“If it doesn’t work in this piece of equipment, maybe it will work in that piece of equipment, if it doesn’t work like this, maybe it will work like that” – Jonathan Beekman (Owner of Full Circle Plastics)
With the City of Lightbridge curbside recycling program rolling out this spring, it is natural to think about where these recycled products are going after they get whisked away in a blue bin.
In 2016, Jonathan Beekman began the process of answering this question when he started his plastic recycling company, Full Circle Plastics, in Nobleford, AB. In three years, Full Circle Plastics has found its place in what is a bit of a crazy industry.
The process of recycling plastics involves cleaning, sorting, shredding and then melting the plastic down to make a new product. It is quite uncommon for all of these steps to be taken by the same company. For example, a municipality may sort the plastic and bundle it, then a shipping company will pick the plastic up from a number of different municipalities and drop them all off at a shredder. The shredder may sort the plastic again because different types of plastic are worth different amounts of money. Then different bundles of shredded plastic will be shipped to different plastic manufacturers that are looking for a certain kind of plastic. Sometimes the shipper also owns a shredder so will do some of the shredding, or sometimes the municipality does its own shredding and the shipper will have half a truckload of shredded and half a truckload of un-shredded to deal with in the warehouse. If one type of valuable plastic is removed from mixed plastics the remainder may be too invaluable to sell. You hear stories of plastic being shipped across the country, or even to places like China just to be recycled.
Full Circle Plastics has started to make sense of this logistical challenge and in Jonathan’s words they’re ‘trying to be a solution’. Jonathan asks, “How do we keep things local?”
Full Circle Plastics minimizes transportation cost by processing the majority of plastics from Lethbridge as well as other nearby communities such as Bow Island, Pincher Creek, Crowsnest Pass, and Brooks. All plastics from these sources are taken in as raw material with a preference for cheap, dirty plastics that other buyers don’t want.
Full Circle Plastics also takes on some unique projects. Last year 650 tonnes of virgin plastic was salvaged from a train wreck. All 650 tonnes of pea-sized plastic spheres were separated from the dirt, grass, and small rocks.
The raw material is not uniform and its composition changes from day to day. This presents a challenge in producing a desired final product. Jonathan is regularly modifying equipment, building new molds, or trying different plastics in different machines. Jonathan says: “We don’t want to be limited by what we have, and we don’t want to be limited by what we know; we’re always trying to figure things out.”
Jonathan’s hard work and creative approach to growing his business is evident, and there is much to show for it. Eight employees work in the shop, with the plant at times working 24-hour shifts. Annually they produce about 50 truckloads of end products like fence posts, construction materials, and parking curbs that find markets across North America. Jonathan says that his facility is capable of taking in about 10 times the amount of plastic than it does today, but he doesn’t because there isn’t a market yet for the products.
Written by Samuel Gerrand.