MRC, Spectrum help each other succeed

By Jim Johnson
Senior Staff Reporter

Published: October 10, 2013 11:48 am ET
Updated: October 16, 2013 5:31 am ET

Image By: Jim Johnson Cesar Campos, materials coordinator at MRC Polymers Inc., shows off polycarbonate that the company recycles. Some of that material comes from a recycling partnership MRC has with Spectrum Vocational Training Agency, which provides services for adults with developmental disabilities.

Related to this story

Topics Sustainability, Recycling, Workforce, Washing

CHICAGO — The folks at MRC Polymers Inc. need the folks at Spectrum Vocational Training Agency. And the folks at Spectrum need the folks at MRC.

And at the end of the workday, hard-to-recycle plastics get diverted from landfills.

MRC Polymers recycles a range of plastics, but there's one particular stream of material that holds a special place for the company.

That's because about 65 Spectrum clients with varying degrees of developmental disabilities get to earn a paycheck by tackling the challenge of separating polycarbonate DVDs from their polypropylene packaging.

It's a hands-on, labor-intensive task that if performed in a traditional work atmosphere wouldn't make financial sense.

"This is a job that they can be successful at. And it gives them the opportunity to earn a paycheck. And, of course, we all know how that is a feel-good thing, to actually see some sort of result from the work that you've been doing," said Nicole Fox, program manager for the developmental training work services program at Spectrum.

Spectrum is the adult day services division of non-profit Little Friends Inc. of Naperville, Ill., which serves people with autism and other developmental disabilities. Spectrum workers, at the facility in Downers Grove, Ill., are paid by the piece, allowing them to experience the pride of earning some extra money.

MRC, in turn, gains access to a stream of recyclables that would otherwise be difficult to capture.

The Chicago-based custom compounder has recycled previously separated polycarbonate discs for years. But the partnership with Spectrum allows the firm to take in complete DVD packages that don't make it to market.

"They are misprints, overages, mistakes in some way," said Jennifer Brown, marketing and business development analyst at MRC Polymers.

"They are able to prepare the materials to be recycled. They separate the paper inserts and they separate the discs from the cases because they are different types of plastic. So it's a pretty simple and enjoyable task," Brown said.

And once every two weeks, it gets really, really loud at Spectrum.

Payday.

"You can come here every other Friday and hear them screaming. They are very proud of the work that they are doing. They are proud of the money they are earning," Fox said.

Nobody has every complained to her about how much they make, whether it's $2 or $200 or more, she said.

"There still is that sense of pride that I worked and I am getting paid and it's a sense of ownership of what they've done. So it's very exciting around here every other Friday," Fox said.

Spectrum clients working with MRC have become so interested in recycling that some now bring in recyclables from their own homes as well. There's even a "green team" of clients that promote recycling throughout the building.

"It's something they are familiar with and it teaches them about recycling in general," Brown said.

MRC Polymers uses what the company calls a proprietary washing process to remove paints and coatings from the DVDs, which are then grinded and sold for reuse in a variety of products, including automobile parts.

Dave Lawson, MRC operations director, said a recent get-together with company personnel and Spectrum clients helped reinforce the importance of the partnership.

Lawson said he was the "sprinkle guy" at an ice cream social that was part of the partnership's fifth anniversary celebration. His job: putting sprinkles on the ice cream. And his visit: inspirational, he said.

"We're probably not making any money doing that. We're probably losing a little," he said about the work with Spectrum. "It reinforces that feeling that there's more to business than making money."

Working with Spectrum, the operations director said, transcends the profit-and-loss statement. "I don't care if it's good for business," he said.

"It makes us want to find more opportunities like that," Brown said.

Spending some time with the people at Spectrum also provided a much-needed perspective on life, Lawson added. "I think we need that every now and then."

Spectrum clients typically sort DVDs between two and three weeks each month as the operation also does work for other customers, Fox said. Clients work around a large table, separating the different materials into barrels. Staff double-checks the work to make sure there is no cross-contamination. A typical workday is about 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

"Just like a regular job for anybody else. We come in. We do our job. We take our lunch break. We come back. We do our job. And then we go home," Fox said.

"They are learning to differentiate between the pieces that come to us. They are learning what it is to recycle, what the plastic is going for, how it's going to be melted down. We kind of go over that with them every now and then just kind of as a refresher," she said.

"It's cool to see someone really love working and also get meaning and purpose out of it. And also get a paycheck. That's kind of an exciting thing for someone who wouldn't otherwise be able to work," Brown said.

"It kind of reminds you that work is just not work," Lawson said. "It should be fun. Otherwise, it's just a job. There has to be more to this stuff."


Comments

MRC, Spectrum help each other succeed

By Jim Johnson
Senior Staff Reporter

Published: October 10, 2013 11:48 am ET
Updated: October 16, 2013 5:31 am ET

Post Your Comments


Back to story


More stories

Image

Plastics industry blasted for stance in green building debate

July 22, 2014 2:45 pm ET

The plastics industry has taken high-profile stance in the debate over green building standards. The result, today at least, is that it's getting...    More

Image

Plastics help designers bring home the gold

July 22, 2014 2:15 pm ET

Products with polymer content received multiple gold recognitions in the 2014 International Design Excellence Awards.    More

Image

Evolving with the times helps Ohio's Midwest Elastomers prosper

July 22, 2014 12:53 pm ET

Midwest Elastomers Inc. is 35 years old this year, and if the company hadn't abandoned its roots and evolved, it long ago could have gone the way of...    More

Image

Beer maker Carlsberg enlists suppliers for 'upcycling' project

July 22, 2014 11:14 am ET

Carlsberg Breweries A/S in Denmark has started an ambitious project with its suppliers to optimize its packaging for the purpose of “upcycling....    More

San Antonio launching curbside recycling of plastic bags

July 21, 2014 3:06 pm ET

Curbside plastic bag recycling is coming to one of the largest cities in the country.    More

Market Reports

Injection Molders Market Report & Ranking 2014

This special package contains our 132-page 2014 Market Report on the Injection Molding segment and our exclusive 2014 RANKINGS database of 500+ Injection Molders for a discounted package price.

Learn more

Plastics Recycling Market Review & Outlook 2014

This special report from Plastics News examines the North American plastics recycling industry and provides insight into indicators that impact market viability, including Resin pricing trends for virgin and recycled market material and historical Resin production trends for post- consumer and industrial waste.

Learn more

Shale Gas Market - Analysis of North American Region

This report highlights the impact of shale-based natural gas on the North American plastics market and features an in-depth analysis of production trends in the United States during 2013 and a forecast for 2014 and beyond.

Learn more

Upcoming Plastics News Events

September 10, 2014 - September 12, 2014Plastics Caps & Closures 2014

February 4, 2015 - February 6, 2015Plastics News Executive Forum 2015

More Events