One of the biggest challenges facing greenhouse floriculture is plastics recycling at the consumer level. Once the consumer has no need for a flat, pack or pot, whose responsibility is it to ensure those plastics ultimately make their way to a recycling center?
The truth is recycling is the responsibility of the entire supply chain, including the consumer, but the pressure to find solutions mounts more on the front end. Raw material cost pressures have mounted in recent years, as well, forcing manufacturers to look for alternatives to polypropylene, which is more than twice the price it was less than two years ago.
And in the case of McConkey, a West Coast container manufacturer that also offers product from Dillen Products and East Jordan Plastics, its search for a polypropylene alternative just happens to lead to a recycling solution.
“McConkey has spent more than $1 million on research and development to be able to make eco-friendly containers from recycled water bottles,” says Jeff Gross, McConkey’s director of business development. “This is an initiative we started more than a year ago, and we’re excited about bringing a cost-neutral solution to rising polypropylene and styrene costs.”
One major advantage of McConkey’s rEARTH line of shuttle trays, packs and round pots is that consumers can take their used plastics to the curb once they’re done planting. There’s no handling on the grower side and no reason for the manufacturer to be involved. Instead, it’s on the consumer to pitch their rEARTH plastics into a recycle bin.
“Because rEARTH is made from water bottles, it has a No. 1 recyclable symbol,” Gross says. “It’s a lot easier to handle and it’s affordable. A lot of times anything with the recycled label or the sustainable package is more in cost. We think rEARTH will be at par or better with polypropylene in price.”
McConkey isn’t the only manufacturer incorporating recycled materials into its products. A number of manufacturers have been incorporating recyclables for years because they realize the growing importance of finding alternatives to alleviate cost pressures for their own businesses, for their grower customers and to make plastics recycling at the consumer level as convenient as curbside recycling.
“We always incorporate recycled materials in our products where possible and have been doing so since the early 1970s,” says Patrick Harris, Poppelmann Plastics USA’s key account manager. “We reuse our own post-production regrind inline and also buy other plastics manufacturers’ post-production regrind, as well as purchase from other sources on the open market.”
Other plastics manufacturers are proactive incorporating recycled polystyrene into their products. “I can tell you that Blackmore, Floraplast and the other polystyrene tray manufacturers are using significant quantities of recycled polystyreneâ€“much from our own industry,” says Rick Bradt, managing director at A.M.A. Plastics. “Growers are generally not asking about recycled materials in the containers. I suspect many assume there is recycled material in the pots, and indeed there is.”
Container manufacturers like McConkey and Poppelmann aren’t the only industry companies getting in on recyclable materials for their raw materials. HIP Labels has seen good interest in its environmentally friendly products over the years, and an eco-friendly tag made of 30 percent recycled milk jugs makes HIP’s MilkMade plant tag yet another option for curbside recycling.
“That 30 percent portion of the raw material cost should remain constant in the years ahead,” says Bob Lovejoy, president of HIP Labels. “If petroleum continues to increase in price, that means only 70 percent of the raw material price should increase in the future.”
Over the last two years Lovejoy has seen sales of HIP’s environmentally friendly products drop off. It’s not because growers don’t want to be green, he says, but because of simple economics.
“In my eyes, this is the first environmentally friendly product that doesn’t hurt you from a cost standpoint,” Lovejoy says. “In fact, I think it helps you. With this product, given it’s green both in terms of being recycled and it’s recyclable, it’s something to consider. The cost savings make it a winner all the way.”
Lovejoy has built his business on custom products. About five years ago, a representative from Monrovia called him with a desire to purchase a tag that looked, felt and event tasted like a paper bag. It just so happened before that conversation that a paper company had approached Lovejoy to share a water-resistant paper that contains a small
percentage of post-consumer waste.
At the time, Lovejoy wondered if there was a place for such a product in the industry. Now, it’s more clear that post-consumer waste has a means as raw materials for greenhouse floriculture.
“We’re pushing all of our suppliers to increase the recycled content of the product we’re buying,” Lovejoy says. “Or we’re pushing them to make the product thinner and take the weight out of the product without compromising the performance.
“If the quality of the product is acceptable and if the price is the same, having packaging produced using environmentally methodsâ€“biodegradable, recycled, recyclableâ€“can make the difference.”