Sponsored By

Trex saves 2.5 billion lb of plastic and wood scrap from landfills

When Trex first came on the scene nearly two decades ago, its wood-plastic alternative decking products that incorporated polyethylene film (mostly bags) from post-industrial and some post-consumer sources, was the cutting-edge ‘green’ material. Today Trex, the world’s largest manufacturer of wood-alternative decking and railing products, according to the company, has evolved into one of the largest recyclers of PE flexible film materials.

Clare Goldsberry

June 6, 2013

4 Min Read
Trex saves 2.5 billion lb of plastic and wood scrap from landfills

Trex’s decking and railing products – including its high-performance composite decking manufactured of more than 95% recycled content – are manufactured with a “green” proprietary method that transforms PE film into outdoor living products while addressing today’s environmental challenges.

Dave Heglas, director of material resources for Trex and a 17-year veteran of the company, told PlasticsToday that the company’s business model has evolved considerably over that period of time. “Today we are recyclers of all types of PE flexible film materials, post-commercial as well as post-consumer,” he explained. “Early on contamination in post-consumer grocery bags was an issue, but now we can handle contaminated material."

However, Heglas noted that thanks to Trex’s ongoing consumer education, “Consumers are bringing back very clean material, and more types of PE film than just grocery bags,” he added. 

While recycling bins in grocery stores are ubiquitous among most of the major chains throughout the U.S., Trex’s education of consumers on what types of films to take back is boosting recycled PE collection. Trex has been managing in-store return programs for 15-plus years, and it’s paid off for the company. “We’re encouraging people to return all other types of plastics packaging too,” Heglas said.

In addition to grocery stores, Trex also gets PE materials from distribution operations, manufacturing operations that receive components and raw materials in plastic bags, and from commercial businesses.

The misconception Trex has had to overcome is that the company is solely a bag recycler. “We’re a PE recycling company for flexible PE packaging and there are many forms of that packaging,” Heglas explained. Trex reclaims and uses PE flexible film from many sources including common household items – case overwraps, sandwich/bread bags, newspaper sleeves, dry cleaning bags and grocery/retail bags – to create products that offer an environmentally responsible choice to consumers.

Heglas said that Trex stays away from the politics of plastic bag bans and taxes, and focuses on all the PE film applications in its recycling efforts so that the company’s requirements for the materials for Trex’s much-expanded decking and railing products can be met.

“We’ve seen a trend where the traditional retail grocery bag we started with years ago is becoming less a percentage of our material source as more other bags are recycled through the same program,” Heglas stated. “We’re always looking for different ways and opportunities for consumers to recycle PE film, and we have to communicate what can be recycled, collect it and have enough that we can economically recycle it.”

That’s where the company’s “mini-balers” come into play. Small and compact so they are able to be placed in smaller retail establishments such as convenience stores, department stores and dry cleaners, the idea of mini-balers was born in California about six years ago in response to a law that was being proposed to require all these small stores to offer recycling.

“A baler that makes a 1000-lb bale wasn’t practical for these small stores,” explained Heglas. “So we decided to do a smaller baler that makes bales that can be easily handled without a fork-lift truck.”

Today, while it’s not mandatory for small stores to offer recycling, Trex has continued putting small balers into retail establishments. The reliability of the small baler was an issue so Trex found a better baler and has restarted the program with these new balers. “We’re trying to get other locations to be a recycling point, to have a central recycler that will cover a specific geographic area and pick up these bales for recycling,” Heglas said.

“We’re hoping that retail stores see the benefit of offering recycling to their customers, and it also becomes a revenue stream for them because we pay for this,” he added. “You turn your waste into a revenue stream, plus offer the green message and hopefully that draws more customers into your store.”

From 2007 through 2012 alone, the company salvaged and kept more than 2.5 billion lb of plastic and wood scrap out of landfills, presenting only a percentage of the total amount of these materials reclaimed by the company over its history.

The transformation from scrap to eco-friendly outdoor living products – including high-performance composite decking manufactured of more than 95% recycled content – has confirmed that being green is good business and that there is a viable demand for scrap plastics.

“Trex was literally built on the use of sustainable materials, and we were eco-friendly before the term became widely popular,” said Ronald W. Kaplan, chairman, president and CEO of Trex. “Our commitment to preserving and protecting the environment continues to influence everything we do as a company.”

Want more information in how and where to recycle PE bags and other film products? Visit the Society of the Plastics Industry’s website: www.socplas.org. Also visit www.plasticbagrecycling.org, and www.bagtheban.com.

About the Author(s)

Clare Goldsberry

Until she retired in September 2021, Clare Goldsberry reported on the plastics industry for more than 30 years. In addition to the 10,000+ articles she has written, by her own estimation, she is the author of several books, including The Business of Injection Molding: How to succeed as a custom molder and Purchasing Injection Molds: A buyers guide. Goldsberry is a member of the Plastics Pioneers Association. She reflected on her long career in "Time to Say Good-Bye."

Sign up for the PlasticsToday NewsFeed newsletter.

You May Also Like