SAN JOSE, CALIF. - You could say Jerry A. Cook was forced into the compact disc recycling business. Cook, who has been in the plastics industry since 1966, and a partner had a small business recycling sprues and runners from CD manufacturers. They called the Gulfport, Miss., business, formed in 1987, Gulf Coast Recycling Services Inc.
``They began forcing us to take the metalized scrap too,'' said Cook, who didn't know how they were going to reclaim the polycarbonate from that.
Cook's partner wanted him to work on finding a way to demetalize the scrap CDs. So Cook, who worked for a major chemical company at the time, took some of the scrap home and began working with it at the kitchen sink, ``which was our lab at the time,'' he said.
Cook quickly discovered a method that would remove the metal from CDs. In 1989, they began working on an automatic system to handle large quantities. Developing the system was not easy or cheap. It took two years with three people working full time to get what they needed to do bulk demetalizing.
``We changed the system five times before we got it down,'' Cook said, adding that he doesn't know why he kept at the project.``I just kind of got caught up in it,'' he said. ``I had so much money tied up in it, I couldn't quit.''
In November 1993, Cook moved the company to Evansville, Ind., to be near some major CD manufacturers and to get better water for the demetalizing system. In Mississippi, the water came from runoff from the red clay banks of the area, Cook explained, which turned the polycarbonate brown after it was demetalized.
``That problem completely disappeared when we got to Evansville,'' Cook said.
Cook said there are others in the CD recycling business trying to develop ways to demetalize the parts, including scraping off the metal by hand, but ``you have to do it in quantity-there's no way to do it by hand and make any money at it.''
Today, Gulf Coast Recycling takes in a variety of materials including PC, ABS and polystyrene, that have been painted or coated. The coating is removed using several solutions in a 100-foot-long tank system.
Gulf Coast Recycling employs nine people on its production line. The company can recycle as much as 2,000 pounds of material per hour, and the company is preparing to install a new, upgraded system it developed.
``It'll keep you broke,'' Cook said of the recycling business.
The clean regrind is sold to major resin producers and compounders for use in making new materials. Lately, Cook said, prices for the material have started to ``soften'' to about 90 cents per pound.
Still, Cook said he believes the CD recycling business is a good one to be in because it difficult to master: ``Everyone wants to do the easy stuff.''