Denton Plastics Inc. is on the verge of becoming the first major plastics recycler in the Northwest — and the second major plastics recycler in the U.S. — to make an investment to add a wash line to process and recycle bulky injection-grade high density polyethylene.
“We are looking to put in a processing plant with grinding and washing equipment to handle bulky rigids,” Chairman Dennis Denton said in an interview at the company's Portland offices in mid-June. “The total investment, including the building, will be $4 million to $5 million.
“We have already been talking to equipment manufacturers and to folks in the state, city and country,” Denton said. “I figure we will probably start ordering the machinery toward the end of the year. I expect that we will be operating by the second quarter of 2013, and that we are a year to 18 months away from being in full operation.”
Denton said the plan is to build a 40,000-square-foot building adjacent to the company's 60,000-square-foot plastics recycling plant. He said the equipment for the new plant will cost between $1 million and $1.5 million.
The other major bulky rigid HDPE wash line in the United States is the new $5 million wash line at KW Plastics Recycling in Troy, Ala., which is expected to start operations sometime this month. That line, which will have the capacity to reprocess 10 million to 12 million pounds monthly, will recycle items such as carts, crates, buckets, baskets, toys and lawn furniture.
The Denton Plastics project continues the recent growth of the Portland company, which recycles both post-industrial plastic scrap — which is about 60 percent of its business — and post-consumer plastics.
The firm recycles between 40 million and 44 million pounds a year, up from 36 million pounds two years ago, according to Denton, who founded the firm in 1983.
The firm also added two six-inch extruders in December that have doubled its pellet-making capacity. “We don't run both 100 percent of the time, but we do when the need arises,” he said.
“When the economy slows down, we move forward to grow the business,” he said. “I'd like Denton to grow and increase in size and to be about 50 percent to 100 percent bigger than it is right now. We plan to do that organically, finance it ourselves and maintain a steady focus on growth.”
To feed the bulky rigid line, Denton said the firm has been in discussions with material recovery facilities and supermarkets.
“We have been talking to MRFs about making an extra sort” of buckets, for example, for about a year now, he said. “We've told them just put them on a pallet and we'll pick them up for you and pay you more than you are getting from the export market.
“It's a hard sell,” he said. “We tell that that we are going to recycle it domestically, keep people in the area working, and save them money. The jobs and the money are the two things we stress.
The company has been in touch with most MRFs in the area, he said, and is looking to partner with one to sort and recycle bulky rigid plastics.
Denton Plastics also has begun talking with grocery chains to locate a partner or two that has a dependable volume of rigid plastic containers, he said. That is a potential gold mine of material that is only sporadically collected and recycled today in the U.S. — and represents a potential cost savings for supermarkets if they recycle those containers used in their back-room operations.
A just-completed pilot program, conducted at two supermarket chains in the Northeast for the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers, found that grocery chains can easily recycle plastic containers used in their back rooms with no rise in labor costs and can avoid landfill and disposal costs.
APR estimates that an estimated 354 million pounds of that material — mostly HDPE and polypropylene — is used annually at medium and large supermarket chains. That includes items such as large frosting pails, salad-bar containers, butter-cream and doughnut-glaze buckets and rectangular fish containers.
Denton said his firm has previously worked with chains like Kroger, Safeway and Albertsons on recycling initiatives. “They are a perfect match for reverse distribution for things like plastic totes and containers,” he said.
It's all part of his efforts to expand the scope regionally of where the firm gets materials, and the type of materials it gets.
“The plastics recycling industry is in need of more raw materials,” said Denton. “A lot of manufacturers would like to blend recycled resins with virgin resins [to make their products] because that's what consumers want and because the rising price of virgin resin has a created a market opportunity for them.”
He said pushing the use of recycled resins will continue to be a mission for him and for his firm.
“We need to take responsibility for what we're doing on this planet,” he said.
That's one of the reasons Denton — not Denton Plastics — and two other individuals formed Pacific PET Recycling LLC to be the main financial investor in the Orpet post-consumer PET recycling plant in Mount Helens, Wash.
That $10 million, 45,000-square-foot plant — the only post-consumer PET recycling plant in the Pacific Northwest — began operating in December and in April began producing 24 hours a day, four days a week, using material from the state's deposit program.
Orpet is expected to reprocess 14 million pounds of PET this year and 30 million when it is fully operational.
“That plant is doing very well,” Denton said. “It just finished its second full month in May, exceeded 1 million pounds of output, and made a profit in May. I see nothing but upside potential for that plant because the pull-through demand for recycled PET is enormous.”