Located 200 miles apart, two plastics recycling operations taking shape in California could be a harbinger of things to come.
Seizing on what they see as an emerging opportunity, two companies - both of them with ties to the Far East - are venturing into areas of recycling that others have rejected as unprofitable, and opening up operations in a region where there is an abundant supply of plastic agricultural waste.
Eno Plastics LLC is scheduled to begin recycling agricultural film in October at a $1.6 million recycling plant in Camarillo, Calif., about 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles, with projected capacity of 30 million pounds.
Viscotec Inc. began collecting agricultural plastic waste near Visalia, Calif., this month in a five-month pilot project that it expects to blossom into a full-scale recycling operation by the beginning of next year, with annual capacity of 15 million to 60 million pounds.
Both companies said they will recycle more than just the agricultural film that initially whetted their appetites because of rising prices for recycled plastics and state mandates to divert plastics from landfills and streams.
Eno's operation - which is beginning about six months later than originally scheduled because of delays in machinery deliveries - claims to be the first washing line on the West Coast for agricultural plastics. It will have a capacity of 30 million pounds annually when both of its lines are operational.
The company was started in the Midwest four years ago by President Zack Xu, a plastics broker whose family owns a small blow molding plant in China's Guangdong province.
Eno General Manager Stan Kezar said the Camarillo plant will be 48,000 square feet - 40 percent larger than originally planned - and will recycle agricultural film, rigid plastics and other agricultural waste. ``We have size-reduction equipment, wash-line equipment and extrusion equipment,'' said Kezar. ``We will shred and grind, wash and dry and turn recycled plastics into pellets.
``Ag film seemed liked the place to go initially because there is plenty of it and no one is doing it,'' said Kezar in an Aug. 24 phone interview. ``But it is a better business decision to be a multiresin recycler. We want to take on other materials that are being collected and exported.''
He said the first recycling line - with a capacity of 15 million pounds a year - will start trial runs by the end of October and be operating at full capacity by Thanksgiving.
``We are not going to fool around,'' said Kezar, a 35-year year veteran of plastics recycling who joined the company in July from Talco Plastics Inc. in Long Beach, Calif.
``We will start with one long shift, but we are going to go to three shifts as fast as we physically can.'' Kezar said the plant will start with eight employees and employ 28 when fully operational.
Eno tentatively plans to use the second line to recycle injection-grade materials and rigid plastics
``We would like to get some direction from the state on where it would like to see us move and what else out there it would like to see us target and focus our recycling efforts on.''
Kezar said Eno also plans to collect, regrind and pelletize irrigation drip tubes made of linear low density polyethylene, as there is a good secondary market for that material, with prices around 55 cents.
Eno has contracted with Gal-Gue LLC, an Oxnard, Calif., company that has a contract to haul 60 percent of the waste in Ventura County, where the plant is located. Eno is also in discussions with other haulers to carry waste from farms to its site.
Similarly, Viscotec is using a 5-acre site at an airfield north of Visalia to collect agricultural film and other plastic waste that farmers otherwise send to landfills. ``We will target agricultural film, but not as a primary source,'' said Andreas Tornblom, project manager for the Tulare County project and chief financial officer of Yours Sunflower, the trade, project management and sales subsidiary of Chuang Tieh Plastic Machine Manufacturer Co. Ltd. in Tainan, Taiwan.
``If we had wanted to [target agricultural film], we would have located closer to the coast. We are concentrating on ... drip-tape film, twine, buckets and barrels, but we are also investigating other ag options,'' said Tornblom.
``Our machinery allows us to process most common plastics, so we will constantly be looking into other sources of materials to expand our business.''
Chuang Tieh has opened five recycling plants in India and Malaysia with combined annual capacity of 110 million pounds since 2004, when it decided to make recycling its primary business. The firm's Viscotec unit developed a patented, third-generation piece of equipment that removes the drying step from recycling operations.
``We can feed wet material into the extruder,'' said Tornblom. ``This makes it possible for us to remove the drying step and reduce energy consumption by 50 percent,'' which he said gives the firm a pricing advantage in the marketplace.
Tornblom said Viscotec will gauge the levels and quantities of plastics waste collected at the airfield to determine what combination of forklifts, front loaders, shredders and bailing equipment it needs for a permanent facility.
``If everything runs according to schedule, we will be operational in the beginning of next year,'' with two lines in the Tulare-Visalia area, each with 15 million pounds of annual capacity. A third line could be added in less than two months. He said the first choice for a permanent plant would be the airfield location. He called it ideal ``because of its strength in the agricultural industry.''
Like Tornblom, Eno's Kezar sees a solid future ahead. ``The only limitation for this industry is how competitive we are vs. virgin materials,'' he said. ``With prices where they are now, the future is unlimited.''