When Mountain Valley Recycling Inc. launches its automated plastic hanger recycling system in June, it will turn nearly 20 million pounds of hangers a year back into resins at its Morristown, Tenn., plant.
The factory, just 50 miles northeast of Knoxville, will convert U.S. retailers' hangers into usable resin for new products.
The automated hanger recycling line is just the first phase of a multimillion-dollar expansion. Officials plan to enlarge the plant's floor space to 135,000 square feet, including the addition of a film recovery line and a second plastics hanger recycling line. The company hopes to have the second line operational by next February, said Daniel Schrager, president and founder of Sun Valley Worldwide Inc., the Delray Beach, Fla.-based company that operates Mountain Valley and NextLife Recycling Inc., a unit that develops products made from recycled resins.
Mountain Valley will use a proprietary system with more than 50 different components that was developed internally during the last year to grind and shred the hangers and remove any paper, fabric, foam, rubber, tissue, stickers and adhesives, Schrager said.
The system separates the polypropylene and polystyrene resins. Both materials will be sorted by color and used in manufacturing the company's Movius Sustainable Resins.
Mountain Valley also is planning to open a $10 million plant, in Arizona or Utah, sometime in 2008 that would be similar in size to the Morristown complex. And the firm is working with a major plastics hanger manufacturer on an international joint venture to do hanger recycling in Europe, Schrager said. That market has enormous growth potential, he said, with an estimated 30 billion plastic hangers used globally.
He said the company's plans to open a plant in Canada have been shelved, but Mountain Valley will likely move into that market at some point through a strategic partnership. ``We have stayed focused on the Tennessee operations. That lets us control the technology and manage the infrastructure better,'' he said.
What is most important to Schrager, those expansions and planned expansions notwithstanding, is not how the company is growing, but how it is creating closed-loop recycling and developing products made from recycled resins.
``I am an environmentalist,'' the 20-year veteran of the recycling business said. ``I don't want this stuff getting into landfills or oceans. Making an environmental impact to help waste generators close the loop is as important to us as growing the company. My focus is to continually increase the amount of plastics we recycle'' - currently more than 150 million pounds - ``so that we can make more environmentally sustainable products and develop more and more markets and create more and more value.
``That is not just a catch phrase. Our philosophy and our approach to business is to turn disposable packaging materials into long-lasting durable products. We want to take the supply-and-demand equation out of recycling by developing products from plastics waste that can be sold at the places where the scrap is collected.''
At the recent Waste Expo in Atlanta, Sun Valley's NextLife introduced a 9-foot-long wheeled container made from injection molded and structurally foamed 100 percent recycled PP resins.
Late last year, NextLife added EcoStep paving stones for landscaping that are made from polyethylene grocery bags to a product line that includes grocery shopping carts, pallets and trash cans.
Except for EcoStep, NextLife engineers and develops the products, but a third party manufactures them, according to Schrager.
The EcoStep paving stones weigh 5 pounds compared with 35-pound concrete steps, and seven times as many of the EcoStep stones - 8,640 - can be transported in one truckload.
Schrager said his long-term goal is to recycle 500 million pounds of film, grocery bags, hangers and other plastics - more than three times the company's current volume.
``We are working with major shopping mall owners in the U.S. to recycle all their film, plastic stretch wrap, shrink wrap and hangers,'' Schrager said. ``If the retailer provides both the supply and the demand, the programs become long-term and sustainable.''
He said that the plastic grocery bag bans implemented and being proposed in California could be positive for the industry.
``There is a lot of pressure right now that is driving retailers to take the lead and set up recycling programs,'' he said. ``If it drives recycling and recycling programs, that is positive for the recycling industry.''