Processing polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipe presents challenges, but Central States Reprocessing LLC (CSR), Lincoln, Nebraska, has used its experience and trial and error to arrive at a solution that works well for the company.
Matt Burgess founded CSR in 2010 to supply recycled high-density polyethylene (HDPE) flake to a company in South Dakota where his brother Troy worked as the general manager. “We couldn’t find a consistent source of material that people would stand behind what they were producing,” Troy says.
After the company Troy worked for was bought out in 2012, he joined Matt “to put more horsepower behind CSR and really grow it,” he says.
Since then, the brothers have grown CSR from a company with $500,000 in annual sales to one with $300,000-plus in monthly sales. CSR quickly outgrew its 5,000-square-foot building and now inhabits a 30,000-plus-square-foot building as well as a 10,000-square-foot satellite location, Troy says.
When he joined the business, the company also expanded beyond HDPE recycling into other commodity grades, such as low-density polyethylene (LDPE), as well as into rigid and flexible PVC. In the case of PVC, CSR is producing pellets.
PVC makes up approximately 50 percent of the material CSR processes, Troy says. Pipe accounts for roughly 10 percent of the company’s incoming PVC material.
Last June, CSR added a new pulverizer for its PVC material. In January, the company added an extruder.
Troy says CSR formulates its PVC pellets to fit its customers’ applications. It’s a lengthy process that involves understanding “what the customer wants to make and what equipment they make it with.” He describes it as a very customized application.
When it comes to regrinding HDPE, Troy says the process is much easier. “Density and melt index are all you care about. It’s not quite that simple for PVC.”
CSR has worked with some of its PVC customers for years to ensure it produces recycled material that meets their specifications, he says. The time investment is worth it for CSR’s customers, Troy adds. “We can save them 20 cents a pound versus virgin.”
The company’s approach allows it to build long-term relationships. Because of the complications associated with PVC recycling related to the various formulations available, he says, “Somebody is not going to come in and offer a pellet or regrind and beat you by a penny.”
HDPE recycling is more “forgiving,” but he says more competition exists in that sector.
Troy describes shredding PVC pipe as “a violent process.” Some of the PVC pipe CSR is processing can be 3 inches thick and 30 inches in diameter.
“When shearing or shredding, it takes a lot of horsepower,” he says.
The company’s 3400 H dual-shaft shredder, equipped with a hydraulic ram, from Wilsonville, Oregon-based SSI Shredding Systems Inc., is up to the task, Troy says.
Before purchasing the SSI machine, CSR looked at single-shaft machines, which offer faster speeds and production versus dual-shaft shredders, but ruled them out because contamination would be harder to address in the shredded material. Also, if any metal was left behind on the preprocessed pipes, it could lead to trouble in the shredder.
The company’s dual-shaft shredder produces material sized 2 inches by 12 inches, making contamination that employees might have missed in preprocessing easier to detect than a smaller particle size might, Troy says. The shredder also can handle any metal that might have been overlooked. “It doesn’t chip or break a blade,” he says.
“The overall cost of operation is lower,” he says of the dual-shaft machine, adding that its blades might have to be replaced every two years and are easily sharpened with a grinder quarterly.
Roughly 90 percent of the PVC pipe CSR receives is not baled, which is how the company prefers it. Otherwise, one bad piece can ruin the entire batch, Troy says. If the pipes are heavily encrusted with mud, CSR will power-wash them, but dirt is removed through processing. Prior to feeding pipe to the shredder, CSR employees sort the material and remove connections and visible contamination.
Employees use a chop saw to cut the pipe down to 8-foot lengths, which are fed into the shredder. The material then heads to one of two grinders from Cumberland, New Berlin, Wisconsin, that are dedicated to processing PVC. “PVC has a static charge, and you can’t get the grinders clean no matter how hard you try,” Troy says.
CSR likes older Cumberland grinders, he says, because they are “beefier” for handling pipe and have more steel to absorb the heat and friction of processing. He adds that when processing pipe, CSR has to change the blades on its grinders twice as frequently—at 40,000 pounds versus 80,000 pounds—as when processing window lineals.
The grinders produce 0.3125-inch flakes, which are conveyed to an elutriation system to remove dust, fine particles and labels, he says. CSR stores the ground material in boxes or bags. The flakes are either shipped as is or further processed through CSR’s extruder.
PVC pipe processing is detailed work, and CSR must be doing things right because Troy says 80 percent of this material that CSR processes is going back into pipe.