Ventura County, Calif., is courting a firm that wants to recycle plastic sheet used in the fumigation and cultivation of vast strawberry fields in the area. The effort is only one of many the county is encouraging to boost all forms of recycling and to create markets for plastics recycling in particular in this Southern California region.
``We have just formed what we call our plastic cluster,'' said David Goldstein, coordinator of the Ventura County Recycling Market Development Zone, ``It is an opportunity for the plastics companies in the area to get together and talk. We found that only a few of them are using recycled material now, but they are interested.''
Goldstein said the ``cluster'' approach has worked well in providing forums for companies interested in locating in the county, and for supporting growth in existing companies. The recycling market development zone can offer companies incentives such as low-interest loans, and help with construction costs for companies willing to recycle, or to use recycled materials.
One of the most promising prospects is the American Hualong Investment and Development Co., the U.S. sales wing of a Chinese company that recycles low density polyethylene agricultural sheet. Hualong set up shop recently in the County's Thousand Oaks environmental business cluster, an industrial park dedicated to companies involved with the environment in one way or another.
``We were contacted by a number of the farmers around here,'' Goldstein said. ``They were interested in getting rid of the sheet they use at a lower cost than they are paying now. Ordinarily that material would go to the landfill, but ... it gets caught in machinery and does not landfill well.''
Growers in the area use miles of sheet to cover the ground around plants. Insecticides are injected underneath. The sheets also help retain water and hold down weeds. One grower told Goldstein he spends about $64,000 per year for sheet for his 87 acres of strawberries, and that if a cheaper form of the plastic could be found, it would help him.
``It seemed to us that recycling the sheets would be the ideal answer,'' Goldstein said. ``It fits in with the purpose of our market development zone, and it reduces the cost to the farmers.''
After several companies proposed developments, Goldstein was contacted by Hualong. The company operates sheet recycling plants in China, and was interested in gathering the Ventura County material, cleaning and grinding it, and shipping it to China, where it would be made into new sheet.
``They already have markets for it, and we think they would be able to return the recycled content sheet to this country,'' Goldstein said. ``We expect the facility they set up to be able to handle 8 million pounds of sheet per year from two harvests.''
He said if Hualong is suitable financially, and fits the criteria of the development zone, that the facility could be in operation this year.