The challenges of recycling agricultural film continue to thwart efforts to make it a viable business even in California, where roughly 40 million pounds of agricultural film is disposed annually.
If agricultural film recycling is going to be realistic economically, you are going to have to resolve the collection and cleaning issues, said Stan Kezar, a long-time plastics recycling veteran and the former general manager of Eno Plastics LLC in Camarillo, Calif., which shuttered its recycling operations earlier this year.
The company's more than three year effort to develop a viable business was plagued by large amounts of dirt, which often represented 40-50 percent of the weight of the material brought in for recycling, Kezar said in a phone interview.
The dirt played havoc with equipment, and kept output at half of the potential capacity, he said: We were changing knives on the equipment daily. The wear and tear on the equipment was incredible.
Kezar said Eno was doing well recycling drip tape. But he said the company's attempt at rapid growth, combined with the way the market cratered in September, strapped cash flow and forced the company to close in March, when it could not repay two loans totaling $1.66 million from the California Integrated Waste Management Board.
Eno had installed a second film recycling line, but never had both lines running at the same time, and never put in place a third film recycling line, or a line for high density polyethylene recycling that it received state financing to build.
If we had done some things differently, we might have succeeded, he said. But our attempt at very quick growth, coupled with the all-of-a-sudden poor market, meant we had no residual money to spend, Kezar said. I think if we had been able to continue, eventually we would have been successful.
Similarly, Viscotec-U.S. Inc. has been unable to get its operations off the ground, and has pushed back for the third time the opening of a planned agricultural film recycling plant in Tulare, Calif., originally scheduled for the beginning of 2007.
In September, just before the economy and plastics recycling markets crashed, Viscotec received a $980,000 loan from Sacramento, Calif.-based CIWMB to purchase equipment for two wash lines and one extruder to turn recycled film into pellets. That represents roughly half the cost of the lines.
The plant is shut down for modifications and repair on existing equipment and the installation of the new line, said Ron Olivares, director of operations. We expect to re-launch around the first part of December [when] we will do test runs with both lines. Then in January 2010, we will be set to do business.
When the plant is operational, the output will be 1,100 pounds per hour, said Pin Juo Chou, president and chairman of Viscotec, a subsidiary of Chuang Tieh Plastic Machine Manufacturer Co. Ltd. in Tainan, Taiwan.
We actually tested some materials, including drip tape and silage covers, around June 2008, but due to the dirt rate of the material and the sudden drop in plastic prices, we stopped production and concentrated on modification of equipment and getting more equipment that is targeted for the high dirt rate, Chou said. With the newer dirt removal equipment, we will be able to go back to the target production of 500 kilograms/hour.
John Hess, community development specialist for the Tulare County community development and redevelopment division, said the county currently is renting five acres of land to Viscotec for the storage of raw materials. He said Viscotec also rents a facility in the city of Tulare where the company hopes to operate its recycling operation.
Right now, most agricultural film in California is exported to Asia, except for a few companies recycling drip tape.
Getting cleaner film and a more consistent supply will be necessary to make agricultural film recycling a reality, Kezar said.
The biggest issue is consistent ongoing supply because it is only collected twice a year because of its seasonal nature, Kezar said.
Often, the rolls of agricultural film that farmers collect are too big, too heavy and too dirty to be baled by recycling centers or accepted by recyclers, he said.
In addition, as manufacturers make ground cover film thinner, it will cause problems for recyclers, Kezar said.
Making agricultural films thinner and thinner make them less desirable for recyclers. When it gets under 2 mills, it creates processing issues and you need to have more of it. The only ag films over 2 mills are greenhouse and drip tape.
Despite the difficulties in recycling agricultural film, Kezar is optimistic that entrepreneurs will resurface to turn it into a viable business.
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