By: Frank Antosiewicz

April 12, 1999

FRAMINGHAM, MASS. — Former portals to the information highway are being converted to filler for highway underlay and pothill filler by a Framingham recycling firm.

Students and dignitaries pounded old computer housings April 6 to illustrate how Conigliaro Industries Inc. is recycling 25,000 pounds of the stuff each day.

It was part of a demonstration put on by the American Plastics Council and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection to show that the company can recycle as many 13 million pounds of plastic housings from computers and electronic components a year.

``It was cool — my payback for computers,'' said Paula Zatko, 9, an East Longmeadow, Mass., home-school student who took a crushing swing at a computer housing with a sledgehammer.

She was one of more than 20 students participating in an outreach program run concurrently at the site by the National Plastics Center and Museum in Leominster, Mass.

The staged event also provided a look at how outdated products can be put to good use.

President Gregory A. Conigliaro estimates that a typical computer contains 18-20 pounds of mixed plastics. The idea is to turn it all into a cold patch, a pothole filler for parking lots and driveways.

``We are taking the stone aggregate and replacing it with plastic,'' said Anthony Conigliaro, vice president of operations and engineering and Gregory's father.

A 31/2-gallon can of the plastic patching substance weighs 25 pounds, about half the weight of the typical patching component. It hardens in about 24 hours when exposed to air. A variety of mixtures have been tried and tests are being run in Massachusetts and Florida, thanks to an $8,000 grant from the University of Massachusetts.

The first part of the process was funded with an APC grant of more than $100,000 worth of machinery, including a conveying system, a shredder and a low-speed, high-shear granulator. The company has retrofitted its original processing line to develop a high-volume processing line for the mixed plastics.

The grant from Washington-based APC has had a snowball effect. The state DEP added a $45,000 grant, and the Environmental Protection Agency kicked in $65,000 to study ways to collect and dispose of unwanted electronic equipment.

According to Stephen K. Long, recycling markets planner for the DEP's Bureau of Waste Prevention, the state grant came from a program designed to deal with difficult-to-recycle products.

``Conigliaro was one of 30 proposals, and 10 grants were awarded for a total of $400,000'' in all industries, Long said.

The prototype equipment is turning out buckets of the fill and the company plans to start its Cold Patch manufacturing operation in about a month.

Conigliaro Industries, which operates an 88,000-square-foot materials recovery facility, uses cleaned computer cabinets and other electronic product housings after the electronics and metals have been removed. The reground plastic is repelletized, and the pellets are added to the asphalt mix for highway underlay and to commercial pothole mixes.

``As we ramp up our production, we will ramp up our marketing,'' said Gregory Conigliaro, who expects to generate 15,000 buckets a month.

He sees home-improvement stores as a likely market. The company already provides its plastic mix to a contractor for use in asphalt products.

Conigliaro Industries started as a one-person recycling services firm in 1990. It now recycles 150 different plastic, metal, glass, rubber, wood, corrugated paper and textile materials.

A family-run business, the company has 35 employees. It serves 550 industrial, institutional and municipal customers.

Typically, it drops off a tractor-trailer at a site and invites the company to fill it with any recyclable material, from paper to plastic.

With the short lifespan of computers and electronic products, Conigliaro has found a niche. Beginning Sept. 1, Massachusetts is banning cathode ray tubes from landfills.

The company also expects a boost from rapid changes in television broadcast technology. Solid waste officials expect consumers to replace analog sets with digital and high-definition TVs.

``By the time HDTV comes in 2005, we expect to have 300,000 tons [of solid waste],'' said Robin F. Ingenthron, director of recycling programs for the Massachusetts DEP.