For years, workers at Evergreen Recyclers in Jackson, Tennessee, managed tasks during their 10-to-12-hour shifts mostly by hand. They would move piles of paper, physically scooping and loading them into dump hoppers and balers. Piles of scrap plastics were dumped onto sorting tables and separated by hand into grades.

Though the company automated some of its paper and plastic handling, some loads of scrap plastics still are dumped onto sorting tables and separated by grades as workers are well-informed of the various types.

While they were working to the best of their abilities, Evergreen Recyclers CEO Kevin Nolen says it was not an efficient way to go about business.

“We were doing it the best we could … [but], it was not a money-making deal at all,” Nolen says.

Considering his options, Nolen realized it was time to invest in equipment. His decision to purchase a new baler was twofold: to make operations more efficient and to grow the company.

Buy bigger and better

Nolen started Evergreen Recyclers in 2005. He had been working for a plastics recycling company for years and, after parting ways with that owner, he decided to open his own plastics recycling business.

Evergreen handles most grades of scrap plastics, though it concentrates primarily on polypropylene (PP) and polyethylene (PE). The company collects postindustrial materials, including plastic drums, pallets and totes; plastic from the automotive industry; as well as plastics from injection molding and bottle manufacturing companies, from factories in the Southeast U.S. It separates, sorts and grinds this scrap, which is sold to reprocessors. Evergreen blends plastics to reach certain specifications and can repelletize plastics for customers, sending them back to the company. “Then they can build some of the reprocessed material back into their operations to keep waste numbers down and say that they’re recycling their product by reusing it,” Nolen says.

To better serve its customers, Evergreen also collects paper, mostly old corrugated containers (OCC), and bales it for recycling. It is this side of the business where Nolen says he sees growth opportunities for Evergreen.

“I had to make a decision,” he says. “It was to the point of where we’re going to have to stop on the paper where we are or grow that business. We decided we’ve got to take a step up and get the right kind of equipment for what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Nolen says Evergreen workers’ experience in handling paper helped in his decision to add a Maren ProPAK 2R210 two-ram baler from Maren Engineering, South Holland, Illinois, in November 2017. The company had been using smaller balers for years to prepare its OCC and scrap plastics for recycling. However, these balers required much manual labor and time. An advantage of the ProPAK is that it can switch from baling paper to plastics at the touch of a button, something Nolen says he does often.

“What I wanted to do is get the bigger baler and go after accounts that are big in cardboard and different types of paper and service them also,” Nolen says. “All these customers I have been doing paper for already, but I want to grow it and go after not only plastic customers but also paper.”

He says since the two-ram baler’s installation in November, moving paper through the facility has been much more productive and easier. “The paper coming through is being processed much quicker, so it’s freeing up trailers that we haul material on,” Nolen says.

Prior to the baler’s installation, Evergreen Recyclers took actions to help the company to prepare for new business.

Go with what you know

When Nolen began his search for a new baler seven months prior to its delivery in the fall, he asked around for recommendations. “Maren was a suggestion from a couple of them,” Nolen says.

Word of mouth worked. The day after Nolen reached out to Maren, Buddy Lane, a 19-year sales and service manager for HWI Equipment Inc., had driven from the company’s St. Louis headquarters to Evergreen’s Jackson facility. HWI Equipment is a woman-owned recycling equipment supplier and a Maren distributor.

Nolen says, “Buddy came down the next day to see my facility to see what requirements I would need. That meant a lot to me that he was there. He seemed to know what we were looking for and what he was doing.”

Once the two realized the ProPAK 2R210 two-ram baler would work best for Evergreen, Lane says he visited the plant again to determine where the baler would fit best in the facility’s footprint. He drew chalk lines on the floor to represent the baler. Nolen says Lane helped to figure out where on the floor the baler would be most efficient, requiring a reorganization of the setup.

“We had to move some things,” Nolen says. “Buddy helped me with that; he would suggest where to put the baler in the orientation of the baler and conveyor.”

While Lane says HWI typically takes care of much of the installation process—forming a pit, pouring additional concrete and ordering a crane if requested, among other options—Nolen took charge of those duties. Inside the warehouse, contracted workers cut the concrete out and poured a thicker floor that could withstand the new, larger baler. Outside, Evergreen had a concrete pad poured near loading docks. When it came time for the installation, Nolen paid for a crane service to unload the new equipment. Using the crane, workers set the baler in the doorway and rolled it into place, “making it a lot faster and easier for all,” Nolen says.

“Buddy would’ve done it, but we know the people here and felt like it would be better for us to take care of it on our own,” he says.

HWI handled transporting the baler and conveyor, using two trucks.

Lane says, “Everyone is different. Some say, ‘Do it all.’ And they pay for it in the price of the machine. It’s up to them.”

For Nolen, he says the decision to take on much of the prep work was simple: He knew professionals in his small town who could do the work.

“It worked out well for us with the fact that we know people in our area enough that if you didn’t know anyone and were completely at the [equipment supplier’s] mercy, then maybe not,” Nolen explains.

He adds, “It makes it a lot easier and less of a headache if you know people.”

Word of mouth

Now that moving materials through Evergreen’s facility is easier and more productive, Nolen is looking ahead. The CEO says he is seeking new business and purposefully bought a baler bigger than the company currently needs.

“Now we need more paper recycling business because of the equipment I bought from Buddy,” he says. “It can handle more than what we’re doing now, but I’m in a position now where I can take on other customers where I couldn’t do that before.”

While word of mouth worked when it came to choosing the best machine for the job, time will tell if word of mouth can bring new business to the Jackson facility. Nolen is confident it will, saying, “We’ve been in the business quite a while, so word of mouth is big, and we provide a great service. We can compete with everyone now.”

The author is associate editor of Recycling Today and can be contacted via email at