He is on a mission to acquaint business owners who generate tangible waste with the concept of sustainable recycling, a term he coined to differentiate typical recycling efforts, which often ship recycled materials to China and other distant places, from ones like his that find local outlets where waste can be put to use.
“Our sustainable recycling program is the first of its kind in the country as far as we know,” said Pelech, founder and chief executive officer of Poly Recovery, located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
Pelech advocates Poly Recovery’s 100-mile Solution, meaning he strives to repurpose or recycle waste within 100 miles of where it is generated. He claims to be successful about 95 percent of the time and in many cases he will certify his success. As you might expect, finding local outlets sometimes requires what many consider to be unconventional recycling practices.
“If you can’t find a solution within 100 miles, you have to make one,” said Pelech with a hint of can-do attitude that exemplifies his approach to his work. “Cardboard, for example, goes to a local game boards manufacturer 45 miles from here.”
“What really sets us apart is our ability to take mixed plastics, blend other things with them, and make an extrudable material that is suitable for making end products like speed bumps,” said Pelech.
“It’s about developing relationships. We’ve discovered plastics that we could do something with that were bailed up and sitting on a dock waiting to be shipped to China,” said Michael Mooney, chief recycler at Poly Recovery.
Mooney might be known as a business developer if he worked for a more staid company.
“The vast majority of plastics in New England are trucked to the Carolinas where they are pelletized and recycled, but when we find a way to repurpose them here in New England, we can significantly reduce the carbon impact,” said Pelech.
“When I tell people that they don’t have to sort their recyclables and we’re not going to be charging them for a trailer or tonnage, and in some cases we will give them money for their junk, I get some very strange looks,” said Mooney.
“We compete with dumpster haulers that charge businesses to truck waste to the nearest landfill,” explained Pelech.
“We also compete against traditional recyclers who can find better prices farther away. Keeping it local isn’t always the most lucrative option and that’s a problem. But we’re committed to the cause,” added Mooney.
Another issue is reliability of materials for manufacturers. Poly Recovery has to demonstrate that it can sustain the flow of materials before it can expect manufacturers to commit to Poly Recovery in lieu of a more conventional sources. This sometimes means Poly Recovery must store materials until a manufacturer calls for them, according to Mooney.
“We have been approached about franchising our business, but haven’t taken any steps in that direction,” said Pelech. “In theory we could have a facility every 100 miles.”
“The problem is that you would need a John Pelech to run each location, and there aren’t too many people who will stay up until four in the morning dreaming up new ways to get rid of plastic,” noted Mooney.
Pelech and Mooney concede that Styrofoam, which they refer to as expanded polystyrene, or EPS, remains one of their biggest challenges.
“The best way to handle EPS is to densify it and make it into blocks,” said Pelech. “Even then, your major outlets are all oversees. It does recycle nicely, but it’s so bulky that it’s completely unfeasible to truck it anywhere before it’s densified. If you don’t convert it to blocks, it costs 6.5 cents per pound to truck it just 10 miles.”
Surprisingly, Pelech does not advocate banning EPS in spite of the challenges associated with recycling it. “EPS has its place. Many people say that the best long-term solution is to use alternate materials that can be recycled or will at least decay in a landfill, but those options come with their own problems. Packing peanuts made of alternate materials, for example, weigh more and therefore require more energy to ship. We need to develop a means of recycling EPS where it is – at least until we find another packaging material that is as light and versatile.”
I got the distinct feeling that Pelech was going to work on EPS recycling solutions as soon as we ended our conference call. I think the world needs more benevolent maniacs.