Giants in Plastic

The largest recyclers of post-industrial and post-commercial plastic in North America handle considerable material.

July 21, 2011
DeAnne Toto

Since Recycling Today last published its list of plastics recyclers in August of 2008, much has changed. Perhaps the most notable event was the market collapse seen in late 2008 and the recession that accompanied it.

Some plastics recyclers with export orders in transit were hit especially hard by the collapse, as this material rapidly declined in value en route. In some cases, recyclers had to take less than the previously agreed upon price for their plastics in addition to paying demurrage and detention costs on the containers as they stood at the port, waiting for the recycler and the consumer to reach an agreement on the new price.

Largest Post-Industrial Plastics Recyclers
Click Here to view the Largest Post-Industrial Plastics Recyclers.

Exporters saw a sizable increase in demand and a healthy increase in pricing from February 2009 to the middle of May 2009, when prices in overseas markets began declining by nearly 20 percent.

Following the market collapse, Chinese consumers also lost their taste for lower-grade plastics that needed to be hand sorted upon arrival. Today, buyers for Chinese consumers continue to avoid this material, according to sources.

Rising oil prices have helped prime and recycled resins to gain in pricing since the market downturn, as have material shortages. According to Neil Gloger, CEO of InterGroup International, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) scrap has benefitted this year from shortages of chloride and ethylene in the prime markets.

Additionally, a shortage of butadiene has helped to create demand for secondary ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene). Butadiene, which also is used in tire manufacturing, is largely derived from a co-product of ethylene production. North America is a net importer of butadiene, and surpluses of butadiene in Europe and Asia are expected to decrease dramatically in the near future, according to published reports.

According to an analysis issued in late 2009 by Chemical Market Associates (CMA), with U.S. offices in Houston and Valhalla, N.Y., butadiene costs are forecast to increase to levels last seen in 2007, which were thought to be quite high. The CMA analysis is for the years 2004 through 2014.

“Over the forecast period, the C4 olefins and derivative markets are expected to experience a continuation of the pronounced market changes that have characterized much of the past five years,” CMA states in a press release announcing the availability of its 2010 World Butadiene Analysis. “The availability of crude C4 feedstock will remain the limiting factor for North American butadiene production and will become a limiting factor in Asia.”

A reprocessor based in the Great Lakes region told Recycling Today in August of 2010 that recycled ABS was experiencing increased demand in light of “the force majeure status from two of the four virgin producers.” He continued, “There will be an increased demand for certain types of acetyl, as one of the virgin producers has announced that they will stop producing this grade at year end.”

The ups and downs of secondary plastics markets have led to some consolidation among plastics recyclers on this year’s list of the Largest Post-Industrial Plastics Recyclers and to the expansion of others.

Nicos Polymers, of Nazareth, Pa., ranked second on our list in 2008. In the time since, the company has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and is in the process of being acquired by Coll Materials, Zanesville, Ohio, a newcomer to this year’s list at No. 9.

Nicos Polymers emerged from bankruptcy protection in December 2010, completing its restructuring in less than two months. Under the agreement reached, Nicos sold its assets to a new company formed by its main creditor, Fifth Street Finance Corp. and Fifth Street Mezzanine Partners II L.P.

Did We Miss You?
Challenges accompany each of the lists that Recycling Today publishes, but the list of plastics recyclers is among the most challenging.

While the distinction among paper and metals recyclers and consumers of those recycled materials can be clear, the line is somewhat blurry when it comes to plastics. We’ve tried to compile a list that reflects the largest recyclers of post-consumer and post-industrial plastics. We’ve defined “recycling” as physically processing via shredding, grinding or baling for shipment to manufacturers, molders or other end users.

We reached out to recyclers via phone, fax and e-mail with varying results. To the recyclers who took the time to respond to us, we thank you for your candor. For those we were unable to obtain a figure from, we’ve provided an estimate based on our research and conversations with industry sources. In the future, we hope that you’ll respond to our information requests.

To representatives from companies we may have overlooked, we apologize. Please contact Recycling Today Managing Editor DeAnne Toto at or at 330-523-5340 with your company’s information, so that we can inform our readers.

In February of this year, Coll Materials (profiled in the June 2011 issue of Recycling Today) announced that its president and CEO Brian Coll took over as CEO of Nicos Polymers as Coll’s acquisition of Nicos neared completion.

Nicos’ operation targets the recycling of post-industrial plastics. The company has 180,000 square feet of manufacturing space and recycled nearly 72 million pounds of plastics in 2010.

Coll Materials recycles both post-industrial and post-consumer plastics. The company, which opened in 2008, operates a 150,000-square-foot facility in Zanesville as well as a new plant of similar size in Waco, Texas, in which it has invested $5.5 million. 

Brian Coll told Recycling Today earlier this year that he expects a good deal of feedstock for the Waco plant to come from automobile manufacturers in Mexico with which the company has existing relationships.

“Recycling is a regional business,” Coll said. “This allows us to provide recyclers with a steady flow of materials west of the Mississippi and save our customers freight costs they would have to incur to ship their feedstock to the Zanesville plant. It also expands the buying region for Coll to west of the Mississippi.”

Coll Materials is not the only recycler on the list that is expanding its footprint. Another newcomer, tying for 20th place on the 2011 list, is InterGroup International, based in Euclid, Ohio. (InterGroup is profiled in the November 2010 issue of Recycling Today.)

In addition to its Euclid headquarters and processing facility, the company also has a processing facility in Warren, Ohio, as well as toll processing arrangements in Indiana; western Michigan; eastern Pennsylvania; greater Atlanta; greater Dallas; Savannah, Ga.; and Toronto.

Gloger told Recycling Today in the November 2010 issue that the recession was as much a source of opportunity for InterGroup as it was a trial. “We were able to take advantage of some weakness on the part of our competitors because of the recession and have been able to gain market share in flexible packaging and building and construction,” Gloger said.

The company buys material from generators in the flexible packaging, building and construction and housewares industries as well as from the personal hygiene industry. It sells its recycled plastics primarily to the building and construction, lawn and garden and industrial packaging sectors.

InterGroup International ranked 239th on the Inc. 500 in 2010, reporting 2009 revenue of $3.2 million and a three-year growth rate of 1,285 percent.

Despite the tumult that has passed since our last plastics recycling list, many of the companies that rank on the 2011 list prove that opportunities are available even in the most trying of times.

The author is managing editor of Recycling Today. Editorial Director and Associate Publisher Brian Taylor also helped with research for the list.