WASHINGTON (May 30, 4 p.m. EDT) — With machinery spread out over nearly 1 million square feet in three exhibition halls at McCormick Place, recycling the roughly 400,000 to 500,000 pounds of plastic scrap generated at NPE 2006 is not your basic curbside pickup or single-stream recycling program.
Preparations began six to eight months before the show to make sure all exhibitors understand they need to recycle — not landfill — scrap, and that they communicate to the show's recycling team how much and what type of scrap they will be generating.
“We have to make sure that they understand that recycling is not an option. It is mandatory,” said Walt Bishop, vice president of trade shows for the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. in Washington. “They can do the recycling themselves, but they have to have a plan in place” that SPI, the show's organizer, approves.
“We generate a lot of materials on the show floor. We need to be responsible product stewards and not just promulgate the use of plastics without regard to its environmental impact,” he said.
Coordinating the recycling operations for the third straight show is Eco Educators Inc., a Columbus, Ohio, environmental training firm, and scrap processor Maine Plastics Inc. (Booths 4130, 4445) of Zion, Ill.
“We ask them: Are you bringing equipment, are you running that equipment, what are you making, what kind of resins are you using and how much scrap will you have?” said Susie Harpham, president of Eco Educators, which has been involved in recycling at NPE since 1991.
From that, Harpham and Maine Plastics estimate how many containers or totes, gaylord boxes or 90-gallon recycling bags will be needed at each booth and how many trucks and trailers will be needed to transport the scrap from the show. The two partners also work together to make sure the materials are properly labeled and efficiently moved to loading docks where they can be sorted, transported off-site and recycled.
Harpham and her staff walk the hall starting the Thursday before the show opens to make sure everything is in order and to bring into the program exhibitors who have yet to make provisions for recycling their scrap.
“We show them the bags and containers and explain to them what they need to do to get them moved from the floor to the loading docks,” she said. “The biggest challenge is making sure everyone in the booth knows what to do with the scrap.” But she adds that if Maine Plastics “didn't get it out of the way, on to the trucks and processed, none of this would work.”
Containers and bags are used at most booths instead of gaylords, as the latter are too big to be efficient at a booth, unless they are needed either for tiny parts or heavy parts.
A new wrinkle this year is that exhibitors also will get orange stickers to distinguish recyclables from other scrap. The sticker also identifies the type of plastic resin and booth number to prevent identification problems.
“Everything with an orange label is something that must be recycled,” she said. “There is one on every container or bag that is moved off the show floor.”
She expects roughly 75 exhibitors, mostly injection molding machinery suppliers, to participate in the recycling program again, with as much as 500,000 pounds collected and recycled, compared with 335,000 in 2003 and 378,840 in 2000. From an early assessment, 60 percent of the recycled material will be polypropylene and another 13 percent high density polyethylene, she said.
“We have come up from recycling 50 percent of the scrap at the show in 2000 to 70-75 percent three years ago and we will probably hit 80-85 percent this year,” said Robert Render, president of Maine Plastics, who expects to haul away 40-45 truckloads of materials.
Unlike its first year as the recycler for NPE, Maine is now in position also to pick up pre-show scrap generated during setup.
Render has five monitors who walk the show floor to coordinate the movement of scrap to the dock and to make sure exhibitors have the containers or bags they need. He also places workers at each dock to sort the plastics by type into gaylord boxes that can be loaded onto trucks and to ensure that scrap doesn't mistakenly head to landfills. He also positions trailers at strategic spots within five minutes of McCormick Place so the scrap can be hauled to those holding yards where it sits until it is hauled at night to the company's new recycling plant in Zion, Ill., which began operations in late May.
The 221,000-square-foot plant increases the company's annual plastic recycling capacity from 70 million to 100,000 million pounds. It has eight grinders — two of them new — and a shredder it did not have at its plant in North Chicago, Ill.
“We can just throw purgings into a shredder now, rather than shear and grind them,” he said.
The new plant also gives Maine the potential to vault company's annual sales to roughly $40 million, which would place it among the 15 largest recyclers. The firm currently ranks No. 28 on the 2006 Plastics News list of plastic recyclers and brokers. Render said the North Chicago location is likely to be used as a warehouse for at least the next year.
Render and Harpham credit the active role of SPI in increasing awareness of the program among exhibitors and getting behind it early.
“We support the program in all our communications — both in marketing the show to exhibitors and to attendees — so everyone knows that we are fully committed to making the recycling work,” Bishop said. “The idea is to take the recycling element out of every exhibitor's worry pile and make it easy for them.”