and sells recycled blow-molding and injection-molding HDPE grades.
Plastic Revolutions keeps certain materials packaged in gaylords that are available on a continuous basis, including polyethylene terephthalate (PET) regrind and strapping, polypropylene (PP) regrind, postindustrial HDPE and low-density polyethylene (LDPE) regrind and polystyrene (PS) regrind. Baled LDPE film and PP bale wrap also are kept in stock. However, because of the nature of the recycling industry, the types of materials the company handles change almost daily.
Because Plastic Revolutions seeks to purchase feedstocks as cheaply as possible, it deals with heavy contamination.
Company officials decided Plastic Revolutions needed a sorting system. Because the company started as a designer and builder of plastics recycling processing equipment, it returned to its roots, largely creating its own sorting line.
In starting the line, the company purchased a baler from Recycling Equipment Inc. (REI), Newton, North Carolina. The machine, a two-ram baler, model N520-50, made by American Baler, Bellevue, Ohio, was the clear choice because it could handle the desired weight and automatically tie the bales, according to REI, which is a dealer for American Baler.
“We wanted to sort out what we wanted to use and bale up the other [material],” says Ed Handy, vice president and general manager of Plastic Revolutions. “Some of the stuff we didn’t want was high enough volume and a marketable commodity, so we wanted to bale that and resell it.”
Company officials knew what they needed in terms of conveying and sorting, but they weren’t seeing it on the market. “We wanted something a little sturdier, a little bigger than the off-the-shelf stuff,” Handy says. “And we just wanted to cut costs by building it ourselves.”
Plastic Revolutions set up a 20- station sorting line, basically composed of conveyors and six people. Material to be recycled is directed to one of 16 of the sorting chutes on the line. The other four are designated for waste.
The new recycling line is sorting bales of Nos. 1 through 7 plastics, as well as bales of mixed rigid plastics. PET and HDPE are the initial focus.
The company built its own bale breaker because some of the feedstock it receives is baled. The breaker opens the bales before they are conveyed to the sorting line.
As the conveyor moves, workers either pull an item off to go to the baler or leave it on the line to come off at the end. Another conveyor runs under the chutes, which takes the selected items to the baler.
“It’s pretty simple, low-tech stuff,” Handy says.
As previously noted, the exception to the company’s self-reliant approach was the baler, which has a main ram that packs the material and an eject ram that pushes the bale out.
The bale weights have averaged 1,100 to 1,200 pounds, which is what the machine is specified for, says Chris Wyatt, chief operating officer of REI.
“This machine was doing 1,200 pounds right off the bat,” he says.
Plastic Revolutions also bought an automatic wire-tie system manufactured by Accent Wire-Tie, Tomball, Texas, for the baler, which Wyatt says works well on PET.
But even with the baler, Plastic Revolutions applied some self-reliance. Its workers unloaded the machine and set it up themselves.
“It’s very rare that you ship a machine that costs that much and is that large that a customer will do it themselves,” Wyatt says.
Plastic Revolutions began operations with the new upgrade in March. It’s gone as hoped, Handy says, and the company has continued to add labor.
Prior to adding the sorting line, the company processed 54 million pounds of recycled plastics annually. The expansion will increase production by 10 million pounds in the first year, he says.
This level of plastics recycling capacity is in short supply in the U.S., Handy says, which has been exacerbated by China’s restrictions on recycled plastics imports.
“We have not completely settled on a primary material to process,” he says. But the new sorting line is keeping the firm busy: It is running two shifts and soon will add a third.
The system gives the company options. “It’s versatile [in that] we can sort a lot of different-type stuff,” he says. “Where people have aluminum cans contaminated with plastic, we can sort out the aluminum and bale it and recover the plastic.”
Handy continues, “You have to be versatile, have to be able to change what you’re doing, because recycling’s a moving target.”
Even doing so much itself, Plastic Revolutions invested about $600,000 in the project. But Handy says the effort is probably going to save the company $100,000 monthly in feedstock costs.
Handy says adding more equipment, such as for automated sortation, could be in the company’s future.