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When a large developer and manufacturer of audio and video products needed help destroying nearly 1 million toy guns and related accessories used with one of its video games, the company turned to Daniel Constant, president of Sustainable Solutions LLC, Gainesville, Georgia. Constant says his company was able to perform the job for the manufacturer at no cost as long as the company freighted the guns to Sustainable Solutions. The reason Sustainable Solutions could do so was because it successfully found end markets through RecycleNet for the guns’ various components and packaging.

Know what you’re dealing with

Constant says his customer had a 200,000-square-foot warehouse full of the toy guns in question. The company feared the guns could be repackaged and resold on e-Bay or Amazon if they were discarded in the trash and instead wanted to ensure they were securely destroyed. The manufacturer also was interested in diverting as much of this material from the landfill as possible.

In pricing the job, Constant said he had a number of factors to consider, including potential markets for the recovered plastic, the cost and time associated with dismantling the guns and other processing issues, such as unpacking the devices and separating the various components.

To begin to answer these questions, Constant says he took three examples of the guns and dismantled each of them. He then weighed the plastic each gun generated and determined how much good and not-so-good material was present. In addition, Constant noted how much of the plastic had no market.

He also had to find buyers for the packaging—largely old corrugated containers (OCC)—the paper instructions and the AAA and AA batteries that were included with the guns.

After dismantling the toy guns and doing the math, Constant says he determined that if the customer paid to ship the guns to Sustainable Solutions, his company could make enough on the sale of the recovered recyclables that it would not have to charge for the destruction.

Unpack and sort

The individually packaged toy guns and accessories—530,000 of them in total—were shipped to Sustainable Solutions in larger boxes on pallets. Eighty-five trailer loads ultimately were delivered to the company over the course of the project.

“I set up room on my floor for a crew of eight to bring in the boxes, pull the products and dismantle them,” Constant says. “We had three collection points—a Gaylord for the plastic guns, one for the batteries and one for the paper and silica gel packs.”

The cardboard went directly to the horizontal baler the company had positioned near the unpacking area.

Constant says the unpacking process was labor-intensive. He adds that he monitored the employees tasked with this job over the first week of the project to determine how the process could be streamlined and the team’s efficiency improved.

Originally, the workers were throwing the OCC on the ground as they were unpacking. Then, hourly, they would clean up that material and bring it to the baler. “It made sense to bring another guy in to handle the OCC,” Constant says.

The project recovered approximately 50 truckloads of OCC, he adds.

During that first week, the team was throwing the batteries it recovered from the packaging into boxes. However, this was quickly modified so that a single person was responsible for packing the batteries with their poles uniformly arranged into smaller boxes that were then put into larger boxes. This was done to preserve the batteries’ energy, he says. Sustainable Solutions then sold the batteries, which numbered approximately 400,000, to another company for a profit.

The guns themselves were placed into a Gaylord container. Constant says, “We were going to bale them, but they are very rigid and slippery. The bale fell apart.”

Constant says the unpacking process was tweaked bit by bit during the first two weeks of the project, which took a total of six months to complete. “If I hadn’t, we only would have been about 30 percent efficient.” However, with those small changes, he estimates that the process was 80 percent efficient.

Three of Sustainable Solutions’ staff members were assigned to an eight-person unpacking crew. The rest of the team was made up of employees from a disabled workshop. Constant says, “Any time you can bring in a company that creates jobs for challenged individuals is a great thing.”

Operate securely

All the boxes of guns were weighed and counted prior to shipping them to the facility where the shredding would be performed. The boxes were sealed and monitored during shipping to assure the guns were not tampered with. The weights and piece counts were confirmed when the boxes made it to the processing facility, Constant says.

If any boxes of guns were left on the floor of Sustainable Solutions’ facility at the end of the work day, they were counted and inventoried. The manufacturer also paid to have a security guard on-site for the first three months of the project to assure that the process was being adhered to, he says.

Recover the plastics

The guns, which were made primarily from acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) and polypropylene (PP), were shredded using a two-step process to a particle size of 3/8 inches before being sent to a facility where the plastics were separated by density using a sink/float process, Constant says.

“The main goal was to get the ABS from these guns,” he says.

A second sort was performed to recover PP, Constant says.

The remaining material, which accounted for about 10 percent of the guns, included metal, nylon and rubber.

Constant says the handles of some of the guns were made from ABS and the shafts were made from PP. “Some had all PP, and some had all ABS.” Sustainable Solutions separated each load by product so the sink/float operator and compounder knew what to expect and could get some consistency, he says.

Sustainable Solutions and RecycleNet have relationships with more than 200 resin compounders, Constant says. To sell the plastic generated by the toy guns, he says he approached the compounders that could handle a little contamination in their feedstock. “It’s important to match the partners to the project.”

When approaching a compounder, he says destruction firms should be as transparent as possible about the material they will be recovering from a project. He says firms can’t tell a compounder that they will be receiving material with less than 1 percent contamination and then send them something with 30 percent contamination. “Your 41-cent material will be downgraded to 28-cent material, and you’re in trouble,” Constant says.

“Relationships and credibility are huge in this industry,” he continues. He adds that it is important to find consumers who are committed to a certain price and to accepting the material for the duration of the project. “The longer the project, the more stress you put your customer through as prices are changing very frequently.”

Sustainable Solutions completed this destruction project in 2013. At today’s prices for recycled plastics, Constant says his pricing for such a job would be very different. “Sometimes you have to charge your customer,” he says. “It goes back to relationships and transparency.”

Serve many needs

Constant says his client was “extremely happy” with the results of the project, which saved it $32,200 in the form of landfill diversion. Sustainable Solutions also presented the company with a $3,600 rebate check for the project, which also led to additional secure destruction jobs with the manufacturer.

In his experience, Constant says, most manufacturers “don’t mind spending a little money” on their product destruction jobs. What they definitely prefer, he says, is working with one recycling company that can handle the variety of materials they produce. “They don’t want to deal with three or four recyclers,” he says.

Of the toy gun manufacturer, Constant says, “When I walked in there, other recyclers were doing business with this company, and those recyclers just wanted the good things that came out of the plant—stretch film, OCC and other clean material streams. You can’t build a business like that; you have to be a one-stop shop.”

By saying yes more than no to more challenging materials, he says, Sustainable Solutions got access to that good, clean material as well. “If you are helpful with the challenging materials, you start getting the other materials that come out of the company,” Constant adds.

The author is managing editor of Recycling Today and can be contacted via email at dtoto@gie.net.