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There are few areas where recycling has a more dramatic effect than in the plastics industry, according to Acrilex.

The vast majority of plastics can be recycled; the only question is how easily.

Plastic recycling tends to fall into two categories: pre-consumer and post-consumer.

Most manufacturers focus on the pre-consumer variety; that is, using the scrap generated during the manufacturing process and reincorporating it in to their processes, an approach that has been in existence for quite some time.

While manufacturers have become increasingly active participants in the green game, distributors have spent most of their time on the sidelines – an unfortunate reality, since recycling is a means to maximise profitability while reducing waste.

In fact, the part of the downstream usage chain where recycling can be most effective is at the distributor level.

Furthermore, distributors can be an integral link in a process that referred to as the greenstream.

At Acrilex, the greenstream is defined as the multi-level model which demonstrates eco-awareness and responsibility at all levels of the materials chain, including manufacturing of raw materials, distribution, utilization, consumption, reuse, disposal, and recycling.

Deciding which processes take place at which level to ensure the most eco-friendly and responsible approaches to being green should, in fact, be determined by where a company fits within this greenstream.

These approaches are still emerging, and the models for the greenstream are still evolving as awareness and cooperation grows.

Acrilex’s own experience is an example of this philosophy.

Acrilex transforms plastic sheets and products into parts and end products that are purchased by our customers; in the process, it generates waste.

Since it has no use for that waste internally, it would otherwise typically find its way into landfills, as it would with most distributors.

This scrap can instead be reused as part of the pre-consumer movement.

While the greenstream approach has a positive impact on the environment, there are other reasons that Acrilex participates in this initiative.

The excess material and scrap Acrilex generates can be sold back to manufacturers, or to speciality plastic recycling companies, who will then sell it to the manufacturers themselves.

In doing so, Acrilex has created a revenue stream, a welcome addition in this struggling economy.

So recycling plastic scrap is not only environmentally responsible, but it can translate to cold, hard cash.

In addition, many distributors have excess inventory and damaged goods that manufacturers won’t take back as product; consequently, the distributor is forced to dispose of this excess in already overcrowded landfills.

By recycling it as scrap, the distributor can turn useless items into added revenue, while providing the manufacturer with much-needed raw material – all with virtually no environmental impact.

A simple formula: every pound of plastic recycle is one less pound of raw material used, resulting in one less pound of scrap in a landfill.

It should be noted that distributors are in a position to take advantage of both sides of the greenstream chain.

Collecting their own scrap and selling it back to manufacturers or third-party companies is one side, but distributors also have the opportunity to position themselves as a resource to companies further down the supply chain.

For example, many end users, such as plastic fabricators, sign shops, display and fixture manufacturers, have scrap of their own that they may want disposed of, but either they do not know where to send it or, more likely, are not willing to expend the time and money to set up a comprehensive recycling programme.

As a value-added service, distributors can offer to pick up this scrap from resellers, end users, even their customers who need a way to get rid of their mistakes, prototypes and excess materials.

In doing so, the distributor not only acquires more scrap for sale (additional revenue), but further solidifies its business relationship with that company.

Additionally, by removing waste the customer would otherwise have to pay to dispose of, the distributor helps the customers become part of the greenstream, even if the customer company itself would not be considered ‘green’ by manufacturing standards.

Of course, there are some energy costs associated with the collection, sale and distribution of scrap – cost of petrol to transport the material, labour to collect it, for example.

But these are minor compared to the potential revenue that can be generated and the positive impact on the environment.

Acrilex has a number of different levels of recycling, all stemming from its dual role as a plastic manufacturer and a distributor.

As distributor, it handles multiple types of plastic.

Some of the scrap – excess sheet scrap, the skeleton remains that come off CNC routers – are placed on skids, palletised and stored.

This scrap is warehoused until the economics of shipping it out can be maximised, making it worthwhile for buyers by minimising their fuel consumption and shipping costs).

Acrilex also packs all its cut-offs in gaylord boxes.

It relies on previously used gaylord boxes, usually from other polymer suppliers.

Acrilex’s gaylords and skids are reused so it does not have to buy (or dispose of) either item.

The final form of scrap is plastic sawdust – predominantly acrylic – that is generated during the plastics to fabrication process.

This is an area which certainly requires more industry-wide attention, given that over 80 tons of plastic sawdust that Acrilex generates each year is not going to landfill.

It is accumulated by dust collectors and picked up by a manufacturer, who uses it as filler/binder for the product being extruded.

Unused waste monomer will be polymerised or solidified, and resold as scrap for recycling.

This eliminates the chemical hazard while providing material for recycling; no dumping is required.

Additionally, excess sheets of Acriglas (damaged sheets or ones that cannot be sold) have an aftermarket in recycling or as inexpensive, unusual sheet goods overseas.

It should be noted that many companies will group all their scraps together and send them out en masse; that is, all dissimilar polymer scrap being lumped together in the same containers.

This does not necessarily help the greenstream, because at some point it has to be reprocessed or resorted just to categorise it, reducing the overall value of the scrap.

Contaminants will often end up in the scrap material, which can ultimately pollute the green stream.

Therefore, one of the most critical things a distributor or anyone recycling materials can do is categorise their scrap.

When establishing an effective greenstream initiative, distributors first have to ask themselves if they care about creating a more environmentally responsible profile.

Distributors are not compelled by any regulations to be part of the green movement, unlike manufacturers, for example, who are required to use a certain percentage of recyclable materials.

Some distributors might feel as it they are absolved of any environmental responsibility or any need to advance the green movement.

There are no requirements for any of their own materials because they are not going directly to the consumer; as a result, they are not compelled to provide avenues for the consumers to be able to recycle.

However, if a distributor does have the requisite social conscience, the next step is to figure out what the company is going to gain financially.

It is vital for the company to determine how much scrap it produces, the possible value of that scrap in an aftermarket scenario, whether the distributor has the resources, as well as the will, to establish efficient collection, storage and transport processes, and whether the distributor’s own customers can participate.

By doing so, valuable revenue streams can be created.

These revenue streams are particularly attractive as they are derived from materials and product that have already been paid for.

Aside from the recycling of scrap, Acrilex engages in a number of other initiatives to be a ‘greener’ manufacturer, distributor, and fabricator.

It has also found ways to conserve energy and increase productivity at similar energy expenditure.

Acrilex has also changed out its thermostats to zone its heat more efficiently, as well as recalibrating its temperature monitoring and sensors.

In addition, it has installed remote-controlled steel roll-up doors to section off areas of the plant – shipping and receiving in particular – to further reduce energy consumption (the doors roll up as needed).

The leased trucks used are kept in excellent operating condition, ensuring that they produce fewer carbon emissions.

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