A new foundation for PCR PP

Wearwell’s Foundation modular platform systems line uses 100-percent-postconsumer-recycled polypropylene.

Sustainability was not top of mind for companies in the 1950s, but recycling was the main reason Wearwell, originally known as Tennessee Mat, began producing industrial mats in 1950.

The Smyrna, Tennessee-based company launched when its founders, Max Greenberg and Charley Gross, saw an opportunity to convert scrap tires into industrial mats.

“They would take old tires, cut them down and put them together with wires and make mats you used to see at businesses,” says Phil Huss, product and engineering manager at Wearwell. “We were taking this material that nobody else wanted and making a product out of it. At the time, it wasn’t about sustainability. It was more that there was this waste and we wanted to turn it into something valuable.”

For the last 30 years, Wearwell has focused on developing safety products and ergonomic floor-related products for industrial workers. Huss says sustainability is a bigger consideration with product design today as the company has sought opportunities to include plastic scrap in its products this past decade.

“Our majority owner [Elliot Greenberg] is environmentally minded, and so am I,” he says. “We try to push for that kind of thought to be put into products when we’re developing them so that we do the best we can. We’ve come to the conclusion that in order to fix the plastic [waste] problem, we have to make sure there’s demand for recycled plastic. If there’s not, it doesn’t matter how much people put in their recycling bins if it’s not turned into anything. We have to create that demand so that there’s a value for it so people will do something with it.”

Wearwell created new demand for plastic scrap about a year and a half ago when it developed its Foundation modular platform system. The line incorporates 100-percent-postconsumer-recycled (PCR) polypropylene (PP).

Huss adds that this is the first time the company has used 100-percent PCR in a product.

“We had bought some postconsumer material in the past, but it was spotty,” he says. “For this product, I knew there were sources of PCR polypropylene out there that are good and controlled.”

Product development

Before Wearwell even developed the idea for its Foundation product line, Huss says the company considered ways it could use PCR. The company realized it could secure PCR PP from Troy, Alabama-based KW Plastics.

KW Plastics is not too far from us, so we reached out to them early in the process and talked through the different product lines they had available,” Huss says. “They recycle many tons of PCR PP, and they have been a good partner with us.”

From there, the company developed Foundation modular platforms, which are made from PCR PP, as well as from aluminum. The modular platforms raise industrial workers to the height they need to be at to perform their jobs, and Huss adds that the platforms also help to improve worker safety.

“It raises people above hazards, such as pipes or wires running through a working area,” Huss says.

He adds that the company often customizes the Foundation platforms for each application, offering modularity to flooring solutions. Huss says standard parts enable customers to assemble platforms with no tools required in 18-inch increments, which allows for a variety of configurations. Or, he adds, if a company needs to move the platform, it can easily be reconfigured.

Incorporating PCR PP into the platform’s design was not too challenging. Huss says the company uses one additive with the PCR PP for the Foundation modular platforms to prevent sinks from forming in the tiles. “That’s the only thing we had to do as far as material adjustments,” he says.

Using 100-percent-PCR PP also is “simpler” than mixing the materials used for the platform, Huss adds. “Our feedstock of raw material has never given us reason to look at doing anything other than 100-percent-PCR PP.”

The company is seeking to incorporate PCR in more Wearwell products. “We are looking at introducing PCR to our cable protection line,” Huss says.

Since its debut, Foundation products have been used to help workers in machine centers, injection molding operations as well as a company in the aviation industry. Huss adds that Foundation platforms can be used in many more industrial applications.

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