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The second time around

Darren Olsen Published on 05 June 2009

As long-time stewards of the environment, farmers have always worked to produce quality products while taking care to preserve the quality of their resources for the next year and next generation.

As production practices have led to streamlined processes and efficiency, hay production has followed suit.

The development and use of polypropylene twine is one such advancement that has led to hay being processed and bundled into packages easy to store and transport. Without it, the advantages to the current haying system would be limited. The problem has been what to do with the twine once it has been used.

Gopher Plastics, a companion company to Bridon Cordage in Albert Lea, Minnesota, has finally been able to bring together the process and products that turns this problem into one continual round of recycling.

Shari Hanson, Marketing and Sales Manager for the company, explains the drive to bring about this new recycling process:

“Our customers naturally make their living off the land and we wanted to have a way to help them deal with the byproducts of baled hay.

Landfills no longer want the leftover twine and it is illegal to burn it. We have always wanted to find a better way for our customers to be able to deal with these products in a way that leaves a positive impact on both their business and the land they take care of.”

The process to bring polypropylene-based twine from production facility to customer, come back to the plant and be refined back into pellets that can be used to create twine again, has been over 10 years in the making.

Terry Van Kampen, Vice President of Manufacturing, stated the idea was simple enough in the beginning.

“The recycling idea came from Bob Reneau, our polymer engineer and myself. We started looking at the idea back in 1997 from the standpoint of wanting to keep our plastics from entering the landfill and instead to bring them back to our processing facility and make new products out of it.

“In theory, polypropylene can be recycled an indefinite number of times, but we figure it could come back through the plant at least 15 times before we might need to add something with our system.

In the process of working with polypropylene, you are not degrading the product in any way, so being able to make twine out of it again and again isn’t a problem. It is one of the few things that are continuously recyclable when you compare it with other processes out there.”

One of the major hurdles to finalizing the project and bringing into full production was the need to obtain official accreditation and approval for recycling.

“More recently, in order to tie all the pieces together, we received our ISO 14000 certificate which put the recycling standard in place. This really set the stage to bring together what Bob and Terry had been working on and allowed us to pursue the recycling effort in full force and bring on a recycled twine product,” Hanson said.

What was a simple idea in the beginning has turned out to be a project that has needed the attention and devotion of people not only at Gopher Plastics but with producers and collectors from across the U.S.

This has included individuals and companies willing to collect and prepare the old twine for shipment back to the plant in Minnesota.

“Right now, we have contracts with waste disposal facilities, recycling companies and individuals. They collect twine at a central location, bundle it together in bales when possible and then contact us when they have 40,000 pounds of material.

We then make arrangements for the twine to be picked up and delivered back to our Gopher Plastics facility in Albert Lea where it is cleaned and put back into our processes to become part of the Revolver® recycled twine,” stated Hanson.

Much of the success of the recycling project has been the attention given to the process of cleaning and preparing the twine to be processed back into pellets.

Van Kampen explained that without the attention to these finer details, the ability of the company to work with the twine they receive would be much more limited than it is today.

“When we receive a load of twine at the facility, we have processes that will sort and clean the twine to get it ready to work with. One of the challenges to making this all work was creating both the process and the equipment to handle these issues.

Because there really isn’t anything out there dealing with the materials we are, we have really had to create our own path to follow.

This pioneering effort is part of the reason it has taken us over 10 years to bring both the process and the recycled product into full production.

“One interesting part is we have found the process is efficient enough to allow us to sell off excess polypropylene pellets to other industries who use the same base products we do.”

When it comes to the future of Gopher Plastics and the recycling effort moving forward, Hanson explained that it takes effort on everyone’s part, from the company to the producers to the collectors.

“If a farmer is already in a location where we have a contracted company picking up twine for us, they can usually be put on the pick-up list with that company or drop it off at their collecting location.

One of the challenges we are dealing with is finding a way to collect twine in areas where either there are fewer producers with twine or there isn’t a company we can work with in twine collection.

“Because we need to ship the loads once the total volume reaches 40,000 pounds, it can be challenging in some locations to meet that requirement.

We are always open to suggestions from producers as to how we might be able to help them pool their twine together to meet this current requirement and are always looking for ways to improve in this area. While it is a challenge, we are confident we will be able to find a way to expand the program as it grows.

“As we move forward, we see this as an opportunity to continue to work with growers and customers indefinitely. As long as we are able to continue to provide a quality product and have a way for that to be returned to us, there really isn’t any reason to think we will not be in the recycling business for a long time to come.”

The final step in the process is to have a product that meets the needs of producers, is as reliable and of the same high quality standard that is expected from the company. That product has now reached the market in a product called Revolver®. This twine is available for purchase from any dealer currently carrying Bridon Cordage products.

Through the whole process, only one thing seems to be a drawback to the recycled twine – the color. Because the twine is a mix of all colors collected and processed, it ends up being what Gopher Plastics is calling a “ruby-garnet” red, which really is a rusty brown.

But, to those who are working with this new approach to the problem of leftover twine, it is the color of success, no matter what the current batch comes out looking like.  FG

—For more information about Revolver twine, to learn more about the recycling process or to find out if you can participate in twine recycling in your area, contact Terry Vankampen

Progressive Forage Grower Editor
Darren Olsen