Seven years ago, second-generation owner Ron Greitzer was searching for a way to keep the family recycling business thriving. The textile cut-and-sew companies that long had supplied Los Angeles Fiber Co. with cloth for recycling had moved their operations to Mexico.
He still remembers walking through the plant in Vernon, Calif., admonishing a worker for tossing a carpet into the recycling machine.
```You can't do that!' I screamed,'' Greitzer said. But when the worker laughed and said he'd been doing that for 15 years, Greitzer realized the company had found the new feedstock it needed.
``We had to retool all our machines, but we knew we had a plentiful feedstock, because there are 5 billion pounds of it going into landfills each year.''
Today, the company diverts 100 million pounds of carpet each year from landfills - enough, Greitzer said, to fill the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., three times. Los Angeles Fiber was one of two winners in plastics recycling and one of nine environmental award winners Global Plastics Environmental Conference, held March 5-7 in Orlando. The conference is organized by the Society of Plastics Engineers Plastics environmental division.
``We strive to make a difference every day,'' said Greitzer, who is president of the firm he and his father founded in 1983. ``To be recognized internationally means a great deal to us.''
Today, the firm ships recycled nylon 6, nylon 6/6 and polypropylene to markets in 11 countries and operates a company that makes a synthetic nonwoven underlay pad from 100 percent recycled carpet.
``But when we started, we were pioneers in a brand-new area,'' Greitzer said. ``The second-largest company was nowhere in sight.''
Advanced Environmental Recycling Technology Inc., the other winner in the plastics recycling category, pioneered the composite building materials market in 1992 when it began blending recycled polyethylene with wood fibers to create composite lumber used in decks, trim and fencing, and as door and window components.
The award ``recognizes AERT's ongoing efforts to upgrade its recycling technologies and use more plastic waste-stream products in our manufacturing process,'' said Joe Brooks, founder and chairman of the Springdale, Ark., company, with roughly $100 million in sales.
In 2006, AERT's two extrusion plants in Junction, Texas, and Springdale recycled more than 125 million pounds of plastics and a similar amount of wood waste.
``We build all the major process equipment for our extrusion facilities ourselves and have created large lines that help our productivity and efficiency,'' said Al Drinkwater, senior vice president of administration. ``We have from the very beginning recycled our own waste material, and recycle 98 percent of our waste. Our commitment to our environmental impact extends to both our sourcing and dedication to green buildings.''
AERT showed that commitment when it delayed making a customer's window component for three years until AERT could develop a water-based paint coating to adhere to it. ``Joe Brooks didn't want us to do all this recycling and then put in a paint system that would spew paint all over,'' Drinkwater said.
Fittingly, with all the interest in bio-based resins, five of the other seven awards went to bio-based projects. The winners are:
* Cargill Inc.'s bio-based BiOH polyol resins made from vegetable oils can replace resins made with hazardous intermediate chemicals. ``In 2005, we were doing drum quantities,'' said Diza Braksmayer, market development manager for Cargill Industrial Bio-Products in Wayzata, Minn. ``Now we are selling rail cars of resins in the tens of millions of pounds and building a plant that will be operational in 2009.''
BiOH can be used in urethane applications such as rigid foam, coatings, adhesives, sealants and elastomers. It currently is used by several manufacturers of upholstered furniture and bedding. Cargill claims production of bio-based polyols uses 61 percent less nonrenewable energy and emits 36 percent less carbon dioxide than the manufacture of petroleum-based polyols. In addition, the use of bio-based polyols provides better performance for less cost than premium-priced polyols typically used in automotive seating applications, Braksmayer said.
* Cereplast Inc., for the proprietary, starch-based, renewable resin it began selling in 2006.
``There is a business advantage in being more green and more sustainable,'' said Frederic Scheer, chief executive officer of the Hawthorne, Calif.-based company. Scheer said he is pleased with the company's results in the first few months of the year and expects ``an outstanding 2007.'' Five ``highly recognizable names'' plan to purchase the company's bio-based resin in the next few months, he added.
``We have a resin that is easy to process without any additional investment. Ten years ago, we were preaching to people. Now we are starting to become mainstream, as many converters are clearly looking at biodegradable resins,'' Scheer said.
* GE Plastics in Pittsfield, Mass., for its new Valox iQ and Xenoy iQ resins made from recycled PET bottles. The resins can be used to make connectors, lighting bezels, energy absorbers and body panels for cars and trucks. If all polybutylene terephthalate resins were made with iQ technology, the company claims, annual petroleum consumption would be cut by 5.2 million barrels and the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions would be the equivalent of a 260-square-mile forest of trees converting CO2 to oxygen.
``Green is green. You can make money with green technology,'' GE Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt said.
* Advanced Image Resources LLC of Alpharetta, Ga., and Battelle Memorial Institute of Columbus, Ohio, for developing a resin from soybeans that the copier and printer markets can use in toner. The company said the resin doesn't have an odor problem or compromise performance. The process eliminates the need to use polypropylene oxide.
* Carpet Care Recovery Effort of Dalton, Ga., was honored for its role in creating a new industry centered on the recovery, reuse and recycling of carpet. Since its inception in 2002, the firm has kept more than 486 million pounds of old carpeting out of landfills and, according to SPE, is ``well on its way'' to achieving its goal of diverting 40 percent of all consumer carpets from landfills by 2012.
* InterfaceFabric in Grand Rapids, Mich., for teaming with others to close the loop on a compost project for its polylactide-based Terratex fabric. By introducing fabric scraps to a composting process, the company said it was able to create the proper environment for the polymer to degrade completely. The key was in keeping the compost clear of any toxic chemicals during the yarn-handling stage. InterfaceFabric is a unit of Interface Inc., also of Grand Rapids.
* The USCAR Vehicle Recycling Partnership, Argonne National Laboratory and the plastics division of the American Chemistry Council for developing a pilot plant at Argonne to foster new processes for recycling plastics and other materials in vehicles. Already, polyolefins recovered from shredder residue have been tested in mold trials for use as battery trays, knee bolsters and steering column covers.