Lumber, Not Landfills

Posted on Nov 1, 2010 :: Green Business
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Photo courtesy of N.E.W. Plastics Corp.

Irvin Vincent had an idea back in the late 1960s in Luxemburg. An accountant by trade, he had a hunch that plastic materials being sent to the landfill could be melted down and reused. While industry experts scoffed at the idea, Vincent persisted.

When a local soap manufacturer commented that he’d gladly buy containers from a local supplier if one existed, Vincent had the challenge he needed. He bought a forming machine, fine-tuned his process, and soon was producing soap bottles that he could call “recycled.”

There was no recycling channel for plastic at the time, so Vincent, his wife and two sons recruited churches and Scout groups to collect plastic milk jugs in Luxemburg and surrounding communities.

By 1973, he had developed the industry’s first high-density polyethylene (HDPE) lumber that was both recycled and completely recyclable.

Founded in 1968, Vincent’s N.E.W. Plastics Corp. had become a leading force in the green movement – which didn’t even exist yet.

The company is still headquartered in Luxemburg in a 90,000-square-foot manufacturing facility, with a workforce that averages 190 team members. It is organized into three product divisions, and has the capacity to convert more than 25 million pounds of recycled plastic annually. Its annual sales are $35 million and growing.

Its custom blow molding division produces bottles, jars and other containers of all shapes and sizes used for everything from hairspray to ketchup to motor oil.

VBS Total Packaging is a distributor that offers packaging support for both rigid and flexible packaging.

But the hallmark of the organization’s business is its Renew Plastics business unit. Its Evolve lumber line is manufactured from recycled HDPE.

Mike Rekitzke, N.E.W. Plastics Corp.’s president since 2008, says Evolve is UV-stabilized to eliminate discoloration and fading from the sun. It is PVC- and BPA-free and is non-absorptive and impervious to most chemicals, he adds. Since it is suitable for all climates and conditions – including marine environments – it is widely used for decks, patio furniture and boardwalks where traditional wood or composite products normally deteriorate and fail.

“There are 112 milk jugs in each 8-foot two-by-four,” says Rekitzke, “and each one would otherwise go to the landfill. A traditional wood deck lasts 15 years. A deck made with our product will last for a lifetime.”

Rekitzke says the deck made from some of the original plastic lumber installed in the mid-1970s is still in fine shape at the Vincent family’s cottage in northern Wisconsin.

In April 2009, the company added a structural line of plastic lumber by purchasing Trimax Building Products. Also using recycled HDPE, the Trimax patented process adds fiberglass strands to create the rigidity and strength necessary for structural applications.

Vern Vincent, vice president of partner development for Renew Plastics, is one of two sons of the founder who are still involved with the company.

“There is a significant need for structural materials with the quality attributes comparable to our Premium Evolve brand,” he says. “We are working diligently with our partners to create additional products that will set them apart from their competition.”

In 2008, the company estimated that it had prevented more than 1.4 billion plastic milk jugs from entering landfills. It was honored that year with a Wisconsin Business Friend of the Environment Award. The company has also been nominated for the Green Bay Area Chamber of Commerce’s 2010 Excellence in Business award.

Its reputation has spread beyond the New North, as well. Dick Jones, general manager of Cardinal Building Products in Lancaster County, Pa., is a fan. “N.E.W. is truly a pioneer in the plastics world. Plastics is the core of our company,” says Jones. “The reasons we are successful is because of N.E.W.”

Before his death in 2003, founder Irvin Vincent reflected on the company’s contribution to green:

“At one time, it was fashionable to say that used plastics were ruining the environment. In other words, plastics were a problem. Through research and creative thinking, we were the first company to turn the problem into useful environmentally safe products that benefit every segment of society.”